In terms of variety and size, you can't beat the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens. From the vampire bats to the gorillas, there is so much to see, it's almost impossible to sort it all out in a single day. Like nature walks and gardening, the zoo can fire a love and respect for living things in your kids, and set them on the path toward good citizenship with our fellow inhabitants on the planet. With climate change and environmental issues likely to remain in the news throughout their lifetimes, it's a good path for your kids to discover and adopt while they're young.
Since kids' attention spans vary, especially with younger children, a good idea might be an annual membership. Some passes come in at under $100, and can be not all that much more than one day's regular admission, depending on your family's size. The pass pays for itself on your second visit. It's good for a year, and includes free parking every time you drop by. Some passes admit a couple of guests as well, which makes it easy for your kids to invite a friend. With the family pass, you are no longer under pressure to see everything in one visit. If the kids get tired and bothered, you're free to exit and try again another day. You can also concentrate on parts of the zoo with each visit, really drinking in the animals you and your children decide you'd most like to see on any given day.
Exotic Animals, Elsewhere
Another nice thing about the annual pass is that it's honored at more than 100 other zoos around the country, and gets you discounted or even free admission, depending on the zoo. My 12-year-old and I took our first baseball trip to Cincinnati last year, and made great use of this reciprocal zoo agreement at the famous Cincinnati Zoo. It cost $11 total for the two of us, and we had a great time. In fact, it was a godsend to the trip's budget, offering hours of entertainment in between games for practically nothing. We're thinking about visiting another zoo during this summer's trip as well.
The Philadelphia Zoo's website has a list of all zoos that participate in the program, listed state-by-state, so it's easy to search for a location near your vacation destinations.
When choosing a zoo, you might want to also consult the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website. The AZA is the official accrediting organization for zoos across the country. Dr. Andrew Baker, Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Zoo, says zoos must pass a rigorous examination of everything from animal care and management to financial health, and even guest services to win the AZA stamp of approval, and must then maintain those high standards, since there are new inspections every five years. Using the AZA link I've provided, you can search for approved facilities by state, and have confidence that the zoo or aquarium you've chosen is working hard to make your experience and that of its animals first-rate.
You can also use the AZA site to see whether your local zoo is up to par. Fortunately, there are multiple facilities across the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys that are currently certified, including zoos from Norristown to Wilmington to Cape May, not to mention the Adventure Aquarium in Camden which offers close natural encounters of the wetter kind.
---David MurphyRead more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on 6abc.com.