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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

July 24, 2017

  • 4850 Powell Road
  • Powell, OH 43065
  • (614) 645-3400
  • Website

We’ve been to a lot of zoos over the years.  Binder Park, John Ball, Brookfield, Lincoln Park, Potawatami, Miller Park, Peoria, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Toledo, Detroit, Potter Park.  We like zoos.

Those zoo trips were usually planned around other trips.  We fit the zoo in as part of bigger excursion, but there are a few zoos that are worth being the main focus of a vacation.  One of those zoos is in Columbus, OH.

We have been talking about a trip to the Columbus Zoo for quite a while.  We finally decided to pull the trigger this year.  We have friends in that area whom we haven’t seen in years so we decided to make a weekend out of it.  Go to the zoo on Saturday and lunch with friends on Sunday.

We drove to Columbus Friday night after I got off work so we’d wake up ready to go Saturday morning.  We started with breakfast before heading to the zoo around 10:00.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is actually northwest of the City of Columbus. It’s located in Powell, OH about 25 minutes from Downtown Columbus.  The zoo is on the corner of Powell Road and Riverside on the banks of the Scioto River.  The Zoo is kind of out in an area by itself but still pretty close to civilization. 

The parking lot is huge.  There is a $10 for non-members to park which is paid for at a gate just before you get in.  We were pretty early in the day and the skies were threatening rain so we were able to find a spot pretty close to the main entrance.  On a busy day, you could either be walking a long, long way to get to the gate or you’d have to take a shuttle.

There are two stand alone ticket booths near the front gate as well as a couple built in to the gate as well.  Pricing for the zoo is based on where you live.  If you live in Franklin County, admission is about $5 cheaper all around.  If you live outside of Franklin County, adults are $20, kids 3-9 are $15.  Luckily for us, we’re still members at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek which gets us 50% admission at most zoos around the country through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reciprocal list.  The cost for two adults and a child (B was free since he’s still under 3) was $27.

I have to say, I don’t usually get so excited about walking in to a zoo, but this is one I’ve always heard so much about…and this is the zoo Jack Hanna made famous when he was director from 1978-1993.

We didn’t really know where the start.  The zoo is huge.  When you get through the gates, the first thing you really see is the path to Jungle Jack’s Landing and Zoombezi Bay which are amusements parks.  Both parks used to be part of Wyanadot Lake.  Jungle Jack’s landing has rides.  They can be paid for either with an all-inclusive wristband or individually.  Zoombezi Bay is a huge water park that costs about $10 on top of your admission to the zoo.  The Zoo and Zoombezi Bay are a package deal.  Admission to the water park includes admission to the zoo.

We walked past this area because we weren’t there to ride rides.

The zoo is divided into regions of the world.  There are signs pointing to the different regions as well as to specific animals all throughout the zoo.  It’s not easy to get lost as most of the zoo works on circular paths but the exhibits are very spread out so expect to do a lot of walking.

We started in North America and one of the first things we came across was the Bob Evans My Barn.

The are several farm animals

in this barn and, of course, there are is a walk-in petting zoo area with goats.

There were so many goats and all of them were pretty subdued.  L grabbed a comb to brush there hair and B just walked around to stare at the different types of goats.

You can find a lot of the typical North American animals in this area, but one of the highlights is the Polar Frontier.

This area has a couple different type of bears. There are the obvious polar bears which have both an above ground…..

…and underwater viewing areas.

The baby was pretty active being in the water when I first walked down the ramp to get to the underwater area.  When he went back on land, he teased the gathered crowd for a while looking like he was going to jump in only to not actually do it.  After a while, he went to find his mama and nursed for a while which we could see pretty well from a viewing area which has both the polar bears and the  brown bears.

As we walked away from the polar bears, we came across the first of many playgrounds in the zoo.  This, of course, was L’s favorite part of the zoo.  When we told her what we were doing, she kept asking if there were playgrounds there.  There is and we had to hit everyone.  This one is arctic themed and has a number of slides for the kids to play on.

