Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! A family trip to the zoo can be an awesome and educational experience for both the kids and the parents. With all of the various animals to look at, your time at the zoo can fly by quickly and you might only get a part of the experience that you were hoping for. With some proper planning ahead of time though (and some expectations setting for yourself), you can find ways to make the most of your trip to the zoo and leave feeling like you spent the day productively while still having fun.
- Visit the zoo’s website ahead of time. As soon as you start planning a trip to the zoo, do some research on the zoo’s website. This is where you will find all of the information you will need to plan your day. The website should tell you everything from the zoo’s hours of operation to the types of animals you can expect to find there. You can probably even find a map of the zoo on the website so you can plan your day’s route around the exhibits that you most want to see. You may even want to print out the map and show it to the kids beforehand - ask them what they really want to see.
- Plan around the zoo’s daily activities. One of the best parts about visiting the zoo is watching some of the animals during feeding time. This is a great learning experience and it is also entertaining, especially for the kids. Feeding time is typically done on a regular schedule and most zoos will post this schedule on their website. If you can find this information, use it and plan your route around it. You will also find a schedule of any shows, discussions or other special daily activities going on at the zoo on any given day from its website.
- Get there early. By far, this was the top tip we got when we contacted several zoos across the country. The best way to make the most of your trip to the zoo is to get there at opening time and plan your visit for the entire day. Rushing through the various things to see at the zoo will leave you tired and feeling like you didn’t get the full experience. Also, some zoos close at 5:00 p.m. so if you don’t get there early enough, you may not have time to see everything you want to see. Most importantly, the animals tend to be more active (and entertaining) during the early hours which provides for a fun visit.
- Temper Your Own Expectations. Sometimes we can get too focused on wanting to see everything that we end up rushing too much. Some zoos really aren't meant to be seen in their entirety in just one day, and it's just simply a lot of walking. If the kids want to take 20 minutes to look at the giraffes, why not? And more than once, I've seen the kids more entertained by the squirrel in the lawn than the 2-ton elephant across the way. Ha.
- Bring a lunch and other things to make yourself comfortable. Most zoos offer food and refreshments throughout the facility that you can purchase if you get hungry. However, the prices are jacked up. You could end up spending three times as much on lunch as you would outside of the park, so bring some sandwiches or some other type of picnic lunch. Don’t forget plenty of water, your favorite animal hat, and some SPF600 sunscreen - these items will help you stay comfortable on a hot and sunny day.
- Graze. Yup, just like the animals. One of the best tips to minimize the whining and tiredness is to take frequent breaks for little snacks and drinks. For really young kids, it's nearly impossible to keep them engaged with all the animals for hours on end. They WILL glaze over at some point - that's your que to bring out the animal crackers.
- Teach your children respect for the animals and the environment. One of the worst things you can do while at the zoo is to feed the animals when you are not allowed to do so. This could cause an embarrassing scene or, ever worse, cause an animal to get sick. Remember to keep litter away from the zoo animals and only feed them the recommended foods which are usually in a designated machine near the animals. This will help enhance your zoo experience and keep everybody (including the animals) happy.