I’ve been going to the Toronto Zoo every year for as long as I can remember. When I was young, all my relatives would meet at the zoo and we would have an early picnic lunch before our parents let the real animals (my cousins and I) run wild. I can literally say I grew up with these animals as this was my 32nd year in a row saying “hello” to Charles the 410lb Silverback gorilla. Growing up we had many traditions, and this is one I will be passing along to my kids.
Suzanne caught a bad bug before the trip and couldn’t make it with us to the Zoo. I volunteered to take the reigns and strapped the family in the car, logged in to her Instagram account on my phone and we were off. We missed Mom the entire day but we made the best of it! It was my first time using Instagram Stories (hope you enjoyed) and this is my first blog I’ve ever written.
Here are my five tips for making the Most out of the Toronto Zoo.
I consider myself to have a good memory, but, there are a few things I just can’t seem to remember and where I park is near the top of that list. I love using technology to make my life easier and there is an app called Waze that has done just that. Waze is a social GPS application that I’ve been using for awhile to get around and avoid traffic but recently they added a feature to remember where you park. It automatically saves the location in your phone when you stop your car and there is no more forgetting, just make sure to have a full battery. There are a few other apps that can do this but no whatever method you use, just remember at the end of the day you will have your kids yelling that they are hungry, tired, and hungry again so try and remember where you parked!
2. Plan a Route
For a first-time visitor, the Zoo can be a hectic adventure. Many years ago, the zoo painted animal prints on the pavement walkway to guide eager visitors to each animal, but, I could never follow them and over the years most of them have faded anyway. The friendly Toronto Zoo staff give you a Zoo map at the gates which I would hold on tight to because it is very easy to follow and packed with great info including Keeper Talk times. Our typical day plays out like this…
Night Before (or anytime before if you are not a procrastinator like myself)
Buy tickets online through the Toronto Zoo website to avoid lines at the zoo. Groupon has deals throughout the year for a discounted rate which works as well.
We arrive casually late around 10AM with our pre-purchased tickets and stroll into the Zoo as we see our first exhibit; angry humans waiting in a line. Once you are in, I recommend taking a hard left just past the entrance and take the kids to the bathroom or you’ll spend the next half hour hunting down a bathroom before you get to see an animal. After the kids have done their business, head towards the Tundra Trek (polar bears and penguins) first. There are a few animals to see along the way but skip the Panda Exhibit (save that until the end). After listening to the Polar Bear Keeper Talk, we head to lunch at the Caribou Café which is just around the corner.
After eating, we walk along the Americas and African Savanna animal exhibits. We tend to skip the Canadian Domain each year, if it’s your first time then go ahead but if you have kids and a stroller the walk is VERY long and steep so I would save it until next time.
During your walk through the exhibits you’ll see the hippos do some cool tail tricks, the giraffes will make you feel small, the naked mole rats will just confuse you, and the gorillas will hopefully give you a very energetic show. As you finish with the Gorilla Keeper Talk, the only thing you’ll want to do now is take a break. It’s great timing, the Indo-Malaya Pavilion is the spot for this. Walk down the wooden path past the pacing Tiger and you’ll see the pavilion. Find the top seating area and sit back and enjoy the Orangutans exhibit as the kids run around freely. The smell may not be the greatest but this will be your favourite part of the day. Sit back and relax.
The last animal stop for us is the new Panda Exhibit. The lines can be very long at the beginning of the day and I have found that waiting until after 4:00 cuts your wait times in at least half and if you are lucky no wait at all.
It’s time to head towards the exit, luckily you pass right past the Beavertail Courtyard. Grab an amazing family snack and continue towards the gift shop. You’ve got your souvenirs, time to find your car; good luck!
The Caribou Café has everything you need. If you go in the summer having a picnic outside was a great memory for me growing up. The prices are a bit steep at the Caribou Cafe but the food is good. They have a Pizza Pizza as well if you want to get a full pizza for the family which is probably the most cost effective.
I have started my own family tradition and our last stop is always the Beavertail Courtyard. It’s a great family snack to share before heading home for dinner.
4. Keeper Talks
There are many zookeeper talks throughout the day. It would be impossible to see them all and I wouldn’t recommend it as you would miss out on many of the other animals. Pick a few to see and get to the talk early or it will be too busy to see/hear anything anyway. I would recommend doing the Polar Bear, Lion, and Gorilla (in that order) if you are interested in following my planned route.
5. Gift Shop
If you have kids, it will be impossible to walk past the gift shop without going in for a purchase. My trick is to give them a 10-minute countdown and a $20 bill. They don’t get to keep the change but keep whatever they buy. It’s a good lesson in time management and you would be surprised how much better their math skills get as they squeeze every cent out of that $20 bill.
The Toronto Zoo has a lot to offer and is a trip you can look forward to every year! Be prepared for some interesting animal behaviour, chances of some terrifying parents (think Harambe), and tonnes of smiles from the whole family.
Thanks for reading,
Rick Reaume (@richardreaume)