PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You’ve heard it before. You’ll hear it again. “March comes in like a lion.” But if the next few days should reverse course and meander around like a lamb, let’s head outdoors for a day or destination getaway to a favorite zoo. These days it’s more than tigers and lions and bears – it’s zip lines, carousels, botanical gardens, sculptures and lectures. The safari can start within minutes of home.
My favorite picture of a long ago visit to the Philadelphia Zoo typifies the amazement and fascination of the oldest zoo in America. A group of Mennonite women straining in unison, gaze at an elephant. The large pachyderms, needing more room to roam are now gone from the zoo. But tigers, lions and bears keep visitors fascinated. Rhinos and Hippos, among the oldest large animals still roaming the planet are favorites. Zoo visitors can fly high above the herds in a tethered balloon gondola for a breathtaking aerial view of the city and the Schuylkill River. The balloon rides check out at $12 a flight. Or take the kids for a leisurely Swan Boat ride for a $6 fare. General zoo admission is $23 for adults. Kids Tix are $19. And you can buy in advance online.
You can have a long neck giraffe, eating out of your hand at this popular family friendly zoo on the fringe of Norristown. Visitors join in, to feed the animals here and kids get a kick out of a tickling tongue taking the tidbits from their hands. The American Bald Eagle has found a home here. Then there’s the dazzling vintage carousel and a ride to the lilting musical sound of a “Merry-Go-Round”. For teens, there’s the exhilaration of a zip line, soaring over the animals. Parking is free and right now, winter rates are on the menu.
Who could have imagined that my favorite childhood zoo would wind up as the backdrop for an animated movie about an animal escape into the wild? “Madagascar”, the movie certainly drew attention to the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan against the soaring towers of posh apartment buildings. For a kid, it offered the simple pleasures of feeding nuts to squirrels and bread crumbs to pigeons that stand on your arm while they nosh. But the biggest thrill here is watching a sea lion leap from it’s pool to snag a fish from the hand of a handler at feeding time. Then visit the playful penguins that played a “Madagascar” feature role. Visit a bear and take the kids to the children’s zoo to play with the kids (baby goats – sorry -couldn’t resist it). Zoo admission is $18 for adults and $13 for youngsters. If you stay in midtown Manhattan, Central Park is a short walk or take public transit to Columbus Circle and you’re there.
Ready for one of the largest zoos on the planet? On a New York getaway, get your walking shoes on and head for the world renowned Bronx Zoo. My favorite spot here is Tiger Mountain. Imagine, the tigers are roaming outdoors and the people are inside a glass fronted pavilion to do some big-cat-gazing. Think of an animal, and you’ll likely find it here. With one big exception – no elephants. Giraffes are paired here with ostriches. Watch baboons roam an open plain. Sea-birds and reptiles have their own space. There’s an indoor-outdoor chance to get close to the intriguing Gorillas. Well, you get the idea. There are seal feedings and a children’s zoo, as well. You can buy tickets online. From midtown Manhattan we take the Express bus that runs directly to the zoo.
Philly area cruisers will soon be heading off for Mediterranean port hopping. It’s a good bet that the cruise will originate in or stop at Barcelona. A few hours to visit the City’s internationally acclaimed zoo is worthwhile for it’s comprehensive collection of animals and unique sculptures. He’s a chance to see vanishing African elephants. Africa almost touches the Spanish mainland near Gibraltar. The exhibits reflect the proximity, from chimps to Rhinos. The mammal here that first caught my eye was not roaming the backdrop, but a Miguel Dalmau sculpture of a giant whooly mammoth in a city where the works of Gaudi and Miro are common street sights.