This past weekend, I made the possibly crazy decision to meet up with my sisters in New York City. Well, I guess normally that isn’t a crazy thing, but with three little kids in tow, it definitely seemed like a bit of a wild adventure.
We were only in New York for two days, but somehow we squished in a lot of fun activities. Most of what we did was on a whim and completely unplanned, but one planned event that I was particularly excited about was visiting the Central Park Zoo . . .
I have been to Central Park many times and had always heard it contained a zoo but had never really had a desire to go pre-kids.
The zoo is located on the southeastern side of central park.
If you are wandering through the park, it may be a little complicated to find the zoo (at least it was for us). The best thing to do is walk down Fifth Avenue along the edge of Central Park until you see the zoo (around 64th street).
Now, this zoo is small in size. It takes up only 6.5 acres and includes both a main zoo and a separate children’s zoo (Tisch Children’s Zoo). Compare that to the Bronx Zoo which is on 265 acres. Huge difference in size, but not surprising given that this zoo is smack dab in the middle of New York City.
When you purchase your tickets, you will have access to both the main zoo and the children’s zoo. It is important to note, however, that there is no re-entry option for each location. So, you can’t hop back and forth between the main zoo, the children’s zoo and central park throughout the day. Once you are done, you can’t get back in (unless you want to buy another ticket of course!)
As we entered the park, the first thing I saw on the left-hand side was a sign for the bathrooms. Like a good Out and About Mom scout, I took a quick peek to see the baby changing situation. Good news, there was a baby changing station inside.
After the very exciting tour of the restrooms, we moved onto our first exhibit, Tropic Zone: The Rain Forest.
At first we walked in with the stroller, but once inside I decided that it may be more enjoyable without the stroller so we parked it outside. You can definitely bring a stroller into the exhibit, but you would then only be able to see the first floor animals. To get to the second floor, you have to take the stairs. There very well could have been an elevator inside, but I couldn’t find one. Basically, if you are outnumbered by kids that day, keep them in the stroller and you will have plenty of fun things to see on the first floor. If you can handle the kids without the stroller (a rarity for me), then park it outside.
As you walk into the “Tropic Zone” the main floor is an open habitat. You can see birds flying overhead and all sorts of animals crawling on the ground. There are glass railings surrounding the whole area and my kids were very engaged with all of the animal activity happening above and below them.
After exploring the first floor, we headed upstairs to see more tropic zone inhabitants. The upstairs animals were all in their own separate habitats. We saw alligators, snakes, mongoose and many more animals.
After the Tropic Zone, we continued on the path to the Temperate Territory. Here there were monkeys, snow leopards, red pandas, and much more. To be honest, we had a hard time seeing most of the animals in this section. Maybe it was just naptime, but they all seemed to be hidden in their habitat. I think this is a common challenge at any zoo, though. The good news is that my kids were plenty entertained by running up and down the hills and in and out of the exhibits. The even better news, was that the exhibits and the walk around the property was very beautiful. You didn’t really feel like you were in a zoo. There were no “cages” the animals were all in glass enclosures surrounded by brick walls which were covered with growing vines. My sisters and I kept commenting on what a relaxing, pretty and tranquil zoo it was.
We ended up saving probably two of the best exhibits for the end of our main zoo tour. The first was the penguin exhibit. To see the penguins, you went into the Polar Circle building. (If you need to bring a stroller with you, bring it, but if you can make due without one, park it outside.)
Inside it was very dark and the only lit area was where the penguins were hanging out. I wasn’t able to get very good pictures, but I promise you your kids will have fun in here. The penguins were very active and would jump into the water and swim and play. The whole viewing area (including below the water) is glass and the kids could follow the penguins as they swam all throughout the exhibit area. My kids were very entertained by this. Unfortunately, Sparkles would squeal every time a penguin jumped in the water (which was probably every 20 seconds). This ear-piercing noise could only be tolerated for so long, so we didn’t stay for an extended period of time.
There was also a polar bear exhibit in the Polar Circle, but this was another one where the animal was snoozing and nothing much was really going on. But, like with the Temperate Zone exhibits, the polar bear habitat was a beautiful place to explore.
Then last, but not least for the main zoo, was getting to see the sea lions. Their habitat is located in a large pool right in the center of the zoo. We were lucky enough to get to see them during their feeding time at 11:30 (there are also feedings at 2:30 and 4:00). During this time, not only did they eat, but their trainers had them work for their food. The children (and us adults) enjoyed watching these animals perform different tricks and stunts to earn their keep. When we were there, one side of the pool area became very crowded with onlookers, but we found that if we moved around to the other side, we had a much better view of the action.
