Thursday, May 29, 2014

Local Destination:Philadelphia Zoo

When people in Greater Philadelphia say that they are going to "the zoo", everyone knows that they mean the Philadelphia Zoo.  The Philly Zoo is one of the most popular destinations in the area with about 1.2 million visitors a year.  And this place is a "must-see" for good reasons.  With an amazing history (America's very FIRST zoo), it continues to constantly update and improve, taking the lead in ingenuity and visitor experience.
The Philly Zoo has over 1,300 animals, with many of them being rare and endangered.  Make sure to check out the map when you first arrive to plan your visit so you don't miss anything.  The animal houses all have their own unique experiences from Small Mammals  to the Reptiles and Amphibians.  You duck into them for a quick look and wind up staying longer than you intended, watching the sloth slowly get around and marveling at the giant Galapagos tortoises as they eat their lunch.  You make a stop in the PECO Primate Reserve thinking you'll glance at some monkeys and apes and move on, only to discover yourself interacting with giant gorillas and watching the antics of an orangutan family.  We also love the McNeil Avian Center, where you can wander and observe various exotic birds close up (and everyone should see Otis' Big Adventure at least once in the Migration Theater).
Outside you'll find yourself having a hard time sticking to your plan on getting around the zoo as well.  You will have decided to head to the Carnivore Kingdom to check out the white-nosed coati, but suddenly find yourself veering off to watch the Cheetah's pace around their enclosure.  You'll be completely focused on getting over to the rhino and giraffes in the African Plains, and suddenly one of the polar bears will decide to go for a swim and you're back in Bear County.  Don't miss the outskirt exhibits either.  Warthogs, eagles, kangaroos, penguins, flamingoes, and much more can all be found in between the bigger exhibits.
The Philadelphia Zoo is also a leap ahead other zoos in the amount of exhibits and activities that are available for families and kids.  KidZooU is an amazing addition to the zoo experience, letting kids interact with animals, while showing how their actions and choices can directly effect nature.  Between the petting zoo, the Tiny Tot Barn, the classrooms, the GIANT ant, and all the other hands-on learning experiences, there is something for every age (and don't let the fact that you don't have kids stop you from brushing some goats and having some fun of your own).  Other stand outs for family fun include the Lorax Loft up by the Camel Rides and The Treehouse (a members-only indoor play area).  The zoo also offers carousel rides, horse and pony rides, face painting, and the PZ Express Train.  A few experiences that we recommend for everyone at least once include taking a turn feeding the birds in the Lorikeet Encounter, taking a leisurely paddle around the lake in the Swan Boats, and of course, seeing Philadelphia in a whole new way with a ride on the famous Channel 6 Zoo Balloon.
While exploring the zoo, you may begin to notice some of the animals doing a bit of exploring themselves.  You'll start to see a hint of something just a little bit different as monkeys scamper past the goats at KidsZooU.  But you'll really take notice when an Amur Tiger suddenly walks out of Big Cat Crossing and over to take a look at the orangutans who have also wandered out of their enclosure.  Welcome to the first-in-the-world Zoo360 - an experience like non-other where the animals use special trail systems to see and be seen in ways that have never been done before.  It's a truly amazing sight, so get those camera ready!
Always a fun time for every age, the Philadelphia Zoo offers many events and activities above and beyond just a regular zoo trip.  Meet the keepers and learn what they know and what they do.  You can even register to help them feed and interact with some of the animals.  The zoo hosts seasonal events from Rock and Roar in the summer to Zoo Noel in December, plus a extensive list of extra events like campouts and sleepovers.  The zoo can even come to you with Zoo on Wheels available to rent for various functions.
There's so much to see and do at the zoo, that one trip will never be enough.  When we visited years ago as a guest of a friend, they gave us some advice that we will now pass on to you: The first time you visit, buy a membership - because you will be back and it's a great deal.  An Individual Membership is only $75 and gets you and a guest in for FREE all year round, plus FREE parking.  Zoo members also get to enjoy discounts at the food and souvenir locations, discounts at certain membership levels on rides and attractions, and discounts at other zoos and aquariums through the AZA Reciprocal Program.
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