Six ways to get the most out of the Toronto Zoo


The Toronto Zoo is huge.  I remember its hugeness from the time when I visited in 1974, shortly after it opened.  I was a kid and felt overwhelmed by the place.  It was a time when zoos were changing from cages to enclosures.  All the animals from the old Riverdale Zoo were in the iron bar cages you see in old movies.  I remember a poor tiger pacing back and forth.

In July 2012, I brought my kids to the Toronto Zoo and they were faced with the same massive size and a new treat:  really hot weather.  My kids are left coast kids and are not familiar with Toronto‘s hot and humid summers.

This leads me to the gist of this article.  There’s no way children under about, say, 25 can see the entire Toronto Zoo in one day.  In contrast I don’t think more senior adults — think 35 plus — could see the whole zoo in one day either.

If you come from a distance or don’t want to make two trips — 2 adults, 2 children and parking was $90 — you truly need to prioritize.

Six ways to get the most out of the Toronto Zoo

1.  Arrive earlier in the morning.  The Toronto Zoo opens at 9:30 AM.  In summer, to beat the heat and the crowds, I suggest a weekday morning.  The animals are more lively at that time of day.  On our trip, even the lions were taking a siesta when the heat kicks in.  (Also in the wild lions are often active at night.)  Note that a winter trip to the Zoo is not a bad idea as many animals including tigers are happier in colder temperatures.

2.  Make sure to have good shoes for walking.  You will be walking.  According to the Zoo website there is in excess of 10 km (6 mi.) of walking trails, which seems reasonable seeing the whole zoo is 710 acres.  There’s a zoomobile ride that’s $7 for the day which will take you to major sections.

3.  Bring some of your own snacks and water.  This will save time and money.  As with many attractions they overcharge for food, but I feel that if it goes to maintaining the Zoo, that’s a good thing.  Also, the burger and fries and usual stuff was augmented by wraps and other goodies that tasted good.  I remember back in the 1970s the only choice was McDonalds.  

4.  Check animal feeding times.  We lucked out on our trip and caught the polar bears being fed.  That was pretty impressive watching these massive bears chase after their lunch in the water.  It occurred to me afterwards that you’d want to read the guide pamphlet closely and see if you could catch the animals you most wanted to see active at the right time.

5.  Figure out which two major areas you want to cover well and cover them.  The African Savanna and Rainforest Pavillion are huge and if you want to see the lions and hippos and zebras, you may want to start there and see how much of you is left.  The challenge is what to pick next, which is tough because there are really cool things in all of them.  Indo-Malaya has orangutans. Americas has polar bears.  Eurasia has snow leopards.  Australasia has komodo dragons.  The Canadian Domain has Canadian critters that few of us will see in the wild or up close.  Good luck choosing.

6.  Save the kid rides, gift shop and water park for last.  Small children will want to ride the little carousel first as it’s the first thing that they see when the come in.  Use the promise of doing these things — once you see the animals — to the end.  My 4-year-old kept wanting to do the ride, but when we finally made it to a pavillion or enclosure, he was blown away by the creatures, buying us more time.  Once we were all pooped, we relented and did the carousel.  If you take in the water park, plan ahead and bring a change of clothes or bathing suit.

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