Have you ever dreamed of waddling with a penguin, sharing a tasty bite of kale with a giraffe, or kissing... a beluga? Three new animal experiences will give you the chance to do all of the above and more. Make all your wildest dreams come true with new animal encounters at Chicagoland's best zoos and stellar aquarium. 


Waddle with a penguin at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo Chicago

Want to waddle with a penguin? From now until October 31, you can get up close and personal with the Lincoln Park Zoo’s African penguins on exhibit at the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove via the new Penguin Encounter program. While you won't be able to touch the penguins, you'll stand right beside these lovable creatures as you learn what life is like for them at both the zoo and their home on the southern coast of Africa, while also discovering the effort that goes into their care and conservation.

“African penguins are fascinating to encounter and ignite a sense of awe and wonder and a connection with wildlife,” said Vice President for Learning and Community Engagement Dana Murphy. “This experience will help us harness that connection into caring. We hope guests will be inspired to take actions to save this endangered species.”

Malott Family Penguin Encounters occur twice daily, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., through October 31. Registration is $60 per person ($50 per person for Lincoln Park Zoo members). Fee includes a complimentary photo of the encounter group. Participants must be at least 6 years old and children between ages 6 and 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Register online 24 hours prior to an encounter, or on the grounds at Gateway Pavilion the day of the encounter, as spaces are available.

For more information or to register, visit: lpzoo.org/penguinencounter.

Want to keep up with the happenings at the zoo's cozy colony? Tune into All My Penguins, a blog series that dives into the details and complex social structure of the zoo’s African penguins at lpzoo.org/penguin. (Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark Street)


Share a tasty bite of kale with a giraffe at the Brookfield Zoo

Father and daughter feeding a giraffe some kale

At Brookfield Zoo, located in the near western Chicago suburb of Brookfield, you can feed the giraffes a tasty bite of kale at the Habitat Africa! exhibit, now through Labor Day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Purchase a kale snack for $10 and then step up to feed a long-necked pal. Animal-care specialists are also available to answer all your burning giraffe questions. Giraffe feeding encounters are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and weather permitting.

Want to have an even closer encounter with a zoo animal? Check out Brookfield Zoo's many Backstage Adventures: you'll work side-by-side with zookeepers as they care for critters, from apes to zebras. You can choose the animal you like best or your favorite exhibit. Learn more or book your backstage adventure at czs.org/BackstageAdventures. (Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st Street, Brookfield, IL)

Kiss a beluga at the Shedd Aquarium

Beluga Whale at Shedd Aquarium Chicago

Here's your chance to dance with a beluga: the Shedd Aquarium's Beluga Encounter experience gives guests the opportunity to work side-by-side with a marina animal expert as he or she cares for and trains the amazing belugas. Be prepared to pull on waders so you can enter the cool waters of the Grainger Beluga Encounter Habitat.

You'll work beside a trainer on an underwater ledge where you’ll be face-to-face with a beluga! You’ll touch the beluga’s skin, try a few training techniques and, if you're lucky, you might even get a big smooch! All participants will receive a framed photo to remember this truly unforgettable experience!

Visit sheddaquarium.org or call 312-939-2438 to reserve your spot. (Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive)


Photos of penguins courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo/Julia Fuller; photo of father and daughter feeding a giraffe courtesy of Brookfield Zoo; photo of beluga whale by Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez