Friday, August 2, 2013

The (Smithsonian) National Zoo(logical) Park with young children (a Pre-schooler and a Baby)

After getting rained out the last few days, we headed into the city today to visit the National Zoo.  While I have been to this zoo a couple times before, taking both boys, by myself, while parking in a completely different lot and having the new elephant facilities and carousel open, I felt like I was here for the first time.  A lot has changed in the last few years.  Everything seemed new, and the day worked out pretty perfectly for a mama and boys outing.

Today, I decided to go ahead and buy a membership.  For a free zoo.

Sounds a little crazy, but when you realize that "free" in a lot of cities means paying an arm and a leg for parking, it makes sense to look into a membership.  For my level of membership (premier), I get:  free parking, discount on stroller rentals (in case I forget mine/don't have room for it), two carousel ride tickets ($6 value), 2 free drink and discount food (at least $8 value), and discounts at the stores.  I figure as long as I go three times in the next year, I'll break even for sure (since I'm driving in and not taking the metro).  And hopefully we will go more times.  It also has a reciprocal membership with the Fort Wayne Zoo, so I should get free/discounted membership there.  (Will update which once I know.)

Tips (for taking a three-year-old and a less-than-one-year-old):
  • If you don't have a membership: park and ride, take the metro in (get off at Cleveland Park and walk downhill) and save on parking.  Rent your stroller there.
  • Print the Map at home before you go (saves you $2).
  • Realize that the zoo is quite hilly.  If you are pushing 75+ lbs of baby in a stroller, expect a workout.  Depending on where you park, you may want to plan your route to go uphill first, and downhill for the end of your trip.  Be SURE to go downhill on the American Trail (new in 2012). 
  • Many buildings are not stroller friendly, so don't try to see everything.  OR, pack a carrier so you can lug around your heavy baby and still hold your crazy pre-schooler's hand when you park your stroller in a stroller parking area.
  • The carousel is $3 per person.  For all riders, even parents and infants.  You must ride with kids less than 42 inches (I think, there was a sign that Theo was a few inches short of).  For me, this meant paying $9 to sit on the chariot holding a sleeping baby and a three-year-old.  But, it was worth it.  I LOVE carousels, and so does Theo.  I was so glad (though surprised) that he picked the chariot to sit on as I wasn't sure how I'd balance them both otherwise.
  • A playground by the Prairie Dogs and one by the Kids' Farm can provide another distraction for one energetic child while another one needs a break/feeding. 
  • Just bring food with you.  So much easier and cheaper than buying food there.  Don't forget sippy cups full of water.
  • There IS a family bathroom by the elephant trail.  This is the most helpful tip of all.  It was the only one I happened to notice all day, though there may be others.  It was large enough that I could push my double stroller in, and we could all easily tend to bathroom needs.  Much better than cramming into a small stall holding the baby and trying to keep the three year old from opening the door the whole time.
  • There are plenty of misters throughout in the summer.  There is also a very neat tidal pool (splash/fountain area) by the sea lions.  This was great today while it was super hot.  Consider dressing them in something that may get wet.  I was able to feed the baby while the older one played in here today, and we were lucky to be in this area at just about the hottest point of the day. 
Playing in the tidal pool.
A few more tips...

Give your three year old his own camera to take photos.  Makes for a cute photo op.

And apparently, keep your little one away from the aggressive cranes.

Next time we go, I'm going to plan to see more of the feedings and demonstrations.  Today, I was just focused on getting us there and back in one piece, without sunburn or dehydration.  


Catherine Steiner said...

Wow, I found this on accident! It was perfect information - we are going to the National Zoo with Chris' brother's family in 10 days which means we will have six kiddos five and under so this was supper helpful! Thanks

Shannon E said...

So glad it was helpful (and that my blog is finally showing up in searches!). Hope your trip goes well and it's not too hot.