A Day at the Jacksonville Zoo
Not My Preference
Zoos aren't necessarily my thing, but my step granddaughter wanted to go, and I was the nearest (and only) contender for accompanying the ten-year-old, blue-eyed blonde. "I guess we're going to the zoo," I said, after expressing a preference to the contrary.
"Yeah!" she said, and her eyes lit up like bulbs with a restored circuit after a power outage.
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Starting the Day
We had planned to be at the zoo early in the morning, but, hey, it was a Saturday--and you know how Saturdays are--no one gets up early, and this was the case with us.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with barely a breeze, and when the air did stir, it was a gentle, warm gust with the feel of spring, the kind of spring that makes you want to stay at home and tend your garden.
- chap stick and lip balm
- prescription glasses with UV protection
- straw hat for me and baseball cap for Olivia
- facial tissue
- snack bag with chips, carrots, and almonds
- two containers of drinking water
- purse with money (Olivia's father allotted us $100 cash)
- cell phone for communication and taking pictures
It was zoo day, though, and I decided to see the day as an adventure, something healthy because everyone needs a change in routine once in a while.
"Did you put on sunblock?" I asked Olivia.
"Yeah," she said.
"Don't forget to brush your teeth," I added.
She went to polish her pearls while I put together a couple of carrots and the remaining bag of almonds for a snack and filled two drinking containers with water.
Olivia returned and contributed two bags of chips to the food bag.
Author's note: Little did I know I was already breaking the zoo's rule number three: Outside food and beverages are not permitted. (I had no idea.)
The Location and Ride
Located at 370 Zoo Parkway, the drive lasted a good 15 minutes through Saturday's midday traffic. My daughter is an assertive driver, so when we got to railroad tracks, the Acura shook like a short, abrupt roller coaster ride, which may not have been good for the car's shocks, but Olivia, who was in the back seat, exclaimed, "That was fun! Do it again!" She got her wish, too, because, after a minute or two, another set of tracks crossed our route.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens cover 110 acres in northeast Florida.
Entrance and Fees
My daughter had to return home to study for her computer science class, so she dropped Olivia and me near the front entrance. As I mentioned earlier, the day was very pleasant with sunshine, but pedestrian traffic was relatively heavy.
"A weekday visit would be better," I observed, but, of course, we were already there, so we simply had to relax and enjoy the day as it was.
As we got nearer the ticket office, Olivia read a sign stating the entrance fees, "$24.95 Adults; $17.95 Children. I texted my daughter, "It costs nearly $50 just to get in--sheesh!" I did exaggerate a bit, but would have preferred a sum closer to $30; at least now I knew why we were given $100.
Once we got to the Guest Relations Office, a lower fee was actually offered, but did not include rides. Olivia had visited the zoo on several previous occasions through school field trips and with her grandparents, but this was my first time, and I knew I wanted to be able to ride the train, which circles the zoo grounds. Olivia, too, would probably want to ride something, so I purchased the value tickets. Doing so made the necessity of handling money on the grounds minimal.
Member Value Band
Child (3-12 yrs)
Adult (13-64 yrs)
Senior (65+ yrs)
Upon paying our entrance fees, the ticket agent put a green, color-coded band on each of our wrists, so attendants would know we were allowed certain entries and rides without an additional fee.
Planning Our Walk on the Loops
The zoo has nine "loops," or routes to follow: Africa, Wild Florida, Giraffe/Savanna Blooms, Great Apes, Jaguar/South America, Play Park, Trout River, Australia, and Asia. In addition to these, there are two features:, namely Stingray Bay, where people can pet the swimming, real-live stingrays, and Butterfly Hollow, where numerous butterflies of six different species reside in a tented, fairy garden.
Initially, Olivia and I discussed what we wanted to see and agreed on all but three of the loops or features, but, then, I overestimated the self discipline of this ten-year-old. Everything seemed to be of interest to her once we got inside. We had the map and well marked trails so we wouldn't wander too far off course.
