Showing posts with label zoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zoo. Show all posts

The Ultimate Family Guide to Zoos in the Mid-Atlantic

Over the past several years, I have visited a number of zoos around the Mid-Atlantic region - Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.  There are a lot of great choices, but here are my top choices of where to visit with your family!  Click the subtitle link on each zoo to see my full review and guide to visiting!

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore 

Saying hi to a penguin friend at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore - July 2020

This is our "local" zoo at just about 45 minutes away and an easy drive from our house.  The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is located in Druid Hill Park and is completely picturesque - with winding trails, easy to navigate areas, and a good variety of animals.  One of our favorite exhibits here are the penguins - they are simply too cute to miss!  

Smithsonian's National Zoo

Panda Bear at the Smithsonian Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. - December 2019


Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium - Great Family Fun!

On a recent trip to Western Pennsylvania, my youngest and I found ourselves with a morning to ourselves and decided to make an impromptu visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.  Unlike most places we visit, I didn't take any time to plan ahead - we simply showed up and figured it out as we went.  The morning was exactly what we were looking for: plenty of time together, lots of animals, and a safe environment during this summer of COVID.

Pittsburgh Zoo - The Basics

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are located on the outskirts of downtown Pittsburg in the Highland Park area.  Getting here was super easy which was good news for me as I absolutely hate city driving.  It was really simple to find off the highway and features plenty of free parking for zoo patrons.  We visited in July 2020 which means that COVID procedures were in full swing - and there were a few differences from my visit to the Maryland Zoo just a few weeks earlier.  Guests were required to wear masks the entire time they are in the Pittsburgh Zoo except when eating or drinking.  In addition, there was no timed entry required as they found that they had been running well below capacity so we purchased our tickets at the main gate.  After entering there is a steep incline to get up to the main zoo property which guests can navigate either via one of the steepest escalators I've ever seen, an elevator, or a walking path.  Once up the escalator, one way traffic kicked in to minimize guests passing back and forth by each other.  I didn't really see staff out enforcing the one way traffic, but I also didn't see any guests out of compliance with following it. I was also happy that many of the food service options in the park were open and there were frequent reminders in the front half of the park that you can mobile order for the main dining option - Jambo Grill - which is located halfway through your park visit.  

Pittsburgh Zoo - The Animals

I don't know if it was the low crowds and the animals were just excited to see us or if this is the norm, but we saw lots of animals up close and having a blast playing!  It was an incredibly hot morning, so I had mentally prepared that it was going to be a tough go to spot animals, but was pleasantly surprised.  The flamingos were among some of our favorites.  They were super friendly came right up to the fence.  There was also great viewing of the tigers, elephants, and several different types of monkeys.  My son loved watching the orangutan play with his green blankie which reminded him of his green blankie!  On the walk through the zoo, you can also take a visit inside the PPG Aquarium.  I thought this was a great little addition.  While it wasn't as big as visiting a standalone aquarium, it was a nice break from the heat, showcased animals you don't always see at a zoo, and was very well done.  

Want more Mid-Atlantic zoo fun?  Check out my reviews of the Smithsonian Zoological Park (Washington, D.C.), Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Zoo.  

Like most zoos, there is also a kid's area / petting zoo component, but you weren't able to pet the animals currently because of COVID restrictions.  In total, it took us about 3 hours to complete our visit to the zoo - including the snack breaks we took along the way!

Final Thoughts

I'd definitely recommend a visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium if you are visiting the area.  The price was right, park was clean, and animals were great!  You are able to bring in your own drinks which is another recommendation I would make - especially if visiting in the heat of summer.  You shouldn't need more than a 1/2 day to visit the zoo unless you are planning on scheduling one of their animal encounters / behind-the-scenes tours.  Just be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date schedules as many of these programs are currently canceled.  


Go Wild! - Planning Your Visit to The Maryland Zoo

Visiting The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

"The zoo is an amazing place to be." 

My son looked up with a big smile on his face and said those words during our visit to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.  There is always something special about visiting a zoo.  I don't care if it's your first visit or your hundredth - new animals, a new angle, a special feeding - each visit can feel unique.  My family and I headed to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore in the beginning of July.  It wasn't our first visit, but it was a great experience all around.  Let's take a look inside the zoo and see how some things may be different during your visit in 2020 thanks to coronavirus precautions.

