Summer at the Zoo

Fun at the Zoo: Area zoos offer unique, exotic experiences for families

2014-05-01T06:30:00Z Fun at the Zoo: Area zoos offer unique, exotic experiences for familiesJennifer Pallay Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
May 01, 2014 6:30 am  • 

Families who love visiting the zoo have plenty to look forward to this summer. In addition to spending time with animals, they can sign up for special events and plan to experience temporary exhibits opening for the summer season.

Brookfield Zoo, the largest zoo in the Chicago area, features plenty of animals as well as family friendly rides like a carousel and motor safari tour.

Permanent animal exhibits include Dolphin Encounter, Tropic World, Great Bear Wilderness, The Swamp and Habitat Africa! The Forest.

This summer, families can check out temporary exhibits like Stingray Bay, which is open April 26 to Sept. 28, and Butterflies!, open May 24 to Sept. 1 depending on weather.

Special weekend events take place throughout the summer including an appearance by Chris and Martin Kratt from the PBS show "Wild Kratts." They will teach children about rare wildlife behaviors with their Amazon Adventure Shows taking place at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Aug. 23 and 24 on the West Mall.

They will sign autographs from 2 to 4 p.m. each day. The show is free with zoo admission.

Summer Nights will take place Fridays and Saturdays, June 20 to July 26. Attendees will enjoy Brookfield Zoo in a new light with cooler weather, enhanced dining options, beer and wine gardens and live music, all surrounded by wildlife and nature.

Viva La Fiesta will take place June 7 to 8 and June 14 to 15. Guests will encounter exotic animals, taste authentic Hispanic cuisine and refreshments, and enjoy live entertainment. Artwork from various artists will be on display.

A Father’s Day barbecue on June 15 and Mother’s Day brunch on May 11 will hit the spot for families looking to celebrate the holidays at the zoo. For questions on pricing and reservations, call (708) 688-8355 or visit brookfieldzoo.org.

Brookfield Zoo is open 365 days of the year. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

General admission is $16.95 for adults and $11.95 for senior citizens and children ages 3 to 11.

Amy Lesko, of Griffith, said her family became Brookfield Zoo members last year and they are looking forward to visiting Stingray Bay this summer.

“We like feeding the stingrays there,” she said. “My son finally fed a stingray last year so he's excited to do that again.” They also enjoy visiting the zoo’s splash pad on hot days.

Zoos appeal to both her 5-year-old son and her 14-year-old daughter, she said, and provide education along with entertainment.

“We like how active they keep the animals for people to come see. We went to Boo at the Zoo and they had special feedings like pumpkins for certain animals," Lesko said. "They try involving educational aspects for the children. The dolphin show teaches about recycling and reusing and cleaning up beaches and how not to litter. That's always nice.”

She said the zoo membership can be a great option for families.

“Since it's such a big zoo, you can always go back. If you miss something one time, you can see it the next visit.”

The Chicago native said she also enjoys visiting Lincoln Park Zoo for a nice afternoon.

“It's free and if you're lucky enough you can even get free parking. It's a nice stroll. You can have a picnic lunch. I love it," Lesko said.

Lincoln Park Zoo is a 49-acre zoological institution in Chicago’s historic Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The zoo is home to approximately 200 different species of animals many of which are rare and/or endangered.

An estimated 3.5 million visitors come each year to visit one of America’s last free admission zoos.

“The zoo has a lot of different activities and events throughout the summer that cross a lot of different genres,” said Sharon Dewar, director of public relations. “There’s something for everyone.

Kids can attend summer camps and adults can visit for special events like Wine and Wildlife and the summer concert series.

Kristian Bush of Sugarland and Jana Kramer will perform for Jammin’ at the Zoo on June 26. General admission tickets can be purchased in advance starting April 25 for $30 for adults and $19 for children 12 years and younger. Tickets can be purchased online at lpzoo.org with a convenience fee.

VIP tickets are available for $89 through Groupon.com and include private access seating and other extras.

Sleep Under the Skyscrapers: Outdoor Campout is one of the zoo’s most popular events, Dewar said.

“It’s a special opportunity to pitch a tent in the zoo and sleep overnight. We do night tours and campfire and s’mores. You get a really different perspective during your time at the zoo.”

She recommends signing up early as this event sells out quickly.

“It’s a camping experience not to be missed.”

A few years ago, organizers added an evening encounter only option for those who want the experience but still want to sleep in their own bed.

The full overnight encounter is from 7 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. and costs $65. The evening encounter costs $40. Dates are June 14, July 5 and 18, and Aug. 9 and 15.

Those with an interest in all things green can attend a free garden tour offered at 10 a.m. the second Saturday of each month all summer.

“We have a horticulturist on staff. One thing that’s nice about the zoo is that it’s not just animals. We have incredible gardens and ecosystems. Any time you visit, you will see something new that’s blooming with the season.”

Each month the tours focus on a different area of vegetation and plants that are in bloom.

Other summer events include free outdoor movie screenings and Locally Sourced, a local music, art, beer and food event taking place Wednesdays, May 28 to Aug. 27.

“The zoo has activities every day even if you don’t come on a day of a special event,” Dewar said. “We have meet and greets and educators throughout the zoo all summer with interactive learning stations. There’s definitely a lot of engaging things to do any day of the summer when you come out as a family. And, of course, we’re free.”

For more information, visit lpzoo.org.

Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City encompasses 15 acres on a hilly sand dune near the Lake Michigan. An added bonus: families can pay for parking once and hop between the zoo and beach across the street.

The zoo exhibits more than 90 species of animals including Bengal tigers, cotton top tamarins, American alligators, grizzly bear, grey kangaroos, ring-tailed lemurs, river otters, bald eagles and more.

Another zoo highlight is the Rotary Castle with cold-blooded creatures including lizards, snakes and frogs.

The Australian Adventure walk through aviary features more than 250 colorful free flying parakeets and the red barn exhibit houses miniature domestic horses, donkeys, pigs and goats.

Admission is $6.50 for adults and $5.50 for senior citizens and children ages 3 to 11.

Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Last entry is at 3 p.m.

For information, visit washingtonparkzoo.com.

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