I couldn't get clear pictures of all the animals we saw, but here are the ones I did get, along with a little information about each.
The zoo has three aviaries, the River Valley Aviary, the Emerald Forest Aviary, and the Lorikeet Aviary, each housing species unique to its featured part of the world.
MammalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
(A bonobo is the smaller of two species of chimpanzees.)
PlantsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Asian Bamboo Gardens
The big lizard featured in the video is referred to as a Komodo dragon.
Author's note: I wish to thank John R. Markert of Accel Video Productions for this beautiful video.
The Life-Sized Elephant Sculptures
Olivia and I took several breaks along our walk and refreshed ourselves with the edibles and water we brought with us. During one such rest, Olivia challenged herself by attempting to climb on the metal sculpture of two life-sized elephants. Most of the children got no farther than swinging on an elephant's strong metal tail; however, one young man, whom I guessed to be in his mid-teens, made it to the head of the largest sculpture. "It's hot!" he announced.
"See," I told you I said to Olivia. "You wouldn't want to be up there."
The Most Memorable Attraction
If I had to vote for one animal that I found the most intriguing, it would have to be the anteater. He was part of the Range of the Jaguar and South American Loop. This creature was constantly surveying the ground with his long, rather slender snout and must have measured close to six feet from the tip of his snout to the end of his tail.
"Isn't that something?" the lady next to me asked.
"He's rather like a vacuum cleaner with a duster at the other end," I commented.
She chuckled. "He certainly is!"
Secretly I wanted a caretaker to throw in an ant-filled stump so we could watch this unusual creature at work. The stumps within his domain had already been cleaned, not showing a trace of an ant.
Author's Note: I didn't take a picture of this creature because of a glass separation, but I wanted to include one here due to the remarkable construction of this animal. The critter I observed actually had a white, linear triangle stretching from his lumbar spine down his side at the fore of his hind leg; otherwise, the giant anteater below looks the same.
The Wildlife Carousel off the Main Path, instead of ponies with a mix of lions or bears, represents nearly all, if not all, the animals in the Jacksonville Zoo.
This had to be the greatest part of Olivia's day. The $2 cost was already included in her ticket.
I anticipated this attraction to be the high point of my day because hundreds of butterflies were supposed to be in this tented area at the south side of the zoo. One butterfly did sit on Olivia's cap just before entering the Hollow and several feeder dishes attracted a handful of butterflies, but that was all. The fairyland setup was charming enough and the windows to chrysalis housings interesting, but the winged massage I had hoped to receive just didn't happen.
Snow Cones, Hot Dogs, Fries, and Blue-Raspberry Ice
It takes the appetite of a young one to stomach the foods offered at concession stands and fast-food stops at this, or any, zoo. The snow cone with banana flavoring came to $3.50. Olivia's dinner of a hot dog, a side of fries, and a blue-raspberry ice drink came to just under $6.
I stuck to my water, raw organic carrots and almonds.
The Train Ride
Let's face it--by the end of the day Olivia and I were exhausted.
"We'll catch the train back to the Main Camp," I said, and we waited--and waited a little longer--at the train stop near the Trout River Plaza. Finally we were able to board.
As the train began to move, the lady commentator announced over the speaker, "You will remain seated until the train returns to this stop . . ."
"Phone your dad and let him know there will be a delay," I said to Olivia. So, we rode around the entire zoo grounds. We did get a glimpse of the apes and kangaroos, which we had not planned to see on foot. In addition, the ride gave us extra minutes of rest that allowed us to walk from the Trout River Plaza to the Main Camp, and I got my only ride of the day to fulfill the fringe benefit of the Value Ticket.
When we got out the main entrance, Olivia played on the sea turtle sculpture bordering the parking lot.
I phoned her father and explained where we were.
"I'll be there in a minute," he replied.
"All right," I said. "You shouldn't have any trouble seeing us--I'm the only lady wearing a straw hat."
He chuckled. ***
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© 2014 Marie Flint