Seattle's Child

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Woodland Park Zoo

Fact: some children love interpretive signs. Photo by Jasmin Thankachen.

Parent review: Go visit the reopened Woodland Park Zoo!

Now open with coronavirus precautions, the zoo has lots of animals to see.

My family tried the newly reopened Woodland Park Zoo, and I can report that it’s a great place for a day out.

We headed to the zoo after hunkering down in quarantine for the past few months. The zoo experience was our chance to get out and walk around with a purpose: to see the animals that we’ve missed so much!

After donning masks and walking shoes and packing lunches, my husband, two sons, Nikhil (8) and Simon (6), and I got to the zoo in the morning for a preview day. We were surprised and a little nervous to find an almost-full parking lot and long lines.

Masked groups waited to enter with reservations in hand. Zoo employees (with masks on) herded people into the park and sent them on their way with paper maps or directions on downloading a digital version.

Pink flamingo exhibit catches our eye

We buzzed through the new viewing route, a one-way loop that hits major animal attractions.

At the flamingos, Nikhil shouted: “They’re just SO pink!”

“I know! They look like girls with skinny legs!” his brother replied.

As we walked the loop through the Tropical Forest we saw the spotted back of the jaguar as it rustled through the plants. Then we moved on to see the gorillas. We couldn’t go up to the window for a closer look, because gates and ropes kept the public at a distance. We tried to get a glimpse of Kitoko, the new baby gorilla, but she was hiding with her mom in the back.

 

Hippos and tigers and orangutans, oh my

Simon wanted to see Bug World and the Willawong station (where you could feed the birds) but those exhibits were closed, as were the Aviary, Family Farm and Zoomazium.

But that didn’t disappoint him at all! The hippos in their pool yawned, showing their sharp teeth. The giraffes moseyed along at the African Savanna exhibit along with their zebra friends.

An Asian tiger of the Banyan Wilds paced back and forth, open-mouthed, as the children watched with their palms on the window. Lines formed at this exhibit. Parents did their best to keep groups 6 feet apart while toddlers merrily ran back and forth.

Penguins were excited to see human friends at the zoo

Families fell naturally into line at other parts of the park, taking turns to see Belawan and Melati, the zoo’s orangutans, eating lettuce, celery and oranges. At one point, Belawan looked at us and rolled away. “I guess he needs some privacy,” laughed Nikhil. Outside the enclosure, another orangutan put on a show, hanging upside down, playing with a blanket and swinging from a branch.

We ended where we started, at the penguin exhibit. I watched these charming birds swim from one window to the next then zip back fast. They were playing with my boys! As we left to our car, Nikhil said, “I wish we could stay until they closed.”

 

 

 

 

Not quite the zoo you remember

Visiting the zoo during the pandemic is far different from our experiences in the past. With families waiting in line, we weren’t able to visit with the animals as long as we wanted, and it often seemed safer to catch a quick glimpse and move on to the next exhibit.

The meerkat cave that kids normally climb through was closed

It was difficult to keep six feet of social distance in areas where animals were closer to the viewing windows, but manageable on the wider paths. Sculptures, caves and other play structures were off limits, sealed off with rope or signs that said “Do not enter.” Maybe not the best method to keep wiggly toddlers off of the equipment. Keep watch over your kids when near these popular spots.

My kids enjoyed the Woodland Park Zoo immensely. My husband and I breathed a sigh of relief when we were able to finally take off our masks for the ride home. On our next trip, we’ll do things differently and avoid the crowds, try for a late-afternoon outing so we could visit each exhibit a little longer.

 

Keep in mind

  1. The Woodland Park Zoo officially opens on Wednesday, July 1st. Reserve and purchase your tickets online for easy entry.
  2. Wear your masks! They’re required to enter the park and while visiting the animals.
  3. Only the West Entrance is open to the public. Parking is available at Penguin and Otter parking lots.
  4. Remember to keep six feet away from the next group.
  5. Popular exhibits housed a lot of guests in one area. Zoo employees were not there to direct lines. Be prepared to form your own lines, while keeping a safe distance.
  6. Need a break? We retreated to open picnic tables to have lunch. Concession stands are open for meals and snacks but bring your own water bottles – fountains and drinking stations are closed.
  7. Bathrooms are open, available for use and frequently cleaned, while hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the park.
  8. No animal keeper talks yet! The zoo will resume them as Washington moves forward with further plans to reopen.
  9.  Pack your blankets and chairs:  You can sit on the green lawn just outside the closed carousel. Parents can take a breath while kids run back and forth across the lawn.
  10. Have fun and be flexible with your time. Gauge your comfort level. It’s okay to see some of the park and then return to see the other half on another day.

For more animal excursions, try Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, and the Seattle Aquarium.

About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is an Eastside mom of two boys, 6 and 8, and enjoys parenting with much grace and lots of laughter. She worked in broadcast television for many years and later moved on to various non-profits and then co-founded PopUp StoryWalk. Now, she is a staff member at Seattle's Child. She loves picture books, essay writing, and community stories. One day she hopes to publish her own storybook for children.