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Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

August 5, 2019

  • 3400 Vine Street
  • Cincinnati, OH 45220
  • (513) 281-4700
  • Website

I have looked forward to our annual zoo trip for the last several years now.  L is getting older and will actually remember these now.  Every year, J and I reminisce about our past trips and look forward to making new memories even if it is just her and I that will remember them.

Our choice this year was the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.  Cincinnati is one of the last zoos within about a 4-5 hour drive from Kalamazoo that we haven’t been to and it’s another one we’ve always heard really good things about.

The Cincinnati Zoo is the second oldest zoo in the country with only Philadelphia having an older one.  It opened in 1875 in the Avondale neighborhood north of downtown.  The main parking lot and entrance is off Vine Street near Erkenbreacher Avenue.  There is a $10 charge to park but it’s collected at the ticket booth.  You’re given a parking voucher at that time to get you out of the lot.

The parking lot is pretty large and the best part, a lot of it is covered parking.

It’s easy to get lost and we actually had a hard time actually finding our way to the entrance because it wasn’t marked very well.  The parking structures all had animals on them alongside numbers.  I took a picture to make sure we got back to Giraffe 3.

The Vine Street Entrance is the historic entrance to the zoo.  There is a set of stairs and two large elevators that take you up above street level.

A bridge actually takes you over Vine Street to get in to the zoo.  The entrance on that side is above street level on a hill.

We didn’t purchase our tickets online because we have a reciprocal zoo membership to Binder Park Zoo which gets us 50% off at zoos around the country.  We got to the zoo not long after it’s 10 AM opening and there was quite a line waiting to buy tickets.

I will never understand why it takes so long to buy tickets.  You tell the person how many you need them pay them.  It took maybe 20 minutes standing in the hot sun with no shade for us to get two adult and two children’s tickets.  At half price plus the $10 parking, our tickets cost us $51.

The kids were surprisingly good in the wait and by the time we made it to the zoo entrance, there was no line to get in. I pulled out the tickets we just bought and got them scanned so we could get started on our day.

We opened up the map as we walked in to the zoo and found…..a big open space…with very little signage.   There was no focal point or anything really on the plaza when we walked in.  There are some shops off to the sides but that’s about it.  We didn’t really know which way to start so we just picked to the right.

To the right took us right to the elephants.  The Elephant House is actually one of the oldest structures in the zoo is and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1902, the structure was built to look similar to the Taj Mahal.  Unfortunately, it was cleaning and feeding time so most of the elephants were off display.  We did find one (male?) out on one side of the building.  We thought we’d come back later to see the rest but we never did.

We headed from the Elephants to the Giraffes.

We are so spoiled with Binder Park Zoo’s Giraffe feeding that every other zoo we go to we have to deal with disappointment.  The feeding is done only at certain times and only in specific areas.  The exhibit itself is similar to many other giraffe overlooks throughout the country.  The giraffe’s were still pretty friendly and we got the up close look but it’s just not the same not being able to feed them.

As we walked along the path leaving the giraffes, we came to the Flamingos.  We stopped because L really wanted to take pictures for her cousin who really likes flamingos.

The African Lion was next.  It was another favorite of the kids because we just saw The Lion King.  The big male lion was sleeping right up by the glass.  There was a lot of people gathered around this small corner and my kids were quick to get up there to get a good look.

We went to the Cheetah Encounter next not really knowing what it was.  We just thought we were going to see Cheetahs.

Turns out, it was more than that.  It was a show where they were able to show off the speed of the African Cheetah…and L got picked as a volunteer to help introduce the cheetah before it took off.  It was a cute 20 minute show where they introduced other animals and showed what they could do.  It was themed around forming a super hero team of the various animals.

Time for our first drink stop.  We had already spent over and hour and a half at the zoo and still had several hours to go.  We found a drink stand where we were able to get the kids Icees and me a Pepsi.  We passed on actual food at this point because no one was hungry and it was just hot enough we didn’t want food to weigh us down.

Once we got back on the path, we got to the Hippo Cave.  The hippos are high on the list of must see animals at the Cincinnati Zoo due to one of their most famous animals Fiona The Hippo was born at the zoo in 2017.  She was the first Nile Hippo born in 75 years at the zoo and the first Nile Hippo ultrasounded pre-nattaly  The exhibit is a large tanks with a walkway that brings you down almost below water level.

The hippos can be seen both on the rocks above water and laying on the bottom of the tank below the water line.  I assume we saw Fiona but it’s hard to figure out just which one she is when they were all laying together.

We went to Wings of the World next which is a partial free flight aviary building and partial exhibit area for different species of birds from around the world.

J stayed outside with the stroller because we still had drinks and they weren’t allowed inside the building.  The kids and I made quick work of the various exhibits.  The thing of note was the penguin exhibit which was kind of disappointing considering some of the others we’ve seen at other zoos.  It was very dated and didn’t get a very good look at the penguins that were on display.


We passed a few bear exhibits on our way to the Jungle Trails.  We stopped at the polar bear area for a while because they were out and being playful.

