Dino-mite! Two drive-thru dinosaur experiences let loose in Metro Detroit in June

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
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Dinosaurs haven't roamed the Earth in millions of years but watch out, Metro Detroiters. They're back.

Two drive-thru dinosaur experiences featuring dozens of animatronic dinosaurs let loose this month, one a new traveling exhibit making its Detroit debut at Novi's Suburban Collection Showplace and another that is returning to the DTE Energy Music Theatre for the second summer in a row. Another dinosaur exhibit at Canterbury Village in Lake Orion ended in late May.

Dino Safari, which has already traveled to Atlanta, Raleigh and Chicago, opens June 11 and runs through July 5, featuring roughly 40 animatronic dinosaurs. After being pushed back a few weeks from its original start date because of a scheduling issue, the exhibit transports kids to a place called Pangea National Park, taking them continent by continent to meet Sauropods, Stegosaurus, Parasaurolophus and everyone's favorite carnivore, the T. rex.

An animatronic T. rex tours over the other dinosaurs at the Dino Safari drive-thru exhibit. It opens at Suburban Collection Showplace on June 11.

"People love the show," said Tom Zaller, CEO of Imagine Exhibitions and producer of Dino Safari. "People come again and again. We have many days that sell out. We’re encouraging people to buy in advance."

Jurassic Quest, meanwhile, returns to the DTE Energy Music Theatre from June 18 through July 4, featuring more than 70 "photorealistic" dinosaurs. The show will have a brand new audio tour this year and will only be at DTE for two weeks, as opposed to four as it was last year (more days could be added depending on demand).

More than more than 125,000 people, or 34,000 families, drove through Jurassic Quest at DTE last August, making it one of the most popular stops in North America last summer, according to 313 Presents.

More than 34,000 families drove through Jurassic Quest drive-thru dinosaur exhibit at DTE Energy Music Theatre in August 2020. It returns in June.

“It is great to welcome back Jurassic Quest Drive Thru to DTE Energy Music Theatre,” said 313 Presents President Howard Handler in a press release. “The event last year exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to creating more memories for our guests this summer."

Both exhibitions are COVID-safe in that patrons never leave their cars and instead drive through the dinosaurs.

Zaller of Imagine Exhibitions said what sets Dino Safari apart from other drive-thru dinosaur exhibitions is that it's fun but also really focused on education. Zaller and his team worked with paleontologist Gregory Erickson, who is also a biologist and engineer, to choose the dinosaurs. Artists illustrated what the dinosaurs may have looked like and then they were fabricated.

"The inside is metal and there are motors, levers and gears that allow them to move," said Zaller. "Then the coating around the outside them gives them a flesh. It's like a soft foam. They look super life-like. They look very real."

The biggest featured dinosaur at Dino Safari will be the T. rex, standing at 20 feet tall and 50 feet long. 

Dino Safari will include sauropods, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Spinosaurus, among other other dinosaurs.

Zaller said the reason kids are taken to Pangea is because that what's what the land mass was called when all the continents were connected 150 million years ago.

"We teach a little bit about how that happened to the children that want to know, how plate tectonics work and the separation of continents," said Zaller. "And why you might find one dinosaur on two different continents because at one point they were actually connected and migrating between the two."

The exhibit is divided by continents and in front of each dinosaur is a sign that explains when they lived, their name and where. There's also an audio tour and each child is given a "passport" for a scavenger hunt.

"Imagine going to a museum but instead of walking by you're driving by," said Zaller. "It's very rich and layered."

The tour lasts 45 minutes to an hour and the audio tour is timed to go with each section.

Jurassic Quest also worked with paleontologists to ensure its featured dinosaurs were replicated accurately, from coloration and teeth size to skin texture. It'll include more than 70 dinosaurs, including a 50-foot Megalodon. Cars will also get a chance to do baby dinosaur and trainer meet-and-greet.

Vehicles pass through the many dinosaurs on exhibit  at the opening of Jurassic Quest at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston in August 2020.

Zaller said for little ones who love dinosaurs, it's a must.

"If you have a dinosaur lover in your family, you kind of have to go," he said.

Tickets begin at $49.95 per vehicle (for up to 7 people per car) for Dino Safari and $49 per car for Jurassic Quest.

Dino-mite Drive-thrus

  • Dino Safari: June 11-July 5 at Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi; advance ticket purchases strongly recommended. Tickets start at $49.95 per car. Go to DinoSafari.com.
  • Jurassic Quest: June 18-July 4 at DTE Energy Music Theatre; tickets must be purchased in advance. Go to www.jurassicquest.com.
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