(Just a quick note: I’ve been taking pictures at the zoo all year, so don’t be confused when pictures have snow in them and the tress don’t have leaves)
Alternate titles for this post include “Why I love the zoo, even though I’m terrified of animals” and “What to do at the Zoo besides look at animals” For those that know me, my fear of animals is deep and pretty much universal…yet I do love the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and have visited it on average 3 times a month this year.
The Columbus Zoo has a great, and ever-growing, variety of animals on display. They also do an excellent job conveying the conditions that many animals face in the wild, and how to change the way we do things to be better residents of Earth. The thing is…everyone that writes about the zoo writes about the animals…I’m going to take things from a different angle. I’m going to focus on some of the things you can do that don’t involve the animals.
Take a Walk!
This may be a cheat, since you kind of need the paths to get to the animals, but if you don’t stop every 20 feet to look at something…it’s exercise!
In the middle of 2015, I had a battle with an infection in my leg that laid me up for the better part of three months, so I appreciate being able to walk in general a little bit more now than I did before. The Columbus Zoo has over 6 miles of well-maintained walking paths scattered throughout the zoo. Most of them are paved, there are a few wooden bridge sections, and just a couple almost hidden dirt paths.
The most challenging path is the North American trail because it starts with a fairly good uphill grade, and a similar downhill section at the end. It’s not too bad, but I would recommend doing this section first if you’re going to do it at all. I tend to split the zoo in half, I’ll walk the short North America circle and Asia Quest one time (or the full N.A. path which also includes Polar Frontier and Heart of Africa by itself), and then the Islands and Congo the next time.
There is wonderful theming all around the park. You really get a feeling of the area where the animals are from. My favorite area is the Australian building that contains a “Night Hike” highlighting nocturnal animals.
Things to note: Most years, the Zoo closes the walking path in The Islands area, and shortens the Congo path during the winter.
Play a Board Game!
This year they opened up a water play area in the field near the aquarium and the manatee building. There’s a splash pad, a bunch of strange statues, a 4D movie theater…and a roll and move (SURPRISE!) board game where you are the pieces!
Go on rides!
There are a whole bunch of rides at the Columbus Zoo. Most of them are the kinds you’d normally find in a zoo… the train ride, the pony / camel ride, the historic carousel and the like, but there’s quite a bit more.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been next door to a water park since the mid 1950s. In 2006, they purchased the water park, demolished almost everything, and built a new water park called Zoombezi Bay. Zoombezi Bay is not included in the admission cost to the zoo, but all the rides that were built that weren’t water rides got split off the water park, and are now part of the Zoo! It still does cost extra to go on these rides, but it is kind of nice to be able to take in a roller coaster or a log flume on a particularly hot day.
My favorite ride, however, is Pirate Island – located in The Islands area. It’s a slow moving boat ride not unlike Pirates of the Caribbean…except it’s totally unlike Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s pure kitsch. Just scene after scene of violently spasming audio-animatronics. If it didn’t cost $2 per ride ($3 if you’re not a member), I’d probably ride it 2-3 times per visit. Any Disney fan that ever rode The Maelstrom and loved it, or remember the old Haunted House / Tunnel of Love style rides at their small regional amusement parks…they understand exactly what I love about Pirate Island.
Of course, you’re going to get hungry after a couple hours of walking around watching animals sleeping. There are three restaurants in the Zoo, as well as several small Outposts, and even some carts. Of course, the smaller the location, the less likely it is to be open on any random day, and there are not many choices at all during the off-season months.. My favorite place to eat is the Mapori Restaurant in the Heart of Africa section of the park. Unfortunately, it is only open from May – October, but it has a great atmosphere, and the food choices (though limited) are pretty good.
When all else fails, the food court back near the Congo area is serviceable.
Take a nap! (Or just rest for a few minutes)
Of course you’re going to get tired. There are plenty of benches scattered around, but if you want the most comfortable place to take a load off for a while, you need to head inside the building at the Polar Frontier.
It’s been frustrating for me this summer, because of the arrival of a polar bear cub, this area has been used every morning as extended queuing. I haven’t been able to get in here recently at all. But this layout is a great place to just sit back and relax in a very well air-conditioned area watching nature videos on the TV. My personal favorite part is scanning the shelves to see what board games they have.
If you can’t get here, then head to the aquarium building. They have a large, raised seating area, and it’s dark. If they kids weren’t beating on the glass, trying to get the fish to look at them, this would almost be a peaceful rest stop.
Suffice it to say, there’s a ton of things to do at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, even if you aren’t an animal lover. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the penny collecting. While I don’t have pictures of the machines, The Columbus Zoo has a ton of elongated coin making (aka penny smashing) machines. According to pennycollector.com, there are currently 86 pennies you can collect there, most than any other location in the state. That’s a lot of loose change.
The Zoo is probably a more “obvious” location than I usually like to highlight on this site, but there’s so much else to do besides looking at animals that I thought it was worth sharing.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s the flickr album if you’d like to see more (even some animals!): Columbus Zoo