Sara had never been to the zoo, so it was time! She was old enough to remember the trip (she'll be 7 in January) and old enough to not run screaming from the animals in the petting area... So on Saturday, Craig, Sara and I headed south for the hour and a half car ride to Tampa to visit the Lowry Park Zoo.
With more than 2,000 animals, housed in lush natural habitats, the zoo features a diverse collection and is divided into 8 habitat areas.
Safari Africa and Ituri Forest
Ituri Forest is apparently the newest area; however, it was also hard to find. We arrived at the zoo around 10:45 in the morning, so within an hour or so - we were all hungry. We headed for the family dining restaurant in the Safari Africa section, but couldn't find it either. Apparently it was on the back side of the building, as were the rest of the exhibits. We ended up eating in a place that had full dinner size portions of chicken, veggies and potatoes. Later we went back to try to "find" the elephants, zebras giraffes, warthogs, various antelope, crowned cranes, cheetahs, and pygmy hippos and realized our mistake...a narrow path that lead to the back side of the building where we found the other restaurant that overlooks the giraffes, zebras, elephants and the rest of the exhibits!
It was in this area that Sara tried to feed the giraffe a $2 cracker, but when his big head and long, slimy tongue came to get it...she screamed and threw the cracker on the ground! Thanks to Daddy, who helped recover the cracker, we were able to watch the giraffe enjoy his treat up close!
Asian Gardens and Sulawesi Avary
Free Flight Aviaries
This area was pretty cool because you're enclosed with the birds. They can walk across the same path you are on and fly right by your head...however, one warning - there are free flying bats - although none took flight, the idea was enough to give me the shivers. Some of the birds in this area were the Red-legged Honeycreeper, the Purple Swamp hen, the Toucan and the Blue Bellied Roller.
In Stingray Bay located off the Boardwalk area, you can feed and touch Florida's stingrays. This mental image of doing this shouldn't bring up thoughts of Steve Iwin, because these creatures are about a foot long and are harmless - I've been in the ocean and held ones that were HUGE (see my other post on Stingray City in Grand Cayman).
Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center
This was a pretty cool exhibit. Although we see Manatees in the rivers all the time here - we even took Sara to see them last winter at Blue Spring, Florida, but it was still nice to be able to go "under water" and stand next to the glass and watch them swim. There are actually twin observation pools that allow for up-close viewing, above water and under. Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo operates the only non-profit manatee hospital in the world and to date the hospital has cared for more than 200 manatees.
A lot of the other glass viewing windows for the other fish were very scratched from the number of people touching, banging, leaning on them...hopefully the zoo has plans to replace them soon!
Also, at the end of the under ground tunnel part of this exhibit there are snakes...which I quickly walked by - not a big snake fan...
Birds of Prey
Unfortunately we missed the only show of the day - it was apparently at 1:30, but no where on the map was it noted - I guess there probably was a sign out front? And, you'd just have to have seen it...anyway, apparently these birds of prey make pretty amazing debuts in the daily "Spirits of the Sky" show.
This actually was the first exhibit we stopped at where we saw a baby orangutan and his mother - so cute! There were also chimpanzees and brilliant-colored mandrills, tiny marmose
All-in-all this is a great zoo - clean, well kept and the animals seemed to be ok...I've been to some zoos and watched the poor animals pace back and forth repeating the same steps for hours - definitely not a good thing. In all the years I lived in Tampa and went to college there, I never visited the zoo. But, I would recommend it; however, one word of caution - the surrounding area is not exactly "upscale". After the zoo, we went north on North Florida Ave to hit the McDonalds and ran into several panhandlers begging for money - which is what they did when we left (quickly)...
As a final note - there are several rides for the kids: the pony ride, the camel ride, the carousel, some kind of spinning cars, rollercoaster, and skytram. Each cost about 4 tokens (tokens are a dollar each). You can buy a unlimited ride armband for $20 per person. We decided to just pay for the pony and the camel ride as we got to them - we did let Sara chose if she wanted to ride the camel or the carousel...she picked the camel.
If you want to take a great day trip for kids and adults - visit the website for tons of information about Lowry Park Zoo, directions and a map of the whole zoo.