John Ball Zoo
- 1300 W. Fulton Street
- Grand Rapids, MI 49501
- (616) 336-4301
Last weekend, when J and I went to Binder Park Zoo, we had no idea we’d being going to the zoo two weeks in a row. Our original plan for this weekend was Deer Forest Park in Coloma, but my brother, fortunately, noticed they just put a note on their website this week that they don’t open until Memorial Day. My family had already made plans to come this weekend, so we had to find a Plan B.
We threw a couple things out there, but my brother and his wife were really set on some sort of zoo. They have a 19 month old and another due in a few weeks. They really wanted to take the older kid to the zoo one more time before they’re a family of four.
J and I got up and met my brother, sister-in-law, niece, mom and dad at the John Ball Zoo which is on Fulton Street about a mile from downtown Grand Rapids. The zoo is in a park setting right in the middle of a heavily urban area. There are a couple parking lots and both my brother and I chose different ones. Once we got in the same parking lot, we headed past the pond where Nessi resides to the main entrance.
The cost is $7.50/person so it was $45 for the six of us. My niece is under two so she was free. I grabbed a map from a volunteer right inside the gate and we set out on our way.
The first exhibit is the alligators, pelicans, and bald eagles. The newest alligator just was just put on display a few days ago, so this was a somewhat popular exhibit. The pelicans were racing each other right near the wall and it really got my niece excited.
The thing I noticed right away about John Ball Zoo is that the exhibits are all a little smaller and a little bit closer to you. This is great for the smaller kids like my niece because it is easy to spot things. The zoo is also pretty hilly, but it’s set up really well. There’s a pretty good flow and once you get inside, you forget that you’re in Grand Rapids.
The next place we stopped was the wallaby and lemur exhibits and here, you are really close to the animals. They’re inside a little wooden fence and you can almost reach out and touch them.
From there, it was on to some birds along a wooded area. Off to the right, there’s a pretty cool spot for the older kids. John Ball has a rope course. My brother and I thought about going, but passed because the petting corral was up next.
My brother is not big on letting his daughter out of her stroller when they go to the zoo. Once she gets out, she’s hard to get back in. She’s at the age where she just likes to run around and it can get exhausting…especially in a crowded place. Still, I talked him in to letting me take her out and bring her in to pet the animals. She was a little scared at first. I tried to get her touch a goat, but she was pretty hesitant, so daddy came in. She didn’t really warm up too much. She would run up, touch a goat then run away and run in circles.
We got her back in the stroller and walked past the walk in bird aviary. We didn’t get the kid out of the stroller then, but she and I went back before we went home. For a buck, you can buy bird feed on a stick and feed the birds. My niece doesn’t always let me pick her up, but she actually did this time. I got the stick in her hand so the birds could eat from it. I never could get a bird on to the stick, but she still enjoyed it….for a while.
After the birds, we walked by pumas, snow leopards, bears, and a lot of the typical zoo animals. One of the cooler exhibits were the lions. There are three of them and they have a pretty large exhibit. There’s a viewing area at ground level with glass separating you from the animals. One of the female lions was sitting right on a rock in front of the glass. A volunteer told us that the rock is heated and that’s their secret to getting the animals close to the people. The other two lions were laying up in the sun and you couldn’t see them from the glassed in viewing area. There’s also a sky deck viewing area up four or five stories of stairs. We went up their to see the other female and the male hanging out.
For a week now, my brother has been telling my niece that they were going to go Michigan to see us and see the animals. Every morning when they got in the car, she would look up at him and say “animals?” During that time, he must have been coaching her on monkeys too. When we got to the baboon exhibit, she pointed and said my name. I had just walked away when I heard the rest of family laughing hysterically. Nice of him, eh? Then, of course, my wife had to tweet it and I had a few messages when I got home giving me crap.
We made our way back to the beginning and tried to sit down and relax. The aquarium was right in that area and we tried to go in there, but by this point, my niece was in no mood to do what we wanted her to do. J and I got a Diet Coke from the concession stand then we found a grassy area where she could run around for a while. She started to run back towards the sting ray exhibit and I followed her. We passed the sting rays because she didn’t even want to pet a goat and to pet a sting ray was a buck. Instead, this is when I took her back to the bird exhibit. After we did that, there’s a little pond right next to it with a waterfall. There are no fish in it, but for some reason, she was really interested.
Our day at the John Ball Zoo was just a couple hours, but it was a great time. My brother was really impressed with the exhibits and loved the layout of the place. They had been taking the kid to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and had planned on doing the same this year, but instead, they decided to come see us. John Ball worked out great for everyone. It’s a pretty easy trip from Illinois and my niece passed out as soon as she was buckled in to her car seat. By the time we got to a restaurant two miles away, she was out and stayed out through lunch.