As the summer slowly creeps upon us and with beautiful weather just around the corner, it’s almost zoo season! America has hundreds of zoos and each of them offers their own unique experiences to guests. But some zoos go above and beyond in theming and creativity. In this article, we are counting down the top ten most creative zoo sections in America.
10.) Nature’s Neighbors Children’s Zoo: Franklin Park Zoo, Boston, MA
The Children’s Zoo is one of the newest additions to this playful and popular zoo in Boston, MA. Inter-working a playground alongside animal exhibits, the Children’s Zoo is designed for kids to exercise, have fun, and of course, learn. Young visitors will have the opportunity to climb through “bamboo” like a red panda along side live red pandas, pop up into holes amid the prairie dog exhibit to get a first-person look at what it’s like to be a prairie dog, walk though an aviary, and explore a grass maze to find sculptures of animals that live in real grasslands. It is an awesome way for the next generation to get in touch with their wild side and learn about some amazing animals.
Children’s Zoo at Franklin Park Zoo.
9.) Antarctica, Seaworld Orlando, Orlando, FL
In the middle of hot and humid Florida, it’s hard to imagine what a place like Antarctica is like. Seaworld Orlando brings you an experience like no other, complete with glaciers, frosty glass, and snow just beyond the doors of the penguin enclosure. Seaworld incorporates a ride experience following a baby penguin named Puck to demonstrate what penguins must endure to become an adult. As the ride ends, you are sent into a world of real live penguins in a chilly enclosure. The outdoor area of the ride is marked by exterior walls that look just like real glaciers. It may be a world away, but Seaworld brings Antarctica to you through amazing architecture and an immersive ride experience.
The entrance to the Antarctica realm of Seaworld Orlando.
8.) Giant Ocean Tank: New England Aquarium, Boston, MA
The Giant Ocean Tank is unlike anything you’ve seen at this otherwise modest aquarium in central Boston. Standing at 40 feet tall, the tank is wrapped in a spiral staircase with dozens of individual viewing windows to make sure that every family has their own space to view the tank. Complete with an overhead look into the tank, the jewel of the New England Aquarium is home to a wide variety of fish, sharks, eels, turtles, and the occasional diver! And don’t forget to snap a selfie with Myrtle the turtle if you visit. She is estimated to be 90 years old!
A view of the Deep Ocean Tank from above.
7.) Wild Asia Monorail: Bronx Zoo, Bronx, NY
This ride is a wild one; not in thrill, but in the animals you will see along the way! The Wild Asia Monorail is a very special experience in that it takes you right through the heart of an exhibit full of Asian animals such as red pandas, rhinos, and elephants. The ride gives visitors a unique and comfortable look at these animals in natural looking environments and gets you up close and personal with some amazing creatures. Be sure to check out this awesome ride when you visit the Bronx Zoo!
A young visitor sees deer while on the monorail.
6.) Animal Fun Factory: Zoo Miami, Miami FL
The Animal Fun Factory is something completely unique to the public and features activities that are usually reserved for animal keepers. The Fun Factory is a place for visitors make enrichment for the animals at the zoo! Enrichment is what we might think of as toys, but for animals in zoos, it’s much more than that. Enrichment helps keep animals happy and healthy and allows them to exercise not only their bodies, but their brains. Teaching zoo visitors about enrichment is a great way to educate about the jobs that zoo keepers do, as well as how animals using their enrichment relates to their wild behaviors.
A keeper at Zoo Miami gives enrichment to a giraffe.
5.) Hippo Cove: Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati, OH
While several zoos are home to hippos, none are as hip as the Cincinnati Zoo. Part of the expansive Africa section of the zoo, Hippo Cove boasts two immersive viewing areas, an interactive play area with rocks and ropes to climb (and some interactive hippo sculptures!), and best of all, the exhibit is environmentally friendly. The hippo pool is filled with 100% rain water, a practice that has been used for all other water features at the zoo since 2005. In the past 12 years, the zoo estimates it has saved over 1,000,000,000 gallons of water using this method! And to make this exhibit even more prestigious, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has given the Cincinnati Zoo a breeding recommendation, meaning this exhibit and the animals are very well taken care of. Well done, Cincinnati Zoo!
4.) Ocean Voyager: Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
At an aquarium, you can expect to see fish. But you can only expect to see whale sharks (the largest fish in the world) at a select few aquariums throughout the world. The Ocean Voyager Tank at the Georgia Aquarium is perhaps the most impressive display of animals you will ever see at a zoo or aquarium. Home to four whale sharks and four manta rays (with countless other fish and aquatic life), the tank holds over 6.3 million gallons of water, held in by acrylic that is 2 feet thick. And to make this exhibit even more impressive, it features the world’s largest viewing windows at 61 feet across at 23 feet high. The Ocean Voyager Tank is for sure the place to be if you want to get an amazing up close view of the gentle whale shark.
A look inside the Ocean Voyager Tank.
3.) Big Cat Falls: Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, PA
Big Cat Falls is unlike any other big cat exhibit you have ever seen. With 6 species of endangered big cats (including the nearly extinct Amur leopard), this area of the zoo is sure to make memories that last a lifetime. Guests will walk underneath overhead catwalks (literally) where they may see lions, tigers, or leopards walking above them between exhibit spaces. The interchanging of cats between exhibit spaces is said to mimic the smells and sensations a wild cat would experience in their territory. Topped off by countless viewing windows, lush landscaping wherever you look, and plenty of fun to go around, Big Cat Falls is one unique zoo area.
A tiger watches over visitors at Big Cat Falls.
2.) Elephant Odyssey: San Diego Zoo, San Diego, CA
This elephant exhibit is far from your average one. Elephant Odyssey connect visitors to elephants in a way that has never been attempted: it shows guests how the elephant is related to the wildlife found in Southern California. Using paleontology (the study of ancient life), the exhibit details through fossil records and preserved remains how animals in the United States were closely related to those on other continents, even if they are an ocean away. The live animals on display include a variety of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects that all have one thing in common: they each have an ancestor from Southern California. It is a great way to teach visitors that animals that seem a world away are a lot closer to us than you might think.
1.) Jungala: Busch Gardens Tampa, Tampa Bay, FL
Topping off our list is none other than the beloved Jungala, a place best described as a jungle playground. Jungala is an amusing mix of rides, animals, climbable spaces, and crawl-throughs. Those that venture through Jungala will find themselves crawling through a tunnel with underwater viewing of exotic fish to your side and flying foxes above, pop-up tubes that put you right in the middle of the tiger enclosure, bridges over waterfalls and Bengal tigers, an acrylic floor that is above an orangutan hammock, and a ropes course that brings you face to face with white-cheeked gibbons. And that is just the beginning. Add in a zip line, a shoot-up tower that gives riders a view of all of Jungala, and trails along the exhibit, and you get the most fun and unique zoo section in America.
The Jungala treehouse.
This list details just a handful of what American zoos and aquariums have to offer. To learn more, go out and explore your local zoo! There just may be a hidden gem in your hometown.