What to Pack for Your Visit to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

If you're like me, I always pack a backpack for my kiddos whenever we ever travel regardless of how short or how long the day might be.  At the Maryland Zoo you are welcome to bring in your own food and drinks so we take advantage of that convenience to pack water and a snack.  I don't like to pack a big lunch and have to carry a cooler around so if we're visiting over a meal, I typically plan to grab food there though.  Don't forget to pack LOTS of water in the summer.  It gets hot out there as you're walking around all day.  We also bring sunscreen to reapply during our visit.  Lastly, you may want to consider bringing a stroller, even if your child doesn't alway use one anymore.  My youngest is 5 and can handle hikes and such without it, but The Maryland Zoo features a good bit of walking and some decent sized hills.  On a hot day, and particularly on this visit where he had a broken collarbone, the stroller was a lifesaver.

Our Favorite Animal Exhibits at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

There's a lot to see and love at The Maryland Zoo, but below are our top 5 animal exhibits that you won't want to miss.  We spent roughly 3 hours at the zoo and had a chance to pretty much see everything that was open right now.  
  • Giraffes - The viewing for them is almost 360 as you walk the path on the African Journey so don't worry if they're not in a great spot for you when you first approach their area.  I bet you'll get a good look as you walk around!

  • Penguins - These were our FAVORITES!  They are so cute waddling around and there always seems to be zoo staff hanging around to answer questions so we got to know a lot about them.  They also do feedings twice a day where you can hear a more formal presentation from zoo staff.  Don't forget to go inside their exhibit where you can get some pretty cool underwater viewing!
  • Polar Bear - I think we were so happy to watch him playing because it was such a hot day and we were jealous of his swim time in his polar bear pool!  He looked so chill and like he was having such a great time.

  • Chimpanzee Forest - I've always enjoyed monkey exhibits at zoos, but this particular visit was even more special as their were two babies in the exhibit.  Watching them play was totally adorable.  And I really felt like I related to the parents who looked exhausted and like they were just trying to take a rest but the little ones kept pulling on their hands, arms, and feet.  Mom life, am I right???
  • Elephants - There is nothing quite as majestic as an elephant!  These guys are huge and they have a huge area to roam at the zoo meaning you have a number of places to view them.  One of our favorite things is to grab an ICEE at the Oasis and watch the elephants below!

Health and Safety at The Maryland Zoo during Coronavirus

Our summer fun plans look very different this summer due to coronavirus and many travel destinations are working hard to adjust their protocols to safely reopen.  As we are making choices about where to go and what to do, outside venues are really important to us which makes the zoo a perfect place to visit.  Here's a quick summary of some of the safety protocols in place at The Maryland Zoo.  For the most up-to-date information, please visit their website at

Staying in a hotel this summer? Check out what it's like to stay in a hotel during coronavirus.

  • Timed Entry - All guests, whether members or not, need to reserve a timed entry to the zoo.  Plan to arrive at your assigned time.  If you're early, they have a place outside of the main gates where you can wait while social distancing.  This system worked well.  Our entry time was 1:00 and we arrived at 12:59 so we were able to go right in.  It did what it was designed to do as there was no wait at the ticket booth to enter and crowds were light for a summer day.  All tickets also need to be either printed at home or displayed on your smartphone for easy, no contact scanning.
  • Masks - Masks are not required everywhere in the zoo.  When you are exploring outdoors and social distancing can be maintained, you don't have to wear a mask.  "Mask Zones" are clearly marked and include tight spaces, indoor areas, bathrooms, and places that a line form.  In those zones, all guests 9 and over are required to wear masks.  We opted to wear ours even at some of the outdoor exhibits that didn't require them if their were other families nearby and, even though it wasn't required, we opted to bring them for both of our children as did most families we saw.  To help with social distancing, the zoo has instituted a one-way traffic flow.  There were employees helping to point guests in the right direction and answer questions along the way.
  • Increased Cleaning / Sanitation - You'll be happy to know that zoo staff is EVERYWHERE cleaning.  I was really impressed by the friendliness and hard work of the whole staff during our visit.  High touch surfaces in particular were wiped down frequently.  There is also hand sanitizer throughout the entire zoo with easy-to-locate signs.  

