A couple weekends ago, my family had an opportunity to go to our local zoo with the annual event Dreamnight at the Zoo. This is an amazing, after-hours event where families of chronically ill and special needs children are provided tickets to the zoo where they will find many special surprises.
Dreamnight at the Zoo is an International event that happens the first weekend in June. So where did it all start? The Netherlands! It’s grown so much from it’s start 18 years ago! From the Dreamnight at the Zoo website “Rotterdam Zoo initiated an annual evening ‘out at the zoo’ for children from the Sophia Children’s Hospital in 1996. This first edition of the ‘Dreamnight at the Zoo’ was especially for children with cancer. 175 children were invited and they brought their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.”
It is meant to be a BIG DEAL of an event! Children are greeted by fantasy and costumes characters, they have animal interactions, entertainment. This year we saw every superhero and costumed character imaginable; it would be impossible to list them all. They included Disney characters, superheroes, Harry Potter characters, knights and princesses. There were even the newly famous Anna and Elsa (the only place in the park with a line, even though it was short). Having seen a few different Anna and Elsa’s online and right where they live, these were two of the best I have seen. Someone asked Anna about her singing and she belted out a little tune! They were gorgeous, I wanted to watch them with the kids all night.
In addition to all of the characters, there was dinner provided by Chick Fil-A for every visitor. There were animal docents with turtles and snakes and even a giant hissing cockroach. (The boys liked the cockroach…) Amazing face painting artists and lots of colorful faces. At one point, six people puppeting a flying Chinese dragon came over and played a little chase with my son who kept calling to it over and over. In the end, we were all laughing at how funny it was.
We have been to Dreamnight a few times now (we have been very lucky!) and this year was my favorite so far. I think it was so special because of the abundance of characters who really seemed to enjoy the work that they were doing there. I really noticed that the the zoo and Chick Fil-A staff were also very happy and kind. Not that they haven’t been in years past, but this really struck me, they wanted to be there, with us!
That said, I think every year there is something new that sticks out as my favorite part of the event. But always, every year, it’s the people who are attending with you. We normally see the crowds of wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and feeding tubes only at hospitals, to see them all in such a fun place just makes everything seem so… normal. Even the siblings of the special needs children can run and play with new friends where they all have something in common with each other. There is really a very special atmosphere.
We received our tickets through the non-profit organization Hope Kids, but they are distributed through a few avenues, I have gotten them through our amazing local children’s hospital Primary Children’s in the past as well. The zoo chooses how to distribute the tickets for their event. If you have connections with the special needs community in your area ask around about Dreamnight at the Zoo, if you don’t? What are you waiting for, get connected! For a list of zoo partners visit the Dream Night at the Zoo website here. [http://www.dreamnightatthezoo.nl/English/index_EN.htm]
Image courtesy of H.E.R.O.I.C. Inc.