The Jungle Trails had the Orangutan’s and Bonobos.  There were buildings on either side of the trails for both Tropical Asian Animals and Tropical African Animals but it was the big, wide open exhibits display the large primates that got the most attention.

Each of the exhibits through the zoo have quite a few informational signs attached to them.  It’s always fun to read the facts that really make these animals unique and now that L is starting to read better, she’s learning a lot about the animals that we wouldn’t be able to tell her.

A lot of the exhibits at the Cincinnati Zoo have both indoor and outdoor display areas.  The path leads through the indoor exhibits even when the animals are outside.  Most of them have smaller animals inside though so there’s still a lot to see and read even if the stars of the exhibits are outside.

On our way out of the Jungle Trails we actually ended up at a different place at the the Polar Bear exhibit and again, the bears were out so we stopped to see what was going on as the bears were coming right up to the glass to check out the kids who were looking on.

We had only seen about half of the zoo at this point and the kids were getting hot and tired.  I pulled the map out and showed both of them where we were and how much we had left.  I promised we’d head straight for the Spaulding Childrens’ Zoo and if they saw anything they wanted to see, we’d stop.  We passed Rhinos and Zebras but headed straight for the goats.

The goat pen isn’t huge but there were several goats and not many kids so the kids got to spend a lot of quality time with some of their favorite animals.

When they were done with that, I spotted a playground. I would normally hate the idea of letting them play for a while would put them in a better mood.  It gave us a chance to hit the restrooms and regroup for the second half of our walk through the Cincinnati Zoo.

We got back on the trail after a twenty minute or so break and headed towards Manatee Springs.

This indoor exhibit is underwater where the Manatees are swimming around.  It was actually a nice, cool break so we stayed there a little longer than we normally would since the manatees were being playful and swimming close to where we were.

Right outside of Manatee Springs is an interesting exhibit.  The area is labeled Siegfried & Roy’s White Lions.  The Lions were a gift from the lion taming duo.  One of the Lions is one of the original gifted Lions.  The other is the offspring from the two lions.  The two lions, aged 17 and 20 are two of the oldest white lions in the world.

We started on our journey again and came to The Cove.  The area is set up to look like they bring in food trucks.  There are four different places to eat and several tables to sit and relax for a few minutes.

I didn’t think we were going to stop but J noticed a shipping container called Sweet Retreat serving ice cream.  We got the kids a little something to cool them down.  It wasn’t an overly oppressive hot day but it was still hot and ice cream always tastes good on hot days.

It wasn’t an overly oppressive hot day but it was still hot and ice cream always tastes good on hot days.  The trick was trying to eat it before it melted.

Right across the path from this dining area is a 4-D Theater.  I know this is a thing but I never get why people want to spend a day at the zoo watching an old movie.  I think they were showing Small Foot which we’ve had on Apple TV for quite a while now.

B’s favorite animal is the Lemur.  Last year in Milwaukee, he picked a stuffed Lemur as his souvienier and it has kind of been a joke in our family.  That night after the zoo, somehow, the Lemur ended up in the hotel bed with me and when B woke up the next morning, he started yelling at me for sleeping with his “Weemur.”  He had been so excited to actually see lemur’s on this trip, but when we got to Lemur Lookout, there were no lemur’s and no sign explaining why.  Just an empty exhibit.  Luckily, B couldn’t read so he didn’t know until we were getting ready to go home that he wouldn’t get to see his favorite animals.

One of the last big exhibits we went through was Gorilla World.  This is where the Colobus Monkey’s and Western Lowland Gorilla’s are.

There really wasn’t much to see here unfortunately.  We must have hit another feeding time or something.  The Colobus Monkey’s were out and B kinda thought those were Lemurs so we just went with it.  The Gorillas weren’t in the outdoor exhibit so we looked inside and didn’t really see anything there either.  This inside exhibit was created after the Harambe incident in 2017.

We still had Cat Canyon to walk through but everyone was tired and we had already seen the Lions so we skipped and started towards the exit.  Along the way, we found the Bald Eagles.  The kids were impressed by the size of the birds that were pretty easy to see as they were perched high atop tree limbs near the front of the exhibit.

One thing we noticed through the zoo were signs titled “Wild About Moms.”  These signs gave information on gestation periods, number of young in typical litters and other interesting facts about how the animals become parents.  It’s just another unique educational opportunity and something we haven’t seen at other zoos we’ve visited.

Before leaving, we promised the kids a souvenir.  There are a couple of gift shops throughout the zoo but we waited until we got back to the entrance.

The main gift shop is pretty typical and has a lot of the same stuff the other zoos have.  L picked a stuffed Lion even though she already had a similar one.  This one says “Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens on the tag though so we’ll at least remember where it came from.  B picked a plastic expanding ball.  We tried to steer him towards an animal but he wanted the ball and it was probably better because we play with it quite a bit.

We had such a great day at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.  I don’t think J was very excited when I suggested it for this year’s trip but between the Newport Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo, we had a great two days in Southern Ohio making memories that our kids may or may not remember when they get older…but J and I sure will.

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