Zoos. The perfect place to enjoy wild animals without the nagging fear of being savagely eaten. My wife and I have a love for zoos, that fortunately, our four year old son shares with us. Before my son was born, we would make a habit, when on vacation, to visit the local zoo. We have been to eight different zoos since we began this tradition. Our son has been to three of them, the St Louis Zoo, the Omaha Zoo and now the Indianapolis Zoo.
We recently went to Indianapolis for the weekend and made sure to visit the Indianapolis Zoo. Our expectations were definitely exceeded.
First let’s get the details out of the way. Admission price was $16.50 for adults and 11.50 for kids. Parking was $6 dollars. Then you buy tickets for certain activities. It is $2.50 for a single ticket, 8 tickets for $15.00, or 14 tickets for $25.00. I recommend the 8 tickets. Not too many tickets and a good deal. The activities range from feeding animals to riding the train or roller coaster.
You may be saying, “Hey, I paid to get in and now I have to pay to do stuff?” But slow down, it is really a good idea. We only did three of the six or so activities that require tickets. So, if all of that were made “free” I would bet admission would be more than what we spent choosing what we wanted to do. Also, everything that requires a ticket is well worth it!
Back to the fun stuff. The entrance is colorful and very welcoming. Once inside the zoo, the trees and pathways make you feel more a part of the zoo, than a visitor of the zoo.
The first thing we did was go to the Oceans exhibit. A few things really impressed and surprised us. We actually thought from a distance that the jellyfish exhibit was a cool graphic. But to our amazement, it was real! I have never seen a jellyfish in person and the way the tank was lit and colored, made them mesmerizing to watch. We love seeing variety in zoos and this was definitely unique to us.
Another cool “hands on” exhibit was the Shark Touch Pool. I have never pet a shark and my son flat out told us this was a bad idea. Once I quelled his fear, I warily slide my hand across the smooth back of the shark, my wife and son jumped right in. We were able to spend quite a bit of time here, watching the sharks swim. Every once and awhile, the sharks swam close enough, allowing us to reach out and touch them. My son still thinks you should only pet cats and dogs, but really enjoyed this experience.
The penguin exhibit did a tremendous job of showing off the aquatic speed and agility of these delightful birds. My son laughed a few times and really enjoyed watching them whiz around. He kept saying, “whoa, did you see that!” We spent a good five to ten minutes in awe of this.
Then we happened upon the polar bear exhibit. The underwater viewing space is a fantastic way to get a view of them underwater. I have never seen a polar bear chilling out on a ledge underwater. As we made our way outside you could see them above water too. We enjoyed the different point of views, very cool.
The walrus exhibit was laid out the same as the polar bear. I have never seen a walrus in person and have wanted to for a very long time. We first enjoyed watching the walrus swim laps underwater. The we went up top to see the walrus from above. It was really interesting because the pattern it was swimming was so exact. My son unfortunately does not share my love for walruses, even though he ended up picking a stuffed one out at the gift shop. I have to admit that I may have planted the idea of how cool a stuffed walrus is, and no I am not ashamed of this.
We missed the dolphin show, but still saw the dolphins in the Marine Mammals area. It was a glass domed 360° viewing space that my son loved. He ran around the room acting like he was swimming with the dolphins. Which segues nicely because you can actually swim with the dolphins here, go to their website for details. We did not have enough time to do this, but may actually come back. We live in the Midwest and this is one of only a few places that allow you to do this.
Being surrounded by all that water prepares you for the dry heat that welcomes you in the Deserts Biome. This exhibit is very well done. A trail leads through a desert landscape that is themed and designed to keep the mindset that you are actually in a desert. It was fun to try and find all the animals. There is also a darkened room full of snake cases that do a great job of highlighting them.
We skipped the roller-coaster, which looked cool but was no match for the train calling out to my son from the train station. The train requires a ticket but we feel was worth it.
So we bought some tickets and boarded the train. While sitting in the train, music starts up that sets the ambience for a safari. The only problem is, once the train leaves the animal areas, it travels around what feels like, and probably is, the outside of the zoo. It’s kind of neat to see the behind the scenes buildings but all you really see are the buildings. We still enjoyed it and would probably ride it again because let’s face it, trains are cool. We would prefer to see more animals on it though.
The animals in the Plains Biome feature your standard enclosures that are well designed and meet one of our main criteria for a zoo; have a space that the animals enjoy and feel is open and inviting. This zoo does a great job of this. The last thing I want to explain to my son is why all the animals are kept in small dingy places. Also, you can feed the giraffes (this also requires a ticket) and race a cheetah! Not a real cheetah, which I wouldn’t recommend doing, but a track that electronically lets you know how fast you went. Also, the rhino and elephant areas were nice and open and were some of the most active elephants and rhinos we have seen.
As we made our way to the new exhibit, Flights of Fancy: A Brilliance of Birds, we weren’t sure if our son would like it. Every time he has seen birds, he just walks by. The big difference here is the open space aviary that allows you to walk amongst the birds. We went through the Out of Africa aviary and he seemed to like it but still hurried us through it. Before entering the Budgies aviary we decided to buy a feed stick to, well, feed the birds. It was one ticket and definitely worth it! As soon as the birds started flocking to our son he was smiling ear to ear. Then, one of the birds jumped onto the stick! He really enjoyed holding the bird and seeing his joyful face made this a memorable experience. We definitely recommend getting the feed sticks!
We surprisingly loved this new exhibit. We are definitely not bird people, but the design and flow of the exhibit makes you feel like part of the space while allowing you to interact with the birds in a fun way.
Also in this area is a children’s playground. It is a nice way to let him run wild and burn off the energy these animals give him. Next to the playground is the Dora the Explorer 4D theater. This looked really neat but my son does not like 4D theaters. We went to Disney World last year and saw the bugs life theater, which we had to leave in the middle of. So unfortunately we did not get to experience this but maybe next time.
One thing he does love is an animal themed carousel. He ran straight to the dolphin and hopped right up. He loved it. As we exited the carousel, we ran smack into a strategically placed airbrush tattoo station. Since he was being such a good boy all day we obliged. He couldn’t decide between the monkey and elephant, so like any reasonable parents, we got both! They looked great and he couldn’t have been happier. They artist was really nice and did a terrific job. They stay on for about 3 days so he was able to show them off at school. A pretty cool souvenir if you ask me.
It was starting to get late so we skipped the Splash Park, also we didn’t pack swim trunks so maybe next time. If you do go, make sure to bring swim trunks because all the kids were loving this area.
We made our way to the exit by way of the last walking trail. The Forests Biome has american eagles, bears, and our favorite sea otters. The bummer was the lack of sea otters. They must have been on vacation or something, but that’s okay, you can’t expect to see every animal at a zoo, there are just to many variables at play. I must admit, I liked the walking trails and the quaintness of it all, but felt that the enclosures were too small. This was the only time I even came close to feeling this, but understand that when space is limited, this becomes an unavoidable compromise. Also, they wisely chose animals that prefer small enclosures so in the end, it’s not really a problem but a matter of personal preference.
After a quick stop at the gift shop to bring home the aforementioned stuffed walrus in all it’s brilliance, we headed off. It was a fantastic day that we rank at the top of our list of zoos to visit.
Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets to the Zoo. All opinions and thoughts are our own.
David Callahan is currently a media producer, Oliver’s Dad and Tracie’s Husband. He is constantly in search of all things that blend education and entertainment, which led him to co-found Mitchléhan Media, an educational/entertainment app development company.