I am the mom who tries to find things for kids to do at all times….mostly to keep our house a little cleaner by not being there. Fortunately, there are so many wonderful options in Hampton Roads and the surrounding area, that there is never a shortage of things to do. With two kids, a son who is two and a four year old daughter, and one of our favorite outings is to the Norfolk Zoo! Conveniently located only 45 minutes away from Smithfield Station.
On our first visit, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there were so many animals, with signs at each exhibit so that we were able to learn together about the Malayan Tapir and the Rhinoceros Hornbill. The baby animals are especially exciting for my kids and over the last couple of years the zoo has welcomed a baby giraffe, a baby zebra and baby red pandas, among many others.
There are basically four separate areas to visit with lovely walking paths connecting each one. The most exciting animals for my kids are those in the Asia and Africa exhibits. The Asia exhibit offers tigers, otters, monkeys and so many others. Just beyond there, in the Africa exhibit, the kids will enjoy watching the zebras, giraffes, elephants and lions. There is also an Australia exhibit where you can visit the kangaroos and emus, as well as a North America exhibit where you will see a bald eagle, bison, and you can even pop your head up inside a prairie dog’s home. We try to change our route each time we visit and we generally do not see all of the animals each time we go, although it is totally doable.
If you plan to make a day of your visit, and want to eat lunch inside the zoo, I recommend the Okavango Delta Café. This restaurant has the most options and all of the other eateries are more snack foods than actual meals. They serve the usual pizza, chicken tenders and french fries, but they also offer sandwiches and salads for a little lighter fare. This restaurant is also very conveniently located between the Africa and Asia exhibits. If you prefer a quick snack the Barnyard Beastro is a great option with hot dogs, popcorn and the like. Our favorite thing to do though, is to leave the zoo for lunch and go to the park just outside the entrance for a picnic. It is a shaded area with picnic tables and lots of things for the kids to play on after lunch. If you are staying for the day, you can re-enter the zoo with your receipt for admission.
In addition to the animals that you will see at the zoo, there is a small area just beyond the entrance where the kids can play in water sprinklers, and benches are provided for those who prefer to watch rather than participate in the water fun. Bring bathing suits because you will not make it past this area without your children begging to play in the water for just a few minutes. Next to the water sprinklers there is a building where you can rent strollers and wagons if you choose not to bring your own. When my kids were smaller I chose this option. It only costs $5 and it was worth it to be able to leave the double stroller at home.
If you are going for the day and want to see all of the animals, I recommend visiting North America and Australia before lunch and then, just when you think you have totally lost their attention, take the kids to Asia and Africa and watch their eyes light up as they get up close and personal with the orangutans and lions. After all of the excitement of the animals, take a train ride for $2 per person to complete the day of fun. The train disembarks very close to the exit to the park and you can take your exhausted kiddos straight to the car for a nap on the way back to The Station.
The Norfolk Zoo is a great place for kids and adults alike. Everyone loves animals and this is a great place to see hundreds of them and a place where everyone is able to learn something new on each visit.
Image provided by the Norfolk Zoo, visit their website here: http://virginiazoo.org for more information.