From North America, we moved on to Heart of Africa.

This area of the zoo is pretty spread out because they use the large, open Savannah concept that Binder Park Zoo also uses.  There’s a restaurant  and camel rides (extra charge unless you  have the all inclusive wristband) before you come to the main entrance into the animal exhibits.

One of the first enclosures we came to was the lions.  They have a large enclosure separated from the rest of the animals that they would probably like to eat.  Several of the lions were sitting right up along the glass giving us a good look at these awesome cats.

Another animal that had it’s own enclosure were the Vervet Monkeys.  The thing you’ll really notice about the Columbus Zoo is that there are no cages.  This was one of Jack Hanna’s big contributions to zoos.  He pushed for more open exhibits that try to replicate the animals natural habitats.

The big focal point of the Heart of Africa is the large savanna which is home to most of the animals in this area.  If you’re familiar with Binder Park Zoo’s Africa exhibit, you will recognize this area at the Columbus Zoo.  There’s a large viewing area overlooking the savanna where animals are allowed to roam freely.

The way back Conservation Lake, which is kinda like the starting point for all the paths, goes back through North America.  There are a few more animals on this side including one I was kind of surprised to find in Buckeye country, a wolverine.

At this point of the day, we had already spent close to two hours at the zoo and had only been through two of the six areas of the zoo.  We had brought some water in with us, but it was 89 degrees with 97% humidity….so yeah, it was hot and gross.  We needed some sugar, so we hit a concession stand for some Pepsi’s and a cookie.  Three souvenir cups and acookie cost us about $25, but we found out later the cups are refillable for free on the day of purchase so we got a couple drinks out of them that way.

The next area of the zoo we headed towards was Asia Quest.  

The entrance to Asia Quest goes indoors for some exhibits inside as well as some displays and interactive media on animal conservation in this area of the world.

The big attraction in Asia Quest is the Vanishing Giants.  Those are the elephants and the rhinos.

There is both an indoor and outdoor exhibit but a sign out front said the elephants were outside so we didn’t go in the building.  The outdoor elephant exhibit is kind of hard to get a good view.  There isn’t a really clear viewing area.  There are grasses and plants along the wall which made it hard for the little ones to see.  Elephants are still some of my favorite animals to see at zoos and there were quite a few outside while we were walking through this area.

I’ve mentioned Jack Hanna a few times already but this is where I’m going to pause to talk a little more.  Hanna is the Director Emeritus of the zoo and he’s still the public face for fundraising campaigns.  The Columbus Zoo got famous through his television program, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures.  Hanna has also been on numerous late night talk shows and early morning news programs throughout the years promoting his various causes.  Now, he does a show called Into the Wild and the shows opening segment is still shot at the Columbus Zoo.  The set piece for this show is in Asia Quest.

The rest of the zoo is on the other side of Riverside Drive from the main part of the zoo.  This area is accessible by a tunnel on the west side of Conservation Lake.

The other side of this tunnel leads right into the Shores and Aquarium.

The first thing you run into is not more animals, but instead a 4-D Theater……

…and, of course, another playground.

We again let the kids play here just because we needed a break.  This one had some small water features….did I mention it was oppressively hot the day we were there?  We gave the kids about fifteen minutes to play.  L played in a lot of the water with some other kids about her age.

We went in to Manitee Coast once wee got the kids pulled away from the playground.  There’s a large tank inside with a number of species of fish, turtles, sting rays and in addition to the advertised manitees  .  It’s cool because the glass starts at the floor so even the littlest kid can get right up to the glass and see all the cool things floating by.

The other big attraction in the Shores and Aquarium area is the Humboldt Penguins.  Again, you can get up pretty close to the penguins in the exhibit…and who doesn’t love penguins?

