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Virtual-reality experience now open at Point Defiance

Zoo and aquarium also offer many other rainy day options

Brittany Catanzaro tries out the new virtual-reality experience at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's new, state-of-the-art Ocean Explorer Virtual Reality experience is now open.

Located within the zoo's Pacific Seas Aquarium, near the exit from the Baja Bay habitat, this hi-tech adventure provides an exhilarating experience with which to enhance learning about the ocean.

The journey begins by sitting down in a pod and donning virtual-reality goggles. Once inside the pod, the sound from the speakers and the movement of the pod are synced with what you are seeing to produce a very lifelike experience.

There are four underwater virtual-reality experiences to choose from. "Swimming with the Humpbacks" follows the whales as they migrate from Antarctica to the Kingdom of Tonga during mating season. It gives you a rare glimpse into the life of these magnificent creatures.

For a more adrenaline-fueled adventure, choose "Shark Dive," which takes you to Tiger Beach, Bahamas. There, the world's largest sharks gather, and in the virtual-reality video experience, sharks swim extremely close to you and at one point bump the back of your pod for an extremely real experience.

Other options include following a sea turtle or exploring coral, shipwrecks and other mysteries of the deep.

"These videos show the natural environments of many of the animals we have here in our aquariums," said Donna Powell, business manager at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. "The virtual-reality experience helps to instill appreciation and awe for the ocean and all it has to offer."

"Many families today have children of varying ages," she continued, "and often it is hard to keep the older children engaged. This experience is very popular with preteens and teens who are immersed in technology daily."

The Underwater Virtual Reality Experience is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during zoo hours. The cost is very reasonable at $8 for nonmembers and $6 for members.

You may think a zoo is a surprising option for a rainy day visit, but you may be amazed at all the areas at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium that get you out of the rain. Many of the animal exhibits have covered areas that keep you nice and dry while observing your favorite creatures.

Also, some of the animals from colder climates are more active this time of year. On a recent visit, for example, the penguins in mass were swimming up and down their exhibit like children allowed to play in the rain. It was so fun to watch their exuberance.

Other indoor activities at the zoo include the vintage Paul Titus Carousel and the South Pacific Aquarium. Yes, this zoo has two aquariums. The Rocky Shores area has both indoor and outdoor areas to observe animals above and below the water. Enjoy the two new male walruses, Mitik and Patak, along with California sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and puffins.

The zoo offers military discounts, but the annual memberships are a better deal. For one price, you get admission for the year and other membership perks.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday-Monday, 5400 N Pearl St., Tacoma, 253.404.3800,

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