I don’t think I have ever seen Ally so wide-eyed. It took her hours to go to sleep, first from sheer excitement and then a bit from anxiety. We fed elephants, rubbed their bristly trunks in good night, and then retreated to our canvas tent, where Ally jerked awake every time the tiger roared. Yep, tiger. Right outside the tent. Nope, we’re still in California.
Vision Quest Ranch is a bed and breakfast near Monterey, California. It’s pretty much the closest to a safari I think we’ll ever get. The tent cabins are made in Botswana! My second thought (first – “I can sleep next to a tiger?! Are you kidding me??”) was that we struggle a bit with camping. We certainly don’t need a four star hotel (I think I’ve stayed in two in the past 30 years), but tents are forever paired in my mind with weird bugs and the general lack of a bathroom or running water. This is glamping (glamorous camping). Despite the canvas tent, you get your pick of cabins WITH RUNNING WATER. You get your own cute little bathroom, and no bugs. I’m sold!
Vision Quest is in Salinas. Also known as “City of Artichokes and Other Amazing Food”. I might have made that up, but it works here, trust me. When you approach Salinas, the first thing you see are rows and rows for miles of strawberry plants. Then tomatoes. And along the road by all that goodness – ARTICHOKES. I don’t know who first looked at one of those spiny, really unappealing-green vegetables and thought to eat it, but thank you, mystery food tester. We had to stop for artichokes. And strawberries. Road trips are all about seeing cool new things and eating weird food, just ask my kids.
And then we made our way to Vision Quest. We left the strawberry fields and entered a residential area, and as I’m looking around, I’m thinking there’s no way elephants and tigers live here. Then we crested a hill, left the residential area, and Vision Quest sat on the right. You can’t see the tent cabins at first. Visitors can come just to see the animals without staying the night here, and at first you see a gift shop and a place to buy tickets for animal encounters. You can take a tour, meet their big cats and feed their elephants.
Knowing we were several hours from home and not sure if we’d ever be able to come back, I arranged for Butch’s Bedtime (elephant feeding) and Crunch Time (big cat feeding). I’m not going to sugar coat it – it was expensive (to me). Both programs are $30/person for B&B guests, or $35/person for non-B&B guests. They do discount the tours by a total of $10/person if you do both. For the four of us, it was $200 to feed the elephants and the big cats.
So what does that entail? We lucked out and were the only people at Crunch Time. We were paired with a really fantastic trainer who answered every question the kids had, from where the animals lived before they came here, to why the tigers fast at meal time once per week. We got to hear all of their noises, from what I can only assume is the cat equivalent to “how can you be this slow with my food?” to contented sighs and purrs depending on the cat. Did we get to hand-feed a tiger? No. Not even close. At Crunch Time, the trainer makes little raw meat patties depending on the diet of the cat, and you shove the patty into their enclosure with a very long pole.
You can watch the trainer feed the tigers chicken legs in their nighttime enclosures. Look how tall that guy is. Holy moley.
For Butch’s Bedtime, you then get handed off to the elephant handlers, who walk you into the giant barn where the elephants sleep at night. This tour was much more crowded, and more hands-on. Everyone is given a pile of sweet potato or carrot sticks, and the elephants reach their trunks out for a bedtime snack. After getting the OK, you can feel their trunks and again ask questions to your heart’s content. Ry had a million questions, including “are elephants scared of mice”. Turns out no, except in the way that I might leap onto a chair in startlement if a big hairy spider comes barreling across my floor straight at me. Kinda creepy. We did hear a story about Butch the elephant, and how a rodent of some sort came scurrying across his floor at bedtime one night before it dove into a floor grate. The big guy is still freaked out by that grate, and will skirt around it or throw hay over it.
We went to bed after the elephants, and as I nestled the kids in their bed with monkey sheets and mosquito netting, the tigers started chuffing and roaring. This got the hyena going, and it sounded like the two were having an across-the-compound-dance-fight. At first Ally thought this was the best thing ever. Until my husband jokingly said that he’d protect her if the tiger took a stroll into our yard. Ah man, that was the end of bedtime. Despite explaining quite clearly that the tigers can’t get out, and there are two gates between the tigers and the tent cabin, and that tigers would go for a burger and a shake down the road, or maybe stop in for a bedtime story before heading back to their camp, it was a sleepless night. Monkey Manor (our cabin) literally looks into the big cat bedtime enclosure. You can hear them all night long. I thought it was absolutely amazing. Ally, not so much.
Perhaps the best part of our stay was breakfast. You know how breakfast is provided in a bed and breakfast? Here, the elephants deliver your breakfast. They stop at each cabin with their handlers. The handlers come towing a wagon with delicious pastry, bagels, fruit and milk. So, so good. They also have snacks for the elephants, so you can give them a few more carrot sticks as a thank-you.
And then they head off, trunk to tail, for their next cabin.
Ready for your safari? Here’s the link for Vision Quest B&B.