Lions, Tigers, Bears – and sharks! How an aquarium overnighter enhanced this pack’s program

Looking overhead, the Cub Scouts of Pack 59 saw sharks. They didn’t watch them for long. They had had a busy day exploring and learning about aquatic wildlife at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Huddled in sleeping bags, the Cub Scouts soon fell asleep inside the aquarium’s underwater tunnel.

The overnighter at the aquarium provided an unforgettable outing for the pack from Knoxville, Tenn., last summer.

“We want them to experience the world in as many ways as we can,” says Cubmaster Rob Shomaker. “There are a lot more doors open than when I was a Scout.”

New experiences

The pack often plans a family overnighter every year. In the past, the Cub Scouts and their parents have slept at zoos and aboard an aircraft carrier. This was the first time they’ve stayed at an aquarium.

“We try to vary things and do things kids might not get to do and make it family-friendly,” Shomaker says. “It creates a unique experience. The kids tell their friends, and that helps with recruitment. It helps tell the story of Scouting.”

Scouting is fun. And much of it calls for youth to be active. Shomaker saw that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard doing a Zoom call,” he says. “There’s so much in Scouts that’s hands-on.”

While the pandemic presented that great challenge, it also opened a door. The pack’s adult leaders began looking at opportunities closer to home to appreciate what’s around them. That included the world-class aquarium, which features more than 10,000 sea creatures and was about an hour’s drive from the pack.

Inside the aquarium

When the pack arrived on a Saturday evening, the aquarium’s staff was ready. They escorted the Cub Scouts through the aquarium, stopping at the petting pool, where the Cub Scouts got to feel sharks, jellyfish and stingrays. They watched a diver swim among the fish and then talked with the diver about different species in the tank. The Cub Scouts also played games, went on a scavenger hunt and checked out an indoor playground.

“They had the kids going the entire time, which was fantastic,” Shomaker says. “The kids had a blast — and as adults, we had a blast, too.”

In the morning, the staff had classroom lectures about conservation and more opportunities for the Cub Scouts to pet animals. Some Cub Scouts were a little hesitant, but Shomaker says it presented an opportunity to remind them that “A Scout is Brave,” which was often followed by a Cub Scout’s triumphant remark of: “I did it!”

“The kids were able to be engaged and thrive,” Shomaker says.

Tips from Pack 59

  1. Set the date in advance, so families can have plenty of time to prepare.
  2. Be clear on the itinerary. This includes not only where to go and what everyone will be doing, but also what people should bring and what behavior is expected.
  3. Get parents involved. A cool destination may attract parents, too.
  4. Check with the venue on accommodations — including sleeping arrangements and menus — so people can adjust in case of any food allergies.
  5. If your unit has a unique or fun overnight trip coming up, let Scout Life know via this form. Your unit might be featured in a future issue or on this blog. You can also use that form to share a trip your unit went on recently.

Subscribing to Scout Life can give you and your Scout ideas for planning your own overnight adventure. You can find some of these tips here, too, for a pack overnighter.

Scouts read about animal-focused overnighters in Scout Life‘s November issue. You can read that story here.

About Michael Freeman 380 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.