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Monday, May 24, 2010

Smarty Day Trip Series: NC Zoo

By Katie M

An excursion to the zoo is one of my all-time favorite trips with the fam! I'm kind of a zoo junkie as I've been to a bunch including the Bronx Zoo, the National Zoo in DC, and even the zoo in Rome, Italy! But I have to say the the NC Zoo in Asheboro is one of the best, and I love going back time after time.

We made our visit this past spring break, and if you are thinking of going, go soon before it gets too hot. As you can guess, a trip to the zoo involves a lot of hours outside and a lot of walking. It's a trip worthwhile for all ages, but one that's most enjoyable if the weather is bearable.

It had been a few years since our last trip and I was pleasantly surprised with some of the new attractions since my last trip. So if you haven't been in a while or haven never been, below are some smarty tips you should keep in mind...

First, let me start by saying most of the smarty tips outlined in this blog - plus other information about the zoo - come straight from the NC Zoo web site (I did not bring a notebook :)). It's a great source, and I highly reccommend starting your trip with a visit to its site first. You'll find maps, directions, parking info, ticket prices, an event calendar, animal finder, animal facts, and tips on infant care.

For those of you who have never been, it's about an hours drive from Winston-Salem which means it's a shorter ride from High Point and Greensboro. The zoo has more than 1,100 animals and 40,000 plants along five miles of shaded pathways. The most popular exhibits include the polar bears, elephants, gorillas, sea lions, river otters, alligators, baboons, rhinoceros, giraffes and zebras.

The N.C. Zoo is the nation's largest walk-through natural-habitat zoo. Its African and North American exhibit regions span more than 500 acres with more than five miles of walkways. New at the Zoo is the Watani Grasslands Reserve, an $8.5 million expansion of the park's elephant & rhino exhibits. This exhibit allows you to walk out onto a long pier where they offer animal feedings at certain times of the day. We actually were there before this exhibit opened, but we'll definitely make that top of the list for our next visit.

When you arrive at the N.C. Zoo, you will see that it has two regions, North America and Africa. Each region has its own parking lots and ticket booths. After you park your vehicle, be sure take note of the parking lot number or letter for easy return at the end of your visit. Shuttles are available between parking lots. The road between the North America and Africa parking lots is about one mile. You can visit the entire Park from either entrance using one ticket.

The N.C. Zoo offers two types of free transportation for visitors: In-Park Tram and Bus Service, and a Parking Lot Shuttle Service. Both accommodate strollers and wheelchairs, however I would recommend using the smallest stroller possible if you plan on carrying one on (such as an umbrella stroller vs. a three-in-one stroller system or jog stroller). These buses get packed! And while they say the average wait is 20 minutes, it was a lot longer for us due to heavy visitation. It's worth it though, especially after a long day of walking.

A few things that were new to the zoo since my last visit are the KidZone and the Adventure 4D Theatre, a 40-seat theatre located in the Africa region's Junction Plaza (a good place to stop for ice cream, food, a carousel ride, and shopping in a kid-themed gift shop!). Right now through November 30, the theatre is presenting "Dora & Diego's 4-D Adventure - Catch that Robot Butterfly." We did not catch a show, but it looked like a great idea for a break from the heat and walking!

As for the rest of your trip, here are some tips and suggestions the Zoo suggets you take note of before you plan your visit...

Arrive early to beat the heat and the crowds! The Zoo opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm (it closes at 4 pm between November and March).

It takes between four to six hours to see the entire park. There are over five miles of trails through the two exhibit regions, North America and Africa. If you arrive mid-day, you might choose to tour just one region.

When you arrive, please check the animal status boards located outside the admissions windows. The boards will give you daily information about feeding times, keeper talks and which animals might be off exhibit.

At the admission booth, you will receive a free Visitor Guide. The guide includes animals, exhibits and trail names which correspond with park signs to help you navigate through the Zoo.

And to get the best out of your animal watching experience, here are some tips from animal keepers...

•As a general rule, animals tend to be more active in the morning than in the afternoon.
•The animals will not respond to calls, whistles or tapping on the glass. Your best bet is to remain quiet and watchful.
•Some animals tend to stay in the back of their exhibit near the Zoo's closing. In large exhibits, animals might be harder to see at the end of the day.
•Many animals use “camouflage techniques,” so be patient and look closely.
•Use your senses, like hearing, to help you find an animal. In the Aviary, listen for the rustle of leaves. Look up in the canopy and near the ground to find birds.

While writing this blog, I also learned the zoo offers summer camps! Click here to get more information.

Have you been? What are some other smarty tips you can offer?

Information and photos courtesy of NC Zoo.


Summer said...

We went and with our four kids in tow we saw nearly everything on the Africa side then had a picnic in the area outside the entrance (watch out for geese!!) and then spent about 1 hour in the America side (polar bears, sea otters sea lions) before our kids were totally spent. I am not a fan of walking or heat but the weather was great the day we went. We had refillable waterbottles and that worked rather well. Also.. I did not know but someone told me after we went that a membership was not much more, if you think you'll go more than once a year, it is probably a good investment.

Ashley M said...

I have been to a couple of Zoos as well including DC Zoo and San Deigo Zoo, and the NC Zoo it GREAT!! My kids are looking forward to going again this summer!!

maythi said...

We have been three times. Loved all the tips - they are all things I thought of after our first trip there! LOTS of walking for sure, so a stroller is a must. We did not use the trams/buses, walked the whole thing, and it was pretty exhausting. You definitely would fare better (especially with really small kids) on a cooler day. I personally thought it was way too much walking and have always wished the zoo was shaped like a circle instead of a "u", but maybe we just need to tram it back next time instead of walk/push strollers the entire expanse of the zoo!! And yes, like Summer, I hear a membership is a pretty good deal if you think you'll go more than once. And I believe the membership works at one of the NC aquariums as well? Not sure, maybe they were running a promotion when we were there, but something to look into. Overall, the zoo is a fun outing and the kids LOVE the animals!

Anonymous said...

We just went for the first time on Mother's Day and had a great time! My son loved the kids play area and the Dora and Diego 4D show was a huge hit! Plan on being very patient if you want to take advantage of the tram. The line was down the sidewalk so we non-stop power walked it back with both kid in the sit -n-stand stroller (borrow one if you have a kid who usually walks b/c they get exhausted). It was a work out but I am sure there were people still in line waiting for the tram when we got to our car!

Angela said...

The zoo membership gets you in at all of the NC aquariums. It may even get you discounts at other zoos and aquariums in other states.

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