If you happen to follow along on Instagram, you may have a seen a few Instastories from our trip this past weekend to the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC. Hubs and I wanted to take H for a while now, so we decided to make a father’s day morning outing of it – and I’m glad we did! Honestly, the timing couldn’t have been better… for many reasons – but mostly because I’m not sure how much longer I’d last in the heat with the hills as I get farther along in this pregnancy!
We had a really smooth, uneventful trip (which, isn’t always the case with a toddler), so I thought I’d share a few of the things we did. Obviously, we didn’t do anything special or magical – it just took a little bit of planning and a little bit of shear luck! So, without further ado, here are my 5 tips for a successful National Zoo trip with little ones.
1. Park onsite, if possible.
We decided to leave bright and early Sunday morning so we could ensure a parking spot on the zoo grounds. For those of you who may be visiting out of town, it’s an easy walk from the Cleveland Park or Woodley Park/National Zoo metro stations, but with a toddler in tow, we like to maximize the amount of time we can spend before rushing home. Also, we like to have our car in case we need to bail quick.
We parked in lot A this time. I actually always forget and then half way through our trip remember why we should park at one of the other lots. The National Zoo is built on a hill. So, if you park in lot A, you’re walking downhill at first (which is awesome), but then trekking uphill back to your car once you’ve made a loop around. By the time we made our exit, it was nearly 85 degrees and sunny, and crowds were starting to pour in. Thank goodness for hubs pushing the stroller, and the misting stations that H was obsessed with. It also gave me an excuse to cool off! So, long story short – don’t grab the first spot you see if you have kids in tow. Drive down the hill a bit and start your trip going uphill. It’ll make the end a lot smoother!
Also, if you happen to be a FONZ member (at certain levels), you gain access to free parking. That’s huge considering rates just increased from $22 to $25 for the day! Speaking of which…
2. Join FONZ (and enjoy FREE parking)
Another mom shared this tip with me (and I’m so glad she did) – if you’re looking to join the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), join with a few friends. The FONZ membership level we have allows up to three names on the membership cards. So, Lindsey, myself, and another friend decided to join together. We’ve made two trips to the National Zoo so far this year, and it’s paid for itself in the parking alone! We currently have the Premier Plus level, and I’m looking forward to renewing this year. If you joined or renewed after Jan. 1, 2018 you can now enjoy unlimited carousel rides during your visit and other fun perks! The carousel is H’s favorite – followed closely by the elephant exhibit!
3. Get there early
The National Zoo grounds actually open at 8 am. While many of the exhibit buildings don’t open until 9 am, you can still see a lot of the outdoor animals as they’re waking and eating. We’ve been told they’re most active in the morning. The last time we visited, one of the lions was out and roaring! No roaring this time, but we did see three of them. H asked to see the elephants first, and I’m glad we did. They were eating their breakfast, and we were able to see two up close and personal. One was even drinking from the big pool of water and squirting it out of her trunk. Of course, H LOVED that part. To be honest, we did too! It still amazes me that the National Zoo is completely free. Because it’s truly SO GOOD, you guys.
4. Pack Snacks!
Most of the food vendors don’t open until 10 am, so if your child is always hungry like mine, then you may be pushing your luck. Also, while the food isn’t too terribly priced (and the money goes to a good cause!), with a demanding toddler, we don’t always have time to wait in line. BTW, another perk of the FONZ membership – dining deals. If you’re like us and rather pack a few snacks, a few of our favorites are bananas, trail mix, popcorn, granola bars… oh, and lots of water. Just make sure to keep it away from the animal exhibits. We lost H’s water bottle in bushes between the path and the exhibit (total mom fail..). And, thankfully, the handful of trail mix H dumped on the ground was next to the sea lion exhibit and not into one of the outdoor animal areas!
And lastly… 5. Keep an open mind
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a planner – and I like my schedules/routine. However, when it comes to bigger outings (the zoo, Disney World, etc.) I really force myself to lower my expectations, go with the flow, and appreciate anything we can squeeze in. So far, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how much we can actually do!
I’m sure it’s easier for me to say this knowing that I live 30 minutes away and can come back whenever I’d like. But hey, even if you’re visiting from out of town and don’t get a chance to do it all, then it’s a great excuse to come back!
Whatever you and your family decide to do, I hope you truly enjoy it. Even though hubs was up bright and early on father’s day (no relaxing over here!), we all had the best time and really enjoyed the time as a family. For us, that family time is what mother’s and father’s day is all about any way. Without H, we wouldn’t have a reason to celebrate ourselves. So, we really try to celebrate her on these days.
Any other tips for outings with little ones?! I’d love to hear them!