I’ll be the first to admit…I think I like going to zoos more than my kids do. On the rare occasion that the husband and I get to have an adults-only vacation, that’s the place I want to go. Not to bars, museums, shopping…the zoo. You could say I’m a bit of zoo expert. I love seeing all the beautiful animals that represent how amazing nature is all over the world. Each creature is a wonder all in itself so when you have hundreds of them all together in one place I’m like a kid in a candy shop. I am also super critical of how the animals are kept and recognize how challenging it is for them to create an enclosure that is not only appropriate for the animal, but that also allows you to view whatever is in there so it’s a feature I assess when we visit. You have to admit, if you take a trip to the zoo, it gets pretty frustrating when you have to play the “where is it?” game at every exhibit and half the time see nothing. At the Philadelphia zoo, we had a great view of the rhino pooping (the highlight of Oliver’s trip) and had so much fun watching the orangutans hide under paper bags on their heads among other things. The exhibits there were spot on for animal comfort as well as viewability.
Keeping my expert status in mind, the Philadelphia Zoo ranks in my top 5 favorites in the country so far and I’ve been to both the Columbus AND San Diego Zoos which are the best of the best. So what makes a zoo special?
- Unique animals- The first animals we saw when we got to the Philly Zoo for Oliver’s 4th birthday adventure were bats. I LOVE bats and I can’t really recall seeing them at many zoos before. These bats were huge and vocal and active (and smelly) and they were so fun to watch. The Philly Zoo was so full of interesting animals. Not that otters, snakes and penguins aren’t super cool but we love seeing things we have never laid eyes on before. Like many other zoos, Philly participates in breeding programs for many of their animals and their babies are definitely a highlight when they are ready to go on exhibit. They recently had a gorilla born at the zoo and we were hoping to see it, but unfortunately mama and baby were taking a break when we stopped by the primate house. We did get to see their baby giraffe though and it was as cute as can be!
- Unique exhibits- There is SO much thought put in to each and every exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo but there were a few that really caught my eye. In the KidZooU building there was a rat exhibit that had all kinds of wheels, tubes, slides and other activities that showcased how playful and intelligent they are. I also loved the Zoo360 experience. This allows certain types of animals to traverse bridges above you. We got to see a tiger above our heads and lemurs playing right next to us as we walked through the zoo, Such a cool way to get a closer view and to allow the animals to explore and exercise in a different way.
- Experiences- Many zoos now have a barnyard area and the boys always love it because they can feed, pet and even brush goats. While my kids have done this more times than I can count, they love it every time and having this feature is so valuable for the kids that live in the city that may have never seen a goat in person before let alone get to interact with them. Oliver also got to feed exotic birds (for an extra cost) which he really enjoyed. There are a few other fun things you can pay extra for like a carousel and swan paddle boats.
- Indoor options- I don’t necessarily think of going to the zoo as a great Winter activity but the Philly Zoo has 5 buildings with exhibits to explore AND the treehouse play area. These are also great for Summer trips when you need a break from the heat and sun. Some other advantages to an “off season” visit are that you won’t have to fight the crowds and many of the animals actually love colder weather so you may get to see them behave in a different way than they would when it’s warm out.
- Landscaping- This one isn’t super important to the vast majority of people, but to me, it is. Good landscaping is kind of like the glue that binds all of the other things together. When things are tidy, flower beds are weed free and you see beautiful plants, trees and shrubs as you make your way around, it subconsciously affects your overall experience. They did a great job here achieving a beautiful, colorful landscape and that’s a huge compliment coming from me.
- Amenities- Lots of bathrooms. When you have small kids, you know how important this is. Not only were there plenty of restrooms around, they also offered family bathrooms with kid sized potties and plenty of space. I also love the breastfeeding rooms for feeding/pumping, or even just to get baby to sleep away from the hustle and bustle happening outside. It’s easy for tiny ones to get overstimulated and overtired and having a comfortable place to take them to nurse and relax for a few minutes is so helpful. There are plenty of picnic areas as well to take a break.
The only complaints I have about this adventure are the cost and parking. We were able to park in the garage but when it gets busy during peak visiting seasons, you sometimes have to park blocks away which is super annoying. It’s also very pricey to visit the zoo and something I know many families just can’t fit in to the budget. That’s why we visited for a special occasion and it was only the two of us. Even then it was still over $50 for parking and tickets. Because we had such a good time, I decided to buy the family membership during cyber week when it was on sale knowing that it will pay for itself after one visit as a family of 5. We are looking forward to many trips in the next year and we will definitely get our money’s worth out of the membership! Keep in mind that the Philadelphia Zoo membership program offers free parking and is part of the AZA reciprocity program. You can visit many other zoos and aquariums for free or at a discounted rate with this membership.