Two more regions of the park to go.  On the way to the next one we came across the carousel.  Surprisingly, neither kid asked to ride it.  The carousel is an Ohio Historical Landmark.  It’s a restored 1914 Mangels-Illions carousel that was originally built for Olentangy Park in Clintonsville.  The carousel was moved to Wyandot Lake in 1938 where it remained until 1999.  It underwent a million dollar restoration on the 52 hand carved horses and the Wurlitizer 153 band organ before being put in this spot in the Columbus Zoo.

The next stop on our trip was Australia and the Islands.

The first big attraction here is Dinosaur Island.

L really wanted to go through this because there’s a boat ride.  It costs $2 per person so I decided to take her.  J was wearing B on her back at this point trying to get him to sleep…which she eventually did, so it was just me and L.

This is supposed to be an educational exhibit on dinosaurs.  There’s a long walk back to the actual boat ride with displays and information on different dinosaurs, but L had no interest in any of this.

The boats are big enough to hold eight people.  L and I climbed into the back row of a boat that was just about ready to leave.  It’s a slow float around a loop through parts of Australia and the Islands.

It’s a really well done ride with a couple dinosaurs that mist you with some water.

Again, there are displays along the way with info on different dinosaurs, but the only thing that impressed L were the two T-Rex’s right at the end.

The big animal exhibit in this area is the Kangaroo Station.

This is one of those walk through Kangaroo encounters with very little barrier between you and the kangaroos.

It’s not quite as open as the encounter at the Detroit Zoo, but you still get a pretty close and personal look at the Kangaroos.  It was a hot day (I’ve said that already, right?) so the Kangaroos were just kind of hanging out and relaxing.

Right outside the Kangaroo Station is the entrance to Lorikeet Aviary.  There are several walk through aviaries throughout the zoo, but this is the first one I saw where you can feed the birds.  This isn’t quite like the Budgee Bird aviaries a lot of zoos have.  There are no sticks of food but instead little cups of nectar for $2 each.  I spilled half the nectar when I tried to pick L up to get closer to one, but we were able to get a couple to get close enough to drink a little bit before we moved on.

As we walked in to Australia, there was yet another playground.  At first I complained that zoos must hate parents because that’s all the kids want to do.  We were going on five hours at the zoo at this point and we just wanted to get through the rest of it and get back to the hotel. I finally gave in realizing that J could use a break.  B was on her back sleeping and it was hot (again…super hot and humid) and we needed more to drink.   I let L go play for fifteen minutes while L relaxed and I headed to the food court to get J and I some more drinks

The food court is pretty similar to a lot of food courts I’ve seen at zoo’s recently.  It looks a lot like a mall food court with different options for food including a Donato’s Pizza which is a pretty popular chain in this part of Ohio.  I went to pay for refill on the drinks and told they were free so I just went to the fountain to fill them up.  I did pay for another cookie though because the four of us ate the last one pretty quickly.

One last section before it was time to call it a day and that was the Congo Expedition in the African Forest.

This is where the majority of the primates are.  There are two big attractions here.  The first is the Western Lowland Gorillas.  In 1956, the Columbus Zoo was home to the first Western Lowland Gorilla born in captivity.  That gorilla, named Colo after Columbus, died this past January, but six of the gorillas in the exhibit at the Columbus are offspring of Colo.

The other big exhibit which is right around the corner from the gorillas is the bonobos.  Columbus has a huge collection of bonobos.  They’re one of only eight zoos in the US to have the pygmy chimps…and all of them are named and have little placards with info and facts about them in front of the exhibit.

So, that pretty much wrapped up our day at the Columbus Zoo.  It took us five and a half hours in oppressing heat and humidity to make our way through everything but it was totally worth it.  Columbus has been on my short list for zoos for a long time and I’m so glad we finally made the trip.  It’s a great place with so much to see and so many things you won’t see at other places.  It’s absolutely worth the the time and energy to plan a trip around…..even for you Michigan fans…..

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