The sky looked threatening. The dark ominous clouds sat over us all morning, but after consulting four different phones with four different weather apps we felt fairly confident that the rain was going to hold off until the afternoon.
Memphis, TN is a short three hour drive from Jackson, MS and Nashville, TN. A dear family of friends live in Nashville and we decided to meet them at this general mid-point for a weekend recently. On Saturday morning we packed up two minivans with kids at the hotel and headed to the Memphis Zoo.
Sometimes trips to the zoo are a fantastic day of watching animals and happy kids. Then there are the overtired, whining, melting down kid trips to the zoo that make you question why you ever thought the zoo was a good idea in the first place. How do you make sure that your trip to the Memphis Zoo falls in the first category instead of the tantruming toddler category?
There are a few simple foolproof ways to enjoy the zoo with kids.
Step One: Make a Plan
The first step at the zoo to avoid catastrophe is to have a plan. My kids love to get involved in looking over the map and figuring out where we want to go. They have a huge interest in Maps in general, but at the zoo it makes them feel important to help make these decisions.
Some zoos are easily doable in half a day or even a couple of hours. We used to live by the zoo in Madison, Wisconsin that is perfect for little toddler legs to explore in an hour or so. Then there are zoos like the San Diego Zoo that would take more than a day to properly explore. The Memphis Zoo is somewhere in between.
The Memphis Zoo is big enough that you need at least half a day to explore it. More time might be needed depending on how many special things you want to stop and do. There are carousel rides, a train ride, a playground, and lots of other things to pull you in. One of my few criticisms of the Memphis Zoo is that there are too many little extra expenses that entice your child wherever you go. You can however avoid some of them or quickly push past if you know something coming up to excite your child.
This is where the map comes in.
Regardless of how big a zoo is, I start with the map. We located the animals that we want to see the most and make a plan to hit all of those. I try to make note of any short cuts to make our day shorter if we are running out of energy or patience. I also make sure that I have a plan for food and that I know where that is on the map, if applicable.
Step Two : Start With the Animals You Love
This can be tricky if you are trying to keep multiple people happy, but it is important to prioritize the animals that you most want to see as a family. The Memphis Zoo is big enough that you probably won't see everything in every exhibit and every little house in one trip. (This is great news for local families with a membership because you can come back again and again and see different things!) If you start with what you most want to see or at least hold time for them in your mind, it will help you decide what else you can stop and see along the way. For example, "The bird house looks like fun, but remember you wanted to see the elephants and we have a long walk to get there. Let's keep going!"
There are a lot of amazing animals at the Memphis Zoo! We were really impressed by the different cats, especially the lions and cheetahs.
We had fun exploring the animals on the farm and riding the train that takes you on a loop twice around the farm area. (The train was $2 per person. Most additional rides and other costs are listed on the map to give you a heads up.)
The Asia exhibit with it's diverse animals, especially the Panda Bear, was another of our favorites.
Being a huge giraffe fan, I loved the African Animals section as well. We stood and watched the new baby giraffe for quite a while. There was a lengthy discussion about how the baby knew which one was it's mother and what one calls a baby giraffe. (A calf, in case you were uncertain)
Step Three: Take Your Time
This is the wonderful thing about planning your trip out before you start walking and hitting the animals you love first. It gives you time to wander and sit and watch. I highly recommend giving up on the notion that you need to see it all. I promise you that this is not necessary to make you feel like you enjoyed the zoo or got a good value for your money. The best part about a zoo is the opportunity for kids to learn more about animals. You learn by observing in this case. Your child is not going to be fascinated by every animal, so the ones that draw them in - whatever they might be - are the ones you should read the informational signs about and take some time to watch.
Step Four : Respect Your Child's Schedule
Eating and sleeping are two of the most important parts of a child's day and keeping those consistent will save you on a long, busy day. I know how tempting it is to push through naptime or feed them random snacks on the go, but if that isn't what they are used to then you are simply asking for a meltdown. Kids meltdown when you ignore their schedule not only because they are tired and hungry and having trouble coping, but also because they rely on the consistency of their schedule to know what comes next. When you take away their certainty, especially when they are tired and hungry, they revolt in the ugliest ways possible.
There are several spots to stop and eat at the zoo. They also allow you to bring in coolers with food if you prefer. We stopped for lunch at the cafe in the middle of the zoo. The food was okay, but the outdoor seating where we could watch our kids play for a bit on the playground after they finished was delightful.
Step Five : Know When to Leave
When we got to the elephants in the African animals part we had a choice, head straight down towards the giraffes or take the further road and see the polar bears and other cold weather animals. My daughter loves polar bears and I was so tempted to head that direction. On the other hand, she hadn't listed that in her favorites for the day and two of the kids in our party were starting to drag and whine a little. We headed towards the giraffes and then back to the hotel shortly after that.
On our way home as I watched my daughter sleepily gaze out the window as her brother started to snore I knew we had made the right decision. We had done enough and we had thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Memphis Zoo. Just then the rain started to fall from those dark clouds onto the windshield and I smiled as I turned on the wipers.
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