Look at this view. We are watching a sea lion show with a view of the New York skyline in the background.
The kids with their wonderful Aunts!
Before leaving the main zoo, I stopped by the Dancing Crane Cafe to get some food for the kids. This is the main eating facility in the zoo. You can also bring your own food in and there are vending kiosks throughout the property.
Here is a sample menu from one of the kiosks.
For the Dancing Crane Cafe, there is an entrance outside the zoo and an entrance and outdoor eating area inside the zoo. If you enter from inside the zoo, you will need to get your hand stamped so that you can exit back into the zoo area. Strollers are not allowed in the cafe, so if you are traveling alone with multiple kids in tow, it may be challenging to get inside and get food with them. In that case, I would recommend bringing your own food or purchasing snacks from one of the kiosks.
If you are able to go inside the cafe, they have several meal options, lots of snack options and a variety of drinks options.
After taking a food break, we made our way to the Tisch Children’s Zoo. To get there, you exit the Main Zoo, make a left and head a little way down the path til you reach the zoo on your right. You will need to show your tickets again to get inside.
Once inside, you will take a ramp that leads up to the animals and exhibits for this zoo.
There are two sections. There is an interior section that contains ducks, fish, rabbits, turtles and other birds. Then there is an exterior section that contains the petting zoo.
As you walk up the ramp you can either turn into the interior section or continue up past the restrooms and start at the petting zoo. This section of the zoo is very, very small, but it is a perfect activity for toddlers and little ones looking to explore. You can also bring a stroller all throughout the children’s zoo or you can park your stroller near the restrooms and your child can walk.
Because we had a man to man defense going with the kids, we decided to park the stroller and check out the interior section first.
Once inside, the kids had a great time exploring the various exhibits, squishing their face on the glass to see the fish, walking across the lily pads to see the frogs, crawling through tunnels to get up close and personal with a rabbit, and climbing over, under and around the various statues.
Pretty soon we could hear the cow mooing and the sheep maaing and the kids were itching to head over to the petting zoo. We made our way out of the interior section of the zoo and over to where the barnyard animals were located. Here the kids could pet and feed the animals. Oh, and much like the rest of the main zoo and the children’s zoo, the petting zoo area was surprisingly clean and lacked that normal barnyard odor (and this is coming from someone who is becoming a barnyard odor expert with all the petting zoos we visit!).
To purchase animal food, there are vending machines located throughout the property. Just bring two quarters with you to use the machine or use the change machine located near the bathrooms.
Even though it is a small space, there are plenty of things to keep the little ones interested and engaged.
Before we headed out of the venue, we stopped by the hand cleaning station to get some hand sanitizer (you will definitely want this after petting all the animals) and I took a peek inside the restrooms to see if there was a baby changing station. After seeing how much thought they put into making the whole children’s zoo toddler-friendly, I was not surprised at all to see they had a place to change the little tots.
After about an hour and a half of exploring both zoos, we were ready to head home. We had such a good time, though, and I was very impressed with how clean, organized and beautifully designed it was. If I was an NYC resident, I would definitely get a family membership for this destination. What a wonderful asset.
64th Street and Fifth Avenue New York, New York 10021
- Fall Hours (Sept 4 – Nov 4, 2012): 10:00am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday and 10:00am – 5:30pm on weekends and holidays
- Winter Hours (Nov 5, 2012 – Mar 29, 2013): 10:00am – 4:30pm daily
- Spring Hours (Mar 30 – May 24, 2013): 10:00am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday and 10:00am – 5:30pm weekends and holiday
- Summer Hours (May 25 – Sept 2, 2013): 10:00am – 5:30pm daily
- General Admission
- Adults $12
- Children (Ages 3-12) $7
- Senior (65+) $9
- Other pricing options available including annual memberships
- It is mostly an outdoor venue, so make sure everyone is dressed for the elements.
- Most of the zoo can be accessed with a stroller. There are also places you can “park” your stroller when you don’t need it.
- Food options include a restaurant (the Dancing Crane Cafe) that includes both indoor and outdoor seating. Strollers are not allowed inside the restaurant, so if you are flying solo with more than one child, you may want to plan another eating option.
- You can bring your own food or there are also vendors located throughout the zoo.
- Bring quarters if you want to buy feed for the petting zoo.
- There are feeding times for the penguins and sea lions. These are great opportunities to see the animals in action.
- All the restrooms I checked out contained a baby changing station.
- There are no re-entry privileges in either the main zoo or the children’s zoo.
- It can be a little confusing to try to find the zoo from the interior pathways in central park. The best way to access it is from Fifth Avenue.
Thursday it’s time for the September Round-up.
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