I walked into the Bronx Zoo through the Asia Gate, the closest zoo entrance to the subway. That entrance, I later discovered, is nowhere near as grand as the main zoo entrance by the parking lots. Since families with young kids accounted for most of the visitors that day, the hierarchy makes sense. Entering via the main entrance feels like one is approaching the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States; entering through the tree-lined, slightly disheveled Asia Gate feels more like one is meandering through a national park.
The Zoo is basically two huge loops, one long loop around the outside and a shorter one within that for visitors to walk around (or shuttle or monorail ride, if you pay extra - and I'm sure a lot of families do). While there's lots to see along the way, designated stops occur along the trails by way of benches, clearings, different types of fences and all kinds of media. These stops provide a gathering place for visitors to relax, read, interact and learn in their groups, and create opportunities for catch-ups. Unlike what I observed in the museums, visitors tend not to leave these spots until everyone has arrived.
Each stop at the Bronx Zoo is a different experience, and this works really well. I felt a sense of information overload by the end of many exhibits, but I was never bored in the next exhibit as a result.The tigers exhibit was awesome, and people stayed in there for a long time. Here's why:
- It enabled visitors to get super-close to a real tiger. A tiger was sleeping right up against the hip-level glass, not two inches away from our fingertips, and a toddler's dad plonked her on a ledge at the visitor side of the glass where she "stroked" the tiger as it slept.
- It encouraged interaction. Once you get close to the tigers as the toddler did, there's a ton of education to be had via a number of interactive exhibits - jump on the poacher's truck and explore; watch a video of prominent public figures (Bill Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, Jerry Orbach, Glenn Close), along with kids, discuss why they love tigers and why they must be saved; a donation area where you can donate a coin and hear a tiger growl, or donate a bill and hear a tiger ROAR!
For most, I think, the Bronx Zoo is a full day out. That's good, because it's kind of expensive - $16 per adult for general admission, and $27 for the "full experience," which includes the monorail and entrance to attractions like the gorillas and Dora the Explorer's 4D (?) experience. There are numerous cafes, restrooms, seats and stops along the way for tired families to relax, chat and be educated.