Whenever we hit the highway to head to the Toronto Zoo, I can’t help but to hum the happy Raffi tune ‘we’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…’ fuelled by my kids’ excitement to see whatever animal that has piqued their interest that year. Cheetah, jaguar, panda.
However, as soon as we start pounding the pavement towards that said animal, it hits me – flashbacks to my first experience at the zoo alone with my eldest when he was barely a toddler. It was a long day spent maneouvring through busy humid pavilions, going up and down hills pushing a toddler in a stroller or holding a todder while pushing the stroller, and then up and down lifting him trying desperately to point out one of the animals which he likely never saw, or even cared. At the final stop, I was perfectly content to watch him play with his buckle oblivious to the tiger who was watching us. It was that day I came to terms with the fact that some kid things are best saved for when they are older.
Well, seven years later and a few similar zoo visits in between, I finally realized how awesome the zoo is –with a second-grader. For the first time ever, we trekked across the entire 300 hectares of zoo, covering almost the full 10-km of walking trails to visit the seven geographic regions, hitting the lemurs, jaguars, grizzly bears, polar bears, panda bears and so much cool stuff in between. This time, it was more exhilarating than exhausting.
If you are considering when to introduce the zoo to your kids, here are ten reasons why it’s so great to wait until they are older:
1) They can walk, in fact they may choose to run, through the entire zoo.
2) They can carry their own backpacks.
3) They have learned so much about animals that they’ll be rhyming off info throughout your visit.
4) They can read labels and will be rhyming off info throughout your visit.
5) They can read a map and you can more or less let them lead the way.
6) They are tall enough to look through all the windows and over all the fences.
7) So many of the Meet the Keeper shows are early afternoon when little ones usually nap.
8) You aren’t quite as terrified as you once were when you lose sight of them briefly in the Kids Discovery Zone.
9) When you’re six or older you can sleep over at the zoo as part of their Serengeti Bush Camp.
10) You’re tall enough (42 inches or taller) to play on the Gorilla Climb Ropes Course (weekends only) where you can swing, crawl and balance like the zoo’s gorilla gang.
Whatever the age, here are some trip tips to help make it a happy visit:
Getting there: The Toronto Zoo is located northeast of downtown in the Rouge Valley. The main entrance is on Meadowvale Rd north of Highway 401. It’s accessible by car and public transit. Parking is $12. You can bring your own stroller or wagon or rent. You can also buy tickets for the Zoomobile to speed up the commute from section to section.
Low-down: The zoo is open year-round and is free for members and kids two and under. There is summer and winter admission rates. During peak season it’s open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If you go in the mornings or during the spring or fall months you’ll have a better chance of seeing many of the animals out exploring in their areas.
Highlights: The Giant Pandas are only here until Spring 2018. If you fall in love with these guys, you can watch them live on the PandaCam from your home: This spring the zoo welcomed snow leopard, clouded leopard and cheetah cubs.
What to bring: In the summer, pack your swim suits and hit Splash Island during these hours. Among items not to bring are roller blades, skates, skateboards, bikes, tricycles, scooters and your pets.
Snacking: Buy your food there – a list of the food vendors ranging from Pizza Pizza and Tim Horton’s to Booster Juice and Kosher hotdogs. Or pack your snack and stop at one of the picnic tables.