Friday, September 14, 2012

Brookfield Zoo

Chicago is lucky to have not just one, but two world-class zoos. There’s the no-admission fee Lincoln Park, and then Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, IL. On Monday we opted for the second as I didn’t want to fight traffic or look for parking since it was just going to be me with the boys. In the morning it was smooth sailing down River Road and we were at the gate in no time.
The obvious disadvantage Brookfield has to Lincoln Park Zoo is cost. In addition to parking and entry tickets, many of the attractions have separate tickets. Parking is $10 per vehicle, entry is $15 for adults and $10.50 for children 3-11, and the Children’s Zoo, Stingray Bay, the Dolphin Shows, Motor Safari and Butterfly exhibit all are an additional $1-$5 per person. We opted to grab a bite to eat as we stayed longer than expected, and many times a stop at the gift shop is also included. In contrast, entry to Lincoln Park Zoo is free, although parking, food and gift shops will cost you extra. This said, Brookfield Zoo is an awesome place to explore with kids, and we spent almost 5 hours there without seeing all the animals on the 216 acres.
Many of the permanent exhibits are modern and spacious, with no fences separating you from the animals, only well-designed water and rock barriers. Our first stop was Habitat Africa, where the giraffes were so close to the viewing pavilion that we could see their long tongues in great detail.

The Great Bear Wilderness has a couple of giant grizzly bears, one of which had decided to nap up against one of the windows to the habitat. I have never been (and hopefully never will be) that up close and personal with a grizzly! I was sad to see the polar bears wandering around their territory because this meant they were not in the water, and one of my favorite memories of the zoo is watching them swim their graceful laps from the underwater viewing area.

The Living Coast had penguins among other animals, and I was impressed with the beautiful yet functional building that housed the exhibit. Close by is the Tropic World building and the Swamp building, both of which were equally impressive. I only wondered at the stroller parking areas outside, surely they can’t expect everybody to leave the strollers outside? I understand wanting to lessen congestion indoors, but a family-oriented place like the zoo can’t exclude adults with more than one small child from visiting certain exhibits. I’ll be completely honest; I ignored all the stroller signs except in Stingray Bay, because between my purse, a sleeping Mikus and an excited Lauris we wouldn’t have managed otherwise.

Stingray Bay was an additional $4 entry for me (the boys are both under 3 and therefore free), but worth it. Be forewarned – there is very strict protocol concerning strollers, hand-washing, no sitting on the edge of the pool etc. but mostly for the safety of the animals. Once you’ve washed your hands you are allowed into the tent where you find a spot to lie down on your stomach and stick your hands into the pool… which is filled with smooth-sailing stingrays, gliding around the pool. They’ve had their barbs trimmed/filed, and so you don’t have to worry about getting stung, only about the sponge-like slimy feeling of the rays. I’ve heard this attraction can be overcrowded, so save your visit for a day the line is short and you’ll have an easier time of playing with the stingrays.

There are more underwater viewing areas in the dolphin and sea lion habitats. We lucked out in both and had animals swim right past us. Mikus loved watching the dolphins; the sparkling blue water provided a light show in addition to the animals themselves.

Our last stop was the home of the big cats. The snow leopards were hiding indoors and the lions were elsewhere while their habitat was being updated, but the tiger was snoozing away in a shady spot and the sloth bears, well they were doing whatever it is sloth bears do.

Our visit was well worth the fees, although I spent significantly less than a family of four with children over three years old would have.  I suggest bringing snacks, a lunch and plenty to drink to avoid the high prices at the concessions stands, and also to avoid all eleven gift shops. But you will not regret a day spent at Brookfield because your children will not just sleep well that night but will talk about the giraffes, buffaloes and monkeys for days to come!



  1. That looks like a great trip. I bet the boys loved it!

  2. River Road, Brookfield Zoo... I love how reading about places I know here make them sound exotic and exciting :)

  3. You reminded me that I haven't been to the zoo for a long time!
    Looks like you had a fun day.

  4. Looks like a fantastic zoo! Maren would LOVE it. Still too hot here to brave the zoo - the animals don't even come out in this heat!! - but looking forward to it as the temperatures drop. And YES, your tip about bringing food & drinks to save money (and keep little people happy!) is a good one!!


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