Field Trip: Rizzo’s Wildlife World

Entertaining an 8 year old is tough.

Much respect to all the parents out there. This job ain’t easy!

The first few get togethers were easy enough. Bowling, Sky Zone, a few games of mini golf. But how do you keep it going?  Can I continue to add to the experience he and I have every week? Thankfully, I don’t have to “top” anything since the goal isn’t to impress or wow him with gifts and things. That said, a really cool field trip every now and then is good for everyone.

I don’t remember how I came up with this one, but it was most likely by accident. I’m pretty sure I was scrambling to find something last minute, quickly looked at the website and said “yeah, this looks good.” Sometimes you get lucky, and this was my day!

Our first stop this particular Saturday was to a local comic book shop. It was free comic book day and little said he never heard of it. We left with our free comics, a Captain Underpants book, and some Green Lantern power rings. He knew about Batman and Superman, but not Green Lantern. This was my chance to drop a little knowledge about the animated Justice League series, Hal Jordan, and my favorite Lantern, John Stewart.

He seemed interested for a few minutes before we started talking about Minecraft again. Oh well, baby steps.

Rizzo’s Wildlife World

On first glance it looks like a big room with a bunch of tanks to look at some animals. I thought “crap, we’ll be finished in 20 minutes and I have nothing else planned!“. To say I was a little disappointed is an understatement.

That’s my fault for not reading the website. What you actually get is a guided tour that lasts over an hour. Ok, this just got really good!

A woman and her very young daughter joined us shortly after we started the tour. Like I said, a staff member takes you to each tank and tells you about the animal. If it isn’t too dangerous, they take it out and allow you to touch it. Let the animal adventure begin!

The first animal was a snake…

Most people do not like snakes, even the small and harmless ones like this corn snakeLittle and the young girl were both really nervous to get anywhere near it. Under normal circumstances I probably would’ve been too, but sometimes you have to take one for the team. I mean, why not? It’s for the kids!

I jumped right in to touch and hold the snake so the kids would feel less nervous about it. He followed my lead, but that little girl hid behind her mom for a long time before being courageous enough to touch anything.

Most of the animals we saw were reptiles. Several small snakes, a legless lizard, a gecko, an iguana, a cayman, and a 15 foot python just to name a few. In total they house over a hundred animals. Rizzo’s also serves as an animal shelter, taking in confiscated and abandoned animals that cannot be released back into the wild.

Once we got around to the hedgehog, parrot and the ferrets the kids were much more relaxed. The little girl was especially fond of the ferrets, the chinchilla, and the hedgehog.

Loving what you do

From the owner involved in the shows and parties, to the staff giving you the rundown on each animal, you immediately see that everyone involved loves what they are doing and genuinely cares about these animals. Their enthusiasm and knowledge definitely added to the experience.

Speaking of loving stuff, I think it’s pretty clear that I loved this way more than any of the kids, including Little.

Highlights for the Big Kid…

Who knew the “kid” that would have the most fun was 6’2″ with facial hair and not actually a kid? These are some of the more memorable moments from my, I mean our field trip.

1. I GOT TO PICK UP AND HOLD THE PYTHON!

In case my excitement didn’t come across, I’ll say it again: I got to pick up and hold the python!

At 15 feet long and roughly 120 lbs, that was one big snake! If I remember correctly, it was an albino Burmese python. On my own this is probably not something I would ever do. I guess being around children and knowing they are watching you pushes you out of your comfort zone. Maybe I need to take him more places with me?

Little wanted no part of holding it with me. He did pick up the very end of the tail though. I’m not sure I would’ve done that at his age, so credit given.

At the end of the tour all of the children sat on the stage and let the snake crawl over their legs to get back to his box. This was really fun to watch. Some of the kids had questions, some were really into touching the snake, and some were very concerned with how long it would take for him to get in the box so they could get up!

2. Feeding Time

This is Arlo, a black throated monitor lizard. Like most of the reptiles we saw, he was relaxed and motionless when we approached his tank. I say “was” because as soon as our guide moved near the top of the tank he went nuts! He must’ve known it was feeding time.

What did he eat? Well, let’s just say it rhymes with “dead baby mouse”.

3. The gecko, these guys, and a gator!

One of the last animals shown was a crested gecko. Our guide mentioned their climbing ability, and asked if anyone wanted to let him climb on them. At this point two other families had joined our group, but no one volunteered! I “reluctantly” offered my right arm as sacrifice. You know, for the kids…

Little and a few other kids stepped up after and they all got a kick from watching him slowly walk up their hand or arm.

While the group was busy feeding the fish, I wandered over and saw these two lizards. The blue one really had my attention. It felt like I stared at it for hours!

Rizzo’s also hosts children’s birthday parties, and we happened to arrive right in the middle of one. The party guests get to see more animals than regular visitors, but we were lucky enough to catch the owner showing a 4 foot alligator!

It may have been a crocodile, I don’t remember, but someone had this as a pet! According to what I remember from the show, you can legally keep this animal as a pet with a license until it reaches a certain size, which I think is 4 feet. I can’t imagine this as a house pet, but it was cool to see one up close!

4. Little and the ferrets

Once the nervousness wore off, Little was more into it. He fed a bunch of crickets to the fish, had fun touching the hedgehog, and asked to hold the ferrets when we saw them the second time.

“He’s taking a nap. And he’s really soft!”

Then came the complaints…

“Ugh!!! I smell like a ferret now! I’m going to smell like this forever!”

This was a great trip. For anyone in north Jersey looking for kids activities or a place to have a birthday party, I highly recommend giving Rizzo’s a look. It’s a great way to introduce kids to animals, it’s more interactive than a zoo, and educational. Not many places where you can get up close and personal with so many exotic animals. The only question is, how do I top this and pretend it’s for the kids? I have some planning to do.

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