John Ball Zoo is More Than Just Lions, Tigers, And Bears! (Oh My!)

What do you think of when you think of John Ball Zoo? Do you think of those adorable little penguins? The powerful tigers? Or the playful chimpanzees?

Did you also know you can feed the animals, ride a camel, and pan for gems? John Ball Zoo has events and experiences for kids of all ages.

The VIP Treatment At John Ball Zoo

A few months ago, we offered a VIP zoo experience for two local readers. Jenni Brinker and her kids were one of the lucky families to win this fantastic prize! On July 20, she and her children, Brigham (7), Webster (5) and Zlata (3) visited John Ball Zoo for a closer look at all the extras JBZ can offer. 

This isn’t Jenni’s first time at the zoo.

“We have been to the zoo many times. We usually go 2 or 3 times each year,” said Jenni.

“We usually just look at the animals, so my kids were super excited to get to do a few extras – like riding the camel and the funicular.”


Jenni and her kids had a jam-packed day, beginning at the aquarium, where they took part in feeding the penguins. She says it was fun, but a bit intense for 3 year old Zlata. The next birds on the tour were the barn owls – now at home in their new habitat.

Up Close And Personal In The Barn

The Red Barn at the Petting Zoo was one of the biggest surprises for Jenni.

“Brigham asks ‘What is in the Barn?’ every time we visit the petting zoo. I always just said that it’s where the petting zoo animals go to rest and eat. Boy, was I wrong!”

“The barn is 3 stories of surprises!” she exclaimed.

Jenni and her kids were able to get up close with the animals with an ambassador animal encounter and behind the scenes tour of the Red Barn. They saw all kinds of animals, including turtles, snakes, and bunnies, and even got to hold a bearded dragon!

Zlata liked the chinchilla most – even when it shed hair all over, a defense against predators. They were much softer than the hedgehogs, which Zlata decided were way too pokey!

Jessica, their guide through the Red Barn tour, shared facts, and gave the kids plenty of opportunities to touch and hold the animals. Next, at the Petting Coral, the kids were able to meet and pet some of the sheep and goats.


Hidden Gems

One of the highlights for Jenni’s kids, especially Brigham, was the John Ball Zoo Gem Company. At this experience, kids can choose a gem bag, and then pan for their very own gems. JBZ even provides a card to help kids identify what each gem is.


Finally, after a quick stop at JBZ’s natural playground, Jenni and the kids headed over to the Budgie Aviary, where they were able to get “cheek to beak” with colorful little Australian budgies.

Even with all that, Jenni still believes there is more to do.

“The zoo a great spot for all ages. It is so fun to see all the animals. And you can experience a lot more.”

“The Zipline and ropes course where a bit big for us this year, but I know in a few years it will add to our experience.

We can’t wait to go again. We still want to see the bird show. We are saving that for our next trip!”


What is your must-see at the zoo? What animal encounter would you like to try? Check out the options on their Animal Encounters page

1300 W. Fulton St.
Grand Rapids

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