A Family Outing: The National Zoo

Even though it was not the path I took, I’ve always wanted to be a wildlife biologist. I love animals in general, and think I would enjoy working with them. Because of this, I’m always up for a trip to the zoo! Although ideally animals should be free in the wild, zoos exist for multiple important reasons: education, research, reintroduction programs, and so on. Read more about animal conservation at the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Smithsonian’s Zoological Park is located in Washington, D.C., off Connecticut Avenue. We visited the zoo back in October. It was a cool day, but there were still plenty of animals outside for us to see. The zoo charges for park maps, but there are signs throughout the park telling you the directions to go.

A highlight of the National Zoo is the giant panda bear exhibit. We missed the show, but we did see the male panda bear Tian Tian afterwards. The Panda House is open from 10am to 4:30pm, although the pandas may be away, sleeping. You can always watch the famous Panda Cam to see the mother, Mei Xiang, and her baby, Bao Bao.

The National Zoo exhibits include the Bird House, American Trail, Elephant Trail, Gibbon Ridge, Great Ape House, and Amazonia. There are also animals in their own exhibit, not grouped in a building or themed exhibit like the ones I’ve just listed.

The Amazonia exhibit has an indoor tropical rainforest with monkeys! These little guys (and gals) were very interested in the human visitors and swinging on vines overhead. But be careful! They may try to pee on you. True story.

The boys especially enjoyed the Great Ape House. Many of the gorillas and orangutans came right up against the glass and interacted with us. It’s a great photo opp.

We didn’t get to see the Orangutan Crossing, but there’s a wire or cable of some sort that leads from one building to another (outside), high up in the air. This is called the “Orangutan Transport System” or “O Line” for short. The primates will actually swing on the O Line and move to a different building.

Another area we really liked was the Great Cat Exhibit. The male lion, Luke, gave us a great show when he decided to perch on a large rock and roar for several minutes. It had just occurred to me that I should film him, when he decided to stop. 🙁 Luke has been a busy boy. One of the two female lions has new cubs, and the second is due to give birth any day now!

It was a fun trip overall and great for the family, but here’s a little more info about our experiences and, hopefully, some tips to help you plan your trip:

The zoo is spread out and covers a lot of area. I know some of ya’ll are diehard babywearers, but I prefer bringing a stroller for museums, amusement parks, etc., when I’m going to do a ton of walking, far from the car. The main stretch of the zoo -Olmsted Walk- is almost a mile long. When you add in all of the side trails to different exhibits, you’re putting in a good workout. AND the zoo is basically built on a hill, so at some point you’re going to be climbing up (it’s not steps…more like a wide ramp or road).

I’m not a fan of carrying a toddler and a bag or backpack, so I keep all my junk in the bottom of the stroller. HOWEVER, at busy times of the year, strollers are not allowed inside of smaller exhibits like Amazonia. You have to leave the strollers outside (like at Disney). Since it wasn’t busy the day we were there, we were allowed to take strollers everywhere, inside the exhibits too.

We parked in Lot D, which is at the bottom of the hill. It worked out well, because we started off near the Kid’s Farm (fun to see). It also means we were heading downhill when everyone was tired. It’s much easier to climb when you’re fresh!

You should know that although admission to the zoo is free, parking is not cheap (like anywhere in D.C.). Currently, the zoo charges $16 for three hours of parking and $22 for more than three. It may seem like a lot, but if that’s all you’re paying for your entire family to visit, it’s not bad at all! I’ve also heard parking can be difficult to get after 10:30am during peak times of year.

If you’re coming up from Hampton Roads, you could park at the Franconia-Springfield station and then take the metro all the way to the zoo. Metro parking at that station is just $4.75 for all-day parking. If you’re planning on visiting more places than just the zoo, buying a 24-hour pass could be cost-effective. Check out my tips for visiting DC with kids.

Definitely check the current Metro fares online beforehand, but children four years and younger generally ride free with adults paying full fare (two children per adult).

The food at the National Zoo is limited and expensive. So we brought our own lunches (also in the stroller). My breastfeeding days are over (at least until I have another little one), but there are plenty of benches to sit on. I also noticed quiet sitting areas inside some buildings.

And that’s about it! If you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I’ll see if I can answer them.

Do you like to visit zoos? What’s your favorite zoo?

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A Family Outing: Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Now that the holiday craziness has died down, I’m catching up on some posts I’ve wanted to do for a while. I have several locations I need to add to the Family Outing list, especially since we may be moving in as little as three months! No idea yet when or where…that’s Navy life!

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia is seasonal, so unlike its Florida counterpart, the park does close down this time of year. We were able to visit the park in October, one of the last days it was open in 2013. It does open up briefly for a few weeks after Thanksgiving for Christmas Town but closes again until warmer weather arrives.

Through the Waves of Honor program, military service members can receive one complimentary admission ticket a year for themselves and three dependents. This does not apply to Christmas Town, unfortunately, but I’ve discovered you can usually score cheaper Christmas Town tickets on Groupon or find coupons in local papers or stores.

I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about the rides for adults and older kids. While we were there this visit, we focused on the kiddy rides for Baby J. Busch Gardens Williamsburg has a big children’s area called Land of the Dragons and a smaller area called the Sesame Street Forest of Fun.

I noticed Land of the Dragons has a nursing room and diaper changing area. I peeked inside the building, and noticed it was pretty busy.

Just a note, when we were there for Christmas Town the previous year, Land of the Dragons was not open. There was no place for me to nurse Baby J other than the bathroom, which I refuse to do. So we ended up nursing outside on different benches (not fun in the cold). We even checked with park staff who admitted there was no place to nurse.

Baby J wasn’t able to go on all of the rides, because some of them kids have to ride alone without parents. He’s still pretty young (about 18 1/2 months at the time), and we were worried he’d get afraid and try to climb out of a ride if he was on one by himself.

I brought my SUPPORi for standing in lines, since that worked well at Disney, but we never had to wait very long. The park wasn’t busy at all, probably because it was a school day and because it was cold! Baby J wanted to walk quite a bit, but we did have a stroller along, which worked well for toting our gear around. The food is not cheap, by the way, so bring as many snacks from home as possible!

We got there around 11 am and stayed for just a few hours. That was plenty of time for Baby J to go on a lot of rides. Driving home wasn’t that bad. Traffic coming back into Hampton Roads during rush hour isn’t usually as bad as traffic going out.

Here are a some photos of our visit:

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Virginia- Find out more on My Life: A Work in Progress

Have you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? What’s your favorite theme park?

Note: I was not compensated for this post.

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A Family Outing: National Museum of American History

Oh boy, did Baby J love this museum! He’s almost 20 months old, and trucks and trains are SO COOL in his eyes. I’m visiting my brother in DC, and he’s just a few blocks away from the National Mall, so Baby J and I took a walk over there yesterday. I wasn’t able to take many photos since my phone was dying, and I forgot my Halo Pocket Power…I’m kicking myself for that one! Anyway, to conserve my battery charge, I kept my iPhone off for most of our excursion.

Here are the few photos I did take:

Julia Child’s kitchen!
Baby J sitting in a train car from the first half of the 20th century. He’s confused why it’s not moving!
Train engine
Replica of a tobacco ship

To learn more about the National Museum of American History, visit americanhistory.si.edu

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