  • Temporary Closures - There are some activities at the zoo that are not currently available including the carousel, train, climbing features, playground, certain programming, and some food locations.  While my kids asked about a few of these that they remembered from our previous visits, these closures didn't dampen our fun.  Not everything is cancelled though!  We were really excited to catch the penguin feeding which happens twice a day.  One of the biggest closures to note is that the shuttle is not running from the entrance to Zoo Central.  Getting to the zoo won't be a problem, but you will have a big hill to climb to the exit.  
Overall, throughout our visit we had a great time and felt safe exploring The Maryland Zoo.  I would definitely recommend heading outside, seeing some animals, and having fun with some furry friends!  

Thank you to The Maryland Zoo for hosting my visit so I could share these updates!


Free in DC - Family Fun That Won't Cost You a Penny

Our family is on year two of what I hope will be a new tradition - the Christmas break staycation.  We are blessed to live in the Mid-Atlantic where there is a large number of destinations for families to enjoy.  So rather than spending a small fortune to fly somewhere and travel during the school break we have in December, our family has opted to keep it local but get away from it all and become tourists in our backyard.  Last year we spent one night in a hotel in Baltimore and took the boys on a tour of WBAL television station and then visited the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor.  This year, we headed to our big city neighbor just to the south - Washington D.C.  It's the first time our boys visited the nation's capital and we spent three nights thanks to the Hilton points we have acquired downtown at the Embassy Suites.

My goal was to put together a three day itinerary of things to do in D.C. that required no admission charge.  That's right. . .zero, zip, zilch! If you have never traveled to D.C. before, you may be surprised to find that there is SOOOOO much to do for free that you can easily fill several days.  We had so much more that we could have done, but here's a quick summary of what we accomplished!  Keep in mind that my boys are 4 and 7 so that played into what we did and how much time we spent in each location.

U.S. Government Buildings

We began our trip with taking a peek into several locations that would show our kids where the work of our national government takes place.  Tours of the U.S. Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress are all available free of charge.  The White House is the most coveted tour and does require reservations through your Congressman so you will need to plan several weeks ahead and may need some flexibility on your day and time.  You can also reserve a U.S. Capitol tour through your Congressman (which we did), but we learned this wasn't really necessary as they have an amazing number of tours offered each day which you can secure a ticket for simply by walking into the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center.  The tour does not take you to see the inside of the Senate and the House so if you want to see that you need to request gallery passes from your Congressman in addition to reserving a tour.  As far as the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, there are free self-guided tours throughout the day and also free guided tours at select times.  You are unable to reserve these ahead of time, but might be able to luck into one when you stop by.  We simply walked around the stunning Library of Congress building without a formal tour, but at the Supreme Court we did join a lecture inside the courtroom so we could see where the Court does their work.  Be sure to visit the children's area of the Library of Congress.  There are several activities just for kids as well as some quiet, cozy reading spaces and, of course, lots of books to snuggle up and share with your little ones.

Know Before You Go - Security at the U.S. Capitol is VERY tight.  No food or liquids (even bottles of water).  I always pack snacks and bottled water when going out for the day. . .and then promptly had to throw them away at our first stop.  Hoping to save you from the same mistake!

The National Mall

Lining the National Mall, you will find a host of Smithsonian Museums perfect for family visitors.  Lines can be long to go through security and enter so pack your patience for these free attractions.  One of my favorite museums, and the one we happened to visit on this particular trip, is the Air and Space Museum.  Take an in depth look at NASA, space, flight, and exploration in this hands on museum.  You can see some amazing things here - including having the ability to touch a legitimate moon rock and see the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon.  There is so much for kids to see, do, and touch here including an entire kids play area where they learn the physics of flight and becoming a flight director in Houston during a mission to outer space.  If you're looking to upgrade your experience, there are several add-ons that come with a price tag including IMAX movies and audio tours.  Air and Space is not the only Smithsonian Museum available - there is really something for everyone ranging from art to Native American History to Natural History and everything in between.

As you work your way down the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol and past the Smithsonian Museums, you find the other great free attractions along the National Mall - a series of national monuments.  While there is nothing to really "do" at these, they are truly breathtaking to see in person.  Even my little guys LOVED spending hours walking D.C. and looking around at them.  Three not to miss (actually they're really hard to miss anyway. . .) are the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  The size, scale, and grandeur of these will captivate your children.  While there are many other memorials of great importance along the way, for example the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, it's a bit harder for little kids to understand what they are looking at and the significance of that conflict.

