We Waleses are a nature-loving bunch, and I will take just about any chance I can get to teach our kids about nature. They never get enough of it. When we were in Minneapolis recently for a wedding, we decided a trip to the Minnesota Zoo was in order.
Nestled in the broad, leafy suburbs of Minneapolis, the zoo sits on a large acreage, and offers generously sized enclosures and a decent layout.
We went on the 4th of July weekend which, if we had had a choice, would have been a poor decision. The weather was okay, it was just that there were far too many people crowding around the viewing platform of a given exhibit at any time. It took some patience to wait for space to open up to try and see the animals. The roadways were slow to navigate, and the lines to get food were long (although, that was okay with us, since we had the uncharacteristic foresight to buy lunch before we got there).
Nevertheless, we all enjoyed it. I would say the main detraction, besides the people, was the fact that in the expansive outdoor exhibits, the zoo can only house animals that are capable of surviving Minnesota’s brutal winters. That still allowed for quite a few animals, but it did exclude the zoo classics, like nearly all classical African game, jungle animals, desert animals, etc. Oddly enough, though, they did have Kangaroos and Wallabies, inhabitants of a typically hot, arid continent. I guess they’re resilient though.
The outdoor exhibits that they did have were excellent. We got to see pretty much everything they had to offer. The enclosures were expansive and well-maintained, with good vantage points to see the animals. They had a few different trails with different themes. The Northern Trail features animals found north of the 45th parallel. Bison, Amur tigers, groundhogs, and a bunch of different species of gazelles and antelopes are all on display. Shiloh and Judah were entranced by one of the leopards strolling around right in front of them.
I thought the Grizzly Coast exhibit was pretty great too. Those are insanely big bears. Is there such thing as bear steroids? Cuz they’re on them. They were happily splashing and water dancing right in front of the glass, to the great joy of the flocks of kids with their gaping mouths pressed up against it.
As exotic and unique as many of the animals throughout the entire zoo are, the kids probably had the most fun at the Family Farm area. It’s populated by regular ol’ farm animals. Of course, Shiloh and Judah don’t really know how special a Takin is in comparison to a goat, but a goat they can pet, so that is the best. At least they look cute doing it.
The best part of the zoo, in my opinion, was the indoor Tropics Trail, and not just because they had my favorite animal (along with the snow leopard), a red panda, cutest of all Himalayan furballs. There were Komodo dragons, gibbons, lemurs, sloths, crocodiles, and lots of cool stuff. This was by far the most diverse part of the zoo, and, even though there wasn’t any room for large enclosures, what they did have was plenty satisfying for a family of critter lovers like us.
Shiloh was perhaps most excited about Discovery Bay, the on-site aquarium. She demanded repeatedly that I dangle her precariously over the edge of the shark touch tank so she could pet the sharks and rays. It was difficult, since the water level was fairly low below the edge of the tank. I didn’t drop her or Judah, but I did see another kid fall in. He was fine, so it was funny.
As scuba divers, Trish and I loved exploring all the salt water tanks and seeing the Mandarin fish, jawfish, longnose hawkfish, and sixline wrasses, otherwise known to everyone else as “those really colorful fish”. And in the big tank they had ragged tooth sharks, zebra sharks, bigeye trevalley, blue-lined snapper, squirrel fish, double bar sea bream, honeycomb rabbitfish, etc., also known as “those other fish and sharks”
To reward the kids for their good behavior while we roamed around, we let them ride the carousel. We stopped to eat lunch right next to it, and heard it play the same one-minute jingle a dozen times over and over again. Sympathy for the poor schlub who was working that ride. That tune haunts his dreams forever. I’m sure of it.
The zoo also has a splash pad/fountain area near the entrance for kids to run around in. Judah and Shiloh loved it. We and the other parents were not too crazy about all the older kids, who had the idea to step on the fountains as they sprouted up, and focus and direct the stream to spray anyone within a ten foot radius. Usually they were aiming for their friends, and us grown-ups were just collateral damage.
All in all, it was a decent zoo, and, if you are in the area and have kids, it’s well worth the trip. As long as it’s not a holiday weekend.