But, surprisingly, these two places share a unique activity they both offer — camel rides! Yes, Tacoma’s Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is now in the business of giving camel rides to visitors on its two resident dromedaries, Bubbles and Picasso. The zoo has had camels for a while, however this is only the third summer that it has given visitors the opportunity to ride these unique hump-backed creatures.
“It’s been popular, especially with the kids,” says Derek Chapin, visitor services supervisor. “They get a kick out of it because it’s such a different experience and one that you’d never expect to have in this area, let alone this region of the world.”
Both of the zoo’s camels are males. Picasso weighs 1,600 pounds and Bubbles, the heavyweight, is around 1,800. They eat mostly grain and alfalfa at the zoo, but in the wild, they will consume most types of vegetation available to them.
According to Chandler Clarke, zoo staff member and camel attendant, the animals are even-tempered and relaxed much of the time.
He says, “They’re like big puppy dogs and they can be very affectionate when they know you. They’ll come up and nuzzle or shove their heads at you because they want some attention.”
Clarke comments that people often ask whether the camels spit a lot.
He responds, “They don’t naturally spit. Spitting is a learned behavior. And they really don’t bite either. These are misconceptions that often give camels a bad reputation.”
Clarke also explains that the camels enjoy exercising and that the rides they give each day provide them with opportunities to walk.
He adds, “In the wild, they will walk up to 40 miles a day.”
A special platform allows riders easy access getting on and off the camels, omitting the need for the animals to assume a prone position each time a new person boards them.
This is much more convenient, both for the rider and the camel. I speak from experience, having ridden a camel in Egypt several years ago, where the most awkward part of the process was the mount and dismount operation. The camel had to lower itself down and then rise up while you continued to try and maintain your balance. For those who have never been on these humpbacked creatures, it might feel a bit off-kilter initially. The camel’s gait is more like a waddle and it sways back and forth as it walks.
It’s not overly comfortable at first, but if you allow your body to go with the movement, as opposed to fighting it, you’ll soon be able to relax and fully enjoy the experience. You might even find yourself humming the theme to “Lawrence of Arabia!”
While you’re in Tacoma, make sure to also head over to the waterfront for more summertime fun. You can walk or bike for several miles along the picturesque pathway (soon to connect to the zoo), grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants on the bay, or even parasail if you’re in the mood for an adrenaline-boosting activity.
Pacific Parasail, which operates right behind the Ram Restaurant, will be glad to set you up for a ride to remember. You can choose to fly on your own, go tandem or triple, as you take to the skies from the back of a speedboat.
The family-run business, with Captain Doug Luthi at its helm, has been in operation for 10-plus years and has an impeccable safety record.
“Not even a stubbed toe,” says Luthi with pride. “We adhere closely to the parasail safety standards as published by the Professional Association of Parasail Operators, as well as the safety standards set by our parasail insurance provider. Safety is of utmost importance to us and we take it very seriously.”
Pacific Parasail offers flyers the opportunity to choose from two altitudes that are based on length of tow line.
For those who aren’t sure of heights, 600 feet of tow line is recommended. Otherwise, opt for 1,000 feet of tow line, which puts you at a vertical height of about 850 feet.
From that height, you can see the Space Needle in Seattle. No matter what option you select however, you’ll be wowed with the views of beautiful Commencement Bay, Mt. Rainier, Vashon Island and Browns Point, not to mention the ship and ferry traffic, sailboats and other pleasure craft dotting the waters below. You will marvel at how high you are and how tiny everything appears from your bird’s eye perspective.
Surprisingly, it’s amazingly quiet and peaceful once you’ve attained elevation, and the ride is gentle, though there is a definite heart-pumping thrill to the experience.
The only time you may feel any type of motion is if you encounter wind, which can sometimes occur when the boat turns toward the harbor.
If this is a bit unsettling to you, as it was for me, take a few deep calming breaths and know that the movement is natural and doesn’t usually last too long.
Upon descent, those who have requested a “toe dip” in advance will be lowered to allow their feet to skim the water. That’s the only time you’ll get wet. Otherwise, you take off and land smoothly on the flight deck of the boat without a splash. Before you know it, the ride’s over and you’re on terra firma, giving high fives all around.
If you go:
Camel rides for ages 3 and older are offered at Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium from late May through September and during the holiday Zoolights. Cost: $6 per ride.
For more information: www.pdza.org
Pacific Parasail operates its flights from May through September. Kids 4-10 fly free with full fare adult ($79 - $89 depending on altitude).
For more information: (253) 272-3883 or www. pacificparasail.net.