Know Before You Go - D.C. is a very walkable city, but it's much bigger than you may realize if you plan on walking EVERYWHERE with your kids.  We decided to Uber from our hotel to our starting point in the morning, then walked away from museums to memorials throughout the day as we leisurely made our way back to our hotel.

The National Zoo

Another Smithsonian "museum" featured on the outskirts of D.C. is the National Zoo.  If you're staying downtown, you will definitely need to Uber or take the Metro up to the zoo as it's quite a walk from other D.C. area attractions - but well worth it!  Like everything else in the article, this zoo if FREE.  Lions, tigers, and panda bears - oh my!  The zoo is good sized and easily takes 2-3 hours to visit but can take much longer if you have animal lovers or want to extend your stay.  There are many great presentations by animal experts throughout the day that are worthwhile to check out.  Probably one of the highlights of your zoo visit will be seeing the Giant Pandas.  You can also find specific feeding times so you can be sure to see them up close in the Panda House.  My personal favorite though are the gorillas!

Don't forget to check out any special events that you might be able to catch while visiting.  We were there over the holiday break which meant that Zoolights was going on in the evenings.  This is again FREE - where else can you catch a day at the zoo and a holiday light exhibit without paying admission?

Know Before You Go - The zoo is surprisingly hilly!  Be prepared and consider bringing a stroller for older toddlers and preschoolers who may not typically need one anymore.  We were sure glad to have ours!

Has your family visited DC?  What have been the best finds for kids that you've seen along the way?

Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo was a fabulous road trip destination for our family!  We have often talked about wanting to go up to Pennsylvania to check it out, but had not made it up there prior to this summer.  This year, my husband's work brought him up to that area and we decided to bring the boys along and make a family weekend out of it by including a trip to the zoo.  If you're like me, I do a lot of research when visiting somewhere for the first time.  After our wonderful day, here are some of my tips and tricks to offer to families venturing to the Philadelphia Zoo for the first time.

Visiting in the Summer?  Visit Early! - We arrived as the zoo opened which proved to work well in the July heat and humidity.  With our early arrival, we were able to grab parking in the garage located right next to the zoo, cutting down on our walking time when we were hot and tired in the afternoon.  The zoo is large and does have several exhibits to visit that are located indoors which does offer a bit of reprieve.  We spent about 5 hours at the zoo and were leaving before 3:00 which left plenty of time to head back to our hotel and cool off in the pool.

Slow Down - There are so many great spots to check out within the zoo that are easy to pass by.  In the KidZooU area, there is a playground, petting zoo, and an education center.  My boys loved learning that day - which was incredible to watch.  The zoo staff was also some of the most friendly and knowledgeable that I've met.  I was surprised by the number of exhibits that had staff talking to guests about the animals.  That day we were excited to hear about tortoises, snakes, hippos, and even the baby giraffe that was just over a month old!

Look Up! - The Philadelphia Zoo is home to Zoo360 which is designed to surround you with animals.  How cool is it that you can look up and watch a few lions lounging above you or a tiger pacing back and forth?? Throughout the zoo you can find a variety of Zoo360 trails that each house unique animals so be sure to look all around during your visit to make sure you don't miss a thing!  With so much to see and do, your family will certainly be entertained the whole day.

Bring Water - Staying hydrated is key to keeping everyone in your family in a good mood so be sure to bring some water with you into the zoo.  Not only will this keep you happy and hydrated, but will also save some money so you don't have to buy as many bottles once inside.  There are plenty of great spaces to eat and drink while visiting so no one should go hungry!  We enjoyed lunch at Tiger Terrace which featured a few different food line options.  Each "station" had a kids menu that even included Uncrustables - a go to favorite for our youngest!  The food was typical of what you would expect in a zoo or theme park and prices matched the tourist location too.  Bringing snacks and water is certainly a time saving, and money saving, idea!

Shop the Best Price - Admission into the zoo is steep for a family of four.  It may be worth talking about a membership if you are close by the zoo and plan to visit at least twice a year.  Another potential money saving option for families is the Philadelphia CityPass.  The zoo is one of a number of attractions in the city that participates.  Visitors to Philadelphia can select the number of days and/or the number of attractions they wish to see and CityPass bundles and discounts them.  If you're staying for a weekend or longer, this is definitely worth checking out!

We had a great time visiting the Philadelphia Zoo and I'm sure we'll return in the future!