It's as close to Out Of Africa as you're going to get, spliced together with a few scenes from Stand By Me and The Blair Witch Project. The Safari Park's Roar & Snore encounter is beautiful and romantic with open-vista visions of animals roaming free, then at night, the adventure kicks in with flashlights in hand, noises in the bushes and roars that could scare the bejesus out of you. You feel alive, your senses are heightened and you regain an appreciation for the world at large and the animal kingdom. We did it, we lived to talk about it, and I'm here to give you a window into the wild experience.
Roar and Snore
San Diego Zoo
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, CA 92027-7017
There were just 104 campers sleeping in the midst of the 1,800-acre wild park with 400 species on the loose in their open quarters. It was totally legit, the real deal and not contrived, campy or overscheduled like you may think an organized park event might be. The Park does the encounter right, with justice to the open-roaming atmosphere there. (The Safari Park, formerly known as Wild Animal Park, replicates herds of animals from the plains and savannas of Africa and Asia that normally roam together in the wild. It's a reflection of animals in the most natural way possible.) That said, here's how the experience went down, if you go, and you really should go once in your lifetime, if Africa isn't in your plans.
We arrived at 4:30pm to check in outside the front park entrance, with our gear in tow. We checked ourselves off the list, then handed over our overnight gear, which was later delivered to our tent in zoo-like concierge style. After we signed in, we roamed free until dinner. Around sunset, everyone met up at base camp to unpack and prep for meal time. The tents were great with classic safari style and came with available sleeping bags and padding, plus chairs to lounge in. After unpacking, there was plenty of sunset-time to take in the giraffes and antelope.
The prepared buffet dinner of burgers, mac and cheese, and more was bountiful, and a mini bar was set up for adults to enjoy the scene with some vino or a fine import. All of which made for a lovely time to mingle with fellow campers and enjoy the animals as they fed only a few feet away. It was breathtaking, really. The kids played cat-and-mouse games of chase with new found friends in the relaxed ambiance.
After a leisurely dinner, everyone had s'mores by the campfire and then we split into two groups to go see the lions at night. Some campers had head lamps, while others went old-school with big, cumbersome flashlights; we opted for stealth in mini-light style. We all walked over and crossed the bridge as a pack. The lions were laying down; spent from the day's heat. But fur silhouettes were still fun to see.
After the lions, we returned to base camp and were on our own again to stay up late and explore. We cruised the grounds, with our palms a bit sweaty as we braved the pitch black. It was calm and peaceful, but still unnerving. A few park staff stayed up at base camp, on watch all evening, which was quite reassuring). The scariest tale we heard of was a bunny rabbit that crashed a girl scouts' tent once, so rest assured it's very safe. But did I wonder if my 9-month old son was going to be good animal snack food? Sure.
The kids and I hit a few more night paths after everyone turned in, then we finally called it bedtime around 11:30. Did I sleep? Not really. The kids were out like lights and the tents were plenty comfortable and spacious, but my guard was up and my imagination was running wild.
After a night of lion roars, I was up before the sun rose, anxious to see the morning's happenings. I crept over to the elephant area, saw something moving out of the corner of my eye and jumped out of my skin, only to realize it was a deer creeping up on me. I went back to camp, the kids awoke and the five of us joined a guide on her impromptu way to check the lions. It was just my family, a panel of glass and three wide-awake, hungry lions pacing for their breakfast two inches from us. It was amazing, intimate, personal and again, so very natural. The guide even hand-fed one lion snacks through a cage panel.
Finally, we all enjoyed breakfast and the sleepover adventure was a wrap at 9:30 am. How we wished it was for two nights, but savored the opportunity for even one slumber with the African herds.
The cost for such an adventure? Adults are $182 and up, children are $152 and up. The bonus is that you're also able to enjoy the park the day of your sleepover and the day after you camp out, so it's economically chock full of value if you break it down. The sleepover includes tent accommodations, dinner, evening snack, and breakfast. FYI, there are also various sleepover choices from adults only to family nights and more, and they are also themed for holidays. Sleepover season typically runs through Halloween, then starts up again after nicer weather returns in February. So you still have time to Roar and Snore this year.
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