For us it just wouldn't be a real summer camp at home if we didn't plan at least one trip to the zoo and one trip to the aquarium every summer! My children have been animal-lovers since they day they joined our family, and they never get tired of seeing their favorite creatures and reading and learning more about them. So for us, a zoo or an aquarium is a fun and educational way to spend a day. Over the years I've picked up a few tips to make the most of our animal-adventures!
Before buying your tickets, look into memberships and reciprocal memberships
For years we have been members at the world-class Bronx Zoo, because it has never made sense financially to purchase single-day tickets. A daily adult ticket is $29.95 and a child's ticket is $19.95. So a typical family of four pays nearly $100 to visit the zoo for just one day. However, for $129 you can have a family membership with admission to the zoo for one year- and it includes free parking passes and 16 passes for “special attractions” such as the bug carousel and the children's zoo. For another $30 per year you can upgrade to the “premium membership” which bumps you up to unlimited access to these special attractions for the full year, plus you can bring along one additional adult guest (like Grandma when she is visiting!) The Bronx Zoo is also affiliated with four other local zoos and aquariums and your membership card grants you admission to any of these locations (bonus)!
While on vacation in other parts of the country, we sometimes visit a local zoo- and I always show them my Bronx Zoo membership card. Sometimes zoos will offer me discounted admission simply because I am a member here. Still other zoos and aquariums belong to a reciprocal membership program called the Zoo Society and purchasing a membership at one zoo or aquarium will allow you free admission to all of the zoos and aquariums that are part of this program. You'll need to check with your local zoo or aquarium for all of the details on this program!
One more tip- make sure you do all of this research and ticket or membership purchasing online before you head out to the zoo or aquarium. Many places offer an additional discount for purchasing your membership or tickets online.
Understand “the extras” before you purchase your admission ticket!
In an effort to compete with other forms of family entertainment (such as amusement parks), many zoos and aquariums have added all kinds of extra attractions to their wildlife parks such as rides, petting areas, special up-close animal encounters, sky buckets, trams, and more. When looking at the admission prices, you need to carefully research what is specifically excluded from the ticket price. Quite often I have found that it makes more sense to buy a higher-priced all-inclusive ticket, than to be doling out $2 a pop for each ride or extra animal attraction per kid. And again- I strongly urge you to inquire about all-inclusive membership options for the most savings- there have been times when it has made more sense for our family to purchase a year's membership at a zoo while on vacation, than to buy one day tickets- even though we never intended to visit again during the same calendar year!
Avoid days or at least times of day when “real” summer camps will be visiting
Nothing makes me crazier than having to search for my kids that have gotten all mixed in with a huge group of day campers while we are inside of the African rain forest exhibit! I find the whole zoo experience to be so much more pleasant when we visit on days of the week when camps are least likely to be there (often Mondays and Fridays) or when we wait to visit until later in the afternoon when all of the day camp buses have departed (usually after 2-3pm).
Save money by packing a lunch and drinks from home, and then treat the kids to ice cream for dessert!
The point of this field trip is to enjoy seeing the animals…. you certainly aren't there for the over-priced and somewhat unappetizing hamburgers. Save some money by packing your own yummy lunch from home and a cool drink in a refillable water bottle, and then treat the family to ice cream when they are hot and tired. They will be singing your praises the whole way home!
Here are some additional resources
Association of Zoos and Aquariums– provides a searchable listing of all AZA accredited zoos and aquariums
10 Best Zoos for Kids– as complied by the folks at Parents Magazine
10 Best Aquariums for Kids– as complied by the folks at Parents Magazine (gotta love them!)