Photo |  Gabi Garrett

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo offers unique opportunities for guests to get up close and personal with kangaroos, sloths, lemurs, reptiles and other animals.

By Gabi Garrett/Contributing Writer

What do you want to do today?” is a question that might come up on the rare Saturdays you don’t have a soccer game, a planned grocery store run or a full day of cleaning ahead. When you’re contemplating what’s fun for you and your friends, your significant other or the entire family, here’s a fun solution: Go play with a kangaroo.

“Play with a kangaroo?” you ask.

Yes, and don’t stop there — you can also have exploration time with sloths, lemurs, reptiles and tamanduas at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which is in Gulf Shores.

Gulf Shores is a simple drive down state Route 59 from the Spanish Fort and Daphne area, or a quick jaunt on the beach expressway from Fairhope and Mobile. In under an hour, traffic pending, you can be all set and ready for your next adventure, starting with animal explorations at the zoo.

“If we can change one person’s life by bringing them closer to animals, then we’ve done our job,” says the zoo, which opened in June 1989 as Zooland Animal Park. In 1991, the Ward family created the Zoo Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, and donated 17 acres that make up the zoo today, housing more than 500 animals, including lions, tigers and bears. (Oh my!)

The zoo is proud to offer unusual opportunities to get up close and personal in a safe space with some of their favorite, or soon to be favorite, animals.

The encounters cost a fee per person in addition to your entry to the zoo but the time promises to be well worth it. Prices for each animal range from $5-$10. Keep in mind that only the family member with the pass will have the opportunity to get one-on-one with their animal of choice. The zoo entry cost is affordable: $11 for adults and $8 for children 3 years old to 12 years old.

The cost of each animal encounter helps fund the animal wildlife sanctuary, which regulates the guidelines for how the rare animals, such as sloths, are kept. These regulations cover the way the animals are fed, their living conditions and more. The individuals working the encounters are mindful to keep these animals safe by explaining the animals’ tendencies before each person enters into their zoo homes.

“I loved seeing the sloths up close. They’re so unique and cool. My favorite thing about the sloth encounter was feeding them and watching them eat,” Sarah Timmons Sommerville said.

Sommerville, daughter of two local business owners in the Eastern Shore area, recently became infatuated with sloths and was overjoyed at the opportunity to meet her friends in person. This preteen even adopted her own sloth online and is excited to help contribute to the dwindling population of these unique animals, even if her certificate did not secure her “her own, actual sloth.”

The kangaroo encounters prove to be fun. Upon entering the circular area, one can join other animal encounter goers in petting three toddler-age kangaroos. One kangaroo is blind and loves to give hugs to visitors. The trio are very friendly and will pause their hopping for a little rub on the back of their unusually soft fur.

Whether you’re in the mood to get up close and personal with a lizard or snake in the reptile exhibit, go more “out there” with a lemur or a tamandua, or stick with the always photo-worthy kangaroo and sloth, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is sure to delight.

Make a day of your adventure and head to the beach to grab a cocktail, lunch or just get your toes in the sand. If you decide to take the leisurely trip down Route 59, may we suggest the farmers markets and authentic Mexican food in Robertsdale and Loxley.

As the saying goes, “time spent in nature is never wasted,” so get out there and explore what Alabama has to offer.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Address: 1204 Gulf Shores Parkway, Gulf Shores 36542
Phone: 251-968-5732
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily