Monday, May 7, 2012

Lowry Park Zoo: Tips for More Fun!

During our trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida in March, we woke up one morning to cloudy skies and cooler temperatures. I flipped on the television to see if there was any hope of the weather turning into a beach-friendly day. Instead I learned that weather reporters in Florida think mid-60s is cool enough to hunker down at home with sweaters and hot chocolate.

But being tough Midwesterners, mid-60s seemed like ideal zoo weather. So off we went to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. When we were able to park directly in front of the entrance, I had a feeling we might have the zoo all to ourselves even though it was a weekend. This proved to be correct until later in the morning, when the temperatures warmed up and the sun came out. But we had a wonderful two hours of quiet, with lively animals and friendly staff. Here are a few tips if you plan a visit:
  • Go early. This is true at every zoo. In general, animals are much more active first thing in the morning.
  • Interact with staff and volunteers. We learned a lot about the babies born at the zoo, the different temperaments of each animal, and we were even able to tell Big Arrow the animals' names because of the friendly folks who work and volunteer at the zoo. It seemed that almost every major exhibit space had someone standing around ready to answer questions and it really heightened our experience.

  • Grab a zookeeper schedule. We picked one up at the entrance, and we were glad we made time to watch one of the zookeepers feed the penguins (which included a little presentation and an opportunity for Q & A). Some of the information was lost on Big Arrow, but older kids would benefit even more from this type of interaction.

  • Dine inside at the Garden Grille. There were several food stands around the zoo, but we decided to grab lunch on our way out. There's a food court near the entrance/exit, and it is a clean, air conditioned space with healthier options. (A full listing of the zoo's dining options is available here.)
  • Don't miss the manatees. Even though we are frequent visitors of zoos (read about our experiences at the Indianapolis Zoo, Louisville Zoo, and Fort Wayne Children's Zoo), I have never seen a manatee in person before. Because manatees spend much of their time eating, you're just about guaranteed to catch them chowing down on some lettuce, which is pretty fun for kids to see. I was equally as mesmerized, I couldn't get over how many manatees there were (seemed like at least a dozen!)

  • Go on a dreary day. This is one of the most popular zoos in the country so I would imagine it gets rather crowded, particularly on the weekends. As it were, we had the place to ourselves for much of the morning. If it does rain, there are several buildings you could duck into to ride out the weather.
  • Most of the rides are free! No doubt, zoos can be an expensive outing for a family. Add in extra expenses like rides, and it can be a budget buster. Fortunately, with just a few exceptions, the rides at Lowry Park are free and you can ride all day.

  • Save even more with reciprocal membership. If you're a member of a zoo closer to home, see if they're listed here, and you'll save on admission.
If You Visit:
Lowry Park Zoo
1101 Sligh Avenue, Tampa
Open 9:30-5 daily.
Adult admission is $23.95, kids 3-11 are $18.95.
For other ideas on how to spend your time in Tampa/St. Petersburg, you can read my trip reports here and here.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels.