Growing up, I don’t think my family ever went on trips or excursions without some kind of meltdown. It was just a part of traveling for us! Meltdowns have been known to happen with my girls too, but when we went to the zoo recently, I was determined to make the day be all about fun!
The most important thing is to go in with a plan and be prepared. I didn’t go crazy with my planning, but I made sure all the basics were covered, and you know what? We had an awesome time and there were no tantrums or tears whatsoever! Awesome!
Here’s my super-easy survival guide for visiting the zoo with kids:
Get a membership
Just be up front, this post is not sponsored in any way — we received a family zoo membership to the Houston Zoo as a Christmas gift. However, a membership would pay for itself in two visits, so it’s worth it if you think you might go to the zoo more than once in a year. PLUS, you get to skip ahead of the ticket line and stroll right inside! PLUS PLUS, we got a free ride on the carousel, which was a big hit of course.
Plan your parking
Don’t wait until you roll up to figure out where you’re going to park — on a crowded weekend, this could be tricky. Our zoo is in a very busy part of town, and the parking lot in front of the entrance is a madhouse. We researched the area so we would know alternate parking options, and then we walked to the zoo. (For us this was a 10 minute walk through a neighboring park). At the end of the day when everyone was tired, Daddy kindly went to get the car and we waited outside for him to pick us up. Having a plan means you won’t waste time searching for an elusive spot or deal with the stress of parking-lot-showdowns (yes, that’s a thing), when you could already be in the zoo having fun!
Pick the right snacks
Your zoo likely won’t let you bring food in, though ours allows coolers and drinks (good to know for the next trip!) We avoided sugary treats and opted for a big bag of popcorn which lasted the entire day. The girls were never hungry because they always had something to snack on, and even better, there was no mid-afternoon sugar crash! Water was our drink of choice to keep everyone hydrated as the day grew warmer.
Take a break
There is a LOT of walking involved in a trip to the zoo, so make sure to take periodic breaks. We disguised the breaks as another activity, like sitting down to look at the fish in a large pond in the middle of the zoo (and in the shade!) Or you could find a table to “picnic” and eat your snacks. Our zoo even has a section just for kids, with bench and a playground. Lilu loved having a chance to explore the rope gym on her own, so this was actually a bit of a mental break for her. The rest of us parked it on the bench and watched while we rested our legs.
Our zoo is very well shaded in some parts, but we definitely still got some sun! Since you’ll be outside for a few hours, make sure to put on sunscreen before you leave the house and re-apply during one of your breaks.
Bring a stroller
If you have a toddler, bring a stroller! Even if they are walking. Even if they LOVE to walk! Even if they don’t normally ride in a stroller anymore! They will want to ride in the stroller when their little legs get tired. Actually, we had AB in the stroller most of the time anyway (except our breaks) just to keep her from getting bumped or lost in the crowd. A stroller also is a great place to stash your snacks, drinks, and other supplies so you’re not stuck carrying a bulky bag.
Do the extras
We got free passes for the carousel with our membership, but I would have gladly paid the $2 ticket price because the girls enjoyed it so much. It also provided five minutes of relaxing and a cool breeze as the ride swirled around. We also took advantage of a special when you purchase two stuffed animals in the gift shop (very smart on the zoo’s part…obviously siblings are both going to want the same thing!) The girls clung to their new giraffes for the rest of the day, and actually they both sleep with them at night now. (Awww!) We’re pretty frugal with our money, but sometimes it’s worth a few dollars to make the trip extra special and bring home something to remember it.
Don’t try to see everything
We followed the main path and actually covered most of the zoo areas (even I was impressed at how much we made it to see!) But we didn’t try to see everything and when we started to wear out after about three hours, we picked one more animal to see (elephants) and then called it a day. You definitely want to quit while you’re ahead!
We had SUCH an awesome time visiting the zoo and will definitely be back soon! (Especially since we have a plan that works!)
More photos from our trip: