My children all love animals and often ask to drive through farm areas so they can see cows, horses, chickens, goats and sheep. So it comes as no surprise that they all LOVE the zoo. I don’t know about you, but here, money is tight these days, so trips to the zoo are few and far between. I have come up with a few good tips to make money go a bit further and make a trip to the zoo a little less wild.
First do some research on zoos in your area to compare price, size and distance from you:
If you have younger children check to see what the age limits are for free admission. For us, the zoo we chose offers free admission for kids 2 and under. Charlie (18 months) was free. The other three kids were not. Last year, we went to a different zoo, where it was free for children 3 and under, so all we had to pay for was the adults. Also, check to see if the zoo you chose has coupons available or offers discounts for families or larger groups. Most zoos also offer a discount or day where admission is free for members of the military. Some zoos also offer discounts for people living in the same county as well.
The zoo layout is another thing you want to check into. If the zoo is a really big one, will your children and family members be too tired or get bored with it before you have finished? I know my kids love the zoo but are not ready for a big city zoo. They get tired and cranky at the end of the small ones we go to.
Take into account whether anyone has health issues – does the zoo have accommodations for them?
Do they have the animal your child most wants to see? The only reason I bring this up is because my children have been BEGGING to see elephants. I made the mistake of telling them we are going to the zoo and they will get to see them up close. In the end, it turned out that the zoos in this area don’t have elephants, and I was left having to tell them I was wrong. If the zoo you chose doesn’t have their favorite animal, at least you will be prepared to tell them ahead of time and tell them what animals they DO get to see.
Distance for us is a bigger decision because 3 out of 4 of our kids get car sick, and if they are sick, the entire car ride will, that effect how much they get to do or how much they get to enjoy it. If you also have children prone to carsickness, check out our previous post on tips for motion sickness: https://sunbeamsandheartstrings.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/tips-for-helping-with-motion-sickness/
Another thing to consider is when you will be going. I have found that the best times to go are during the week before school is let out for summer vacation. That is when they seem to be the least busy. Weather also plays a big part in this. Due to my medical condition, it is always best for us to go on overcast or rainy days. There seem to be less people and shorter lines, not to mention it is much cooler. My children are used to having to do things in the rain but have come to really enjoy it, They get to wear their special rain coats (when necessary) when they get really hot, Nice rain sprinkle helps cool them right off. Weekdays are less busy than weekends. Some parents take a three day weekend, so they will go on a Friday or Monday. This makes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday good days to go regardless of weather.
To save money, I suggest bringing your own food and drinks. We pack extra snacks, drinks (lots of water!), and a picnic lunch. Our favorite easy packed lunch is a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and marshmallow fluff. When we sit down to eat, we let the kids choose what combo they want. The snack bars and food shops normally seem over priced to me, and this helps us out greatly. The vending machines are often overpriced as well.
At the zoo we went to, you can purchase pellets or bags of carrots to feed the animals. We got some of each but found as the kids started to get hungry, they would feed the carrots to an animal then eat one themselves. This turned out great, allowing them to snack as we went and even get to eat the same thing they were feeding to the animals. However, I would advise not allowing them to eat the pellets!
We also like to get our children souvenirs, which also can get expensive. We have found most places have the “smushed penny machines,” as my daughter calls them. These serve as great collectibles for kids and only cost 51 cents. There are even kits online you can buy to turn your “smushed penny” collection into a bracelet or necklace.
Things to pack for you trip: sunscreen, food, quarters (to use to buy food for the animals), water, hand wipes or sanitizer (some zoos offer this, but others do not) outerwear depending on the weather, and a stroller or wagon for the younger kids (this will save your arms from carrying a tired child around and save you money from renting one while there).