We found ourselves in the Bronx, on a Monday with the option of trekking to Manhattan to do some touristy crap, or visiting the famed Bronx Zoo. (2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY) Bronx Zoo was the clear winner.
Some things to note about visiting the Bronx Zoo
- Mostly locals frequent here, as it’s not the easiest place to get to from Manhattan. I have no idea what would be involved public transportation-wise, but I think it would entail an hour long subway ride if you’re coming from Manhattan. If it were me, and I didn’t have a car like I did this time, I’d take a cab
- The operating hours are surprisingly short, especially considering that dusk in the summertime isn’t until around 8pm. Closing at 5pm in the summer seems stupid to me. If this place closes at 5pm in the summer, I wonder what time it closes in the winter.
- We went on a Monday and, while crowded, it wasn’t unbearably so. I shudder to think what the weekend crowd must be like.
- There are several parking areas that fill up quickly and cost $10 to park. Another option is to park nearby and walk in. Consider it a $10 convenience fee. The people walking into the park from destination unknown looked miserable–especially when it started raining later that afternoon.
Admission is $15, or a stiff $27 if you get there early and want to do the whole shebang (gorilla forest, butterfly garden, monorail, etc–all the extras). A much better deal is the $75 membership option or the $120 family membership good for a year for use in a variety of parks/zoos/gardens. Obviously, this doesn’t make sense if you are visiting for just one day, as we were. We opted for the general admission rate, figuring we could add on the extras ($2-$3 per attraction) if needed. For ultimate cheapies, Wednesdays are pay what you wish, but given that this zoo, like many others, is/has faced financial issues, it seems wrong to pay less than asking price.
The Zoo itself is not massive, and is easily walkable. In my opinion, no need to spend money on the tram, unless you are old/injured/lazy.
A brief history on the zoo: It opened to the public in 1899 and was the first zoo to phase out cages and exhibit animals in naturalistic habitats. Many of the original buildings and exhibits (although, I’m guessing, not animals) still exist in their original locations. The zoo was chartered by what is now known as the Wildlife Conservation Society (or vice versa) which has been a major force in habitat conservation and wildlife preservation for endanagered and nearly extinct species. Seems like kind of a radical idea back in the turn-of-the century when the zoo and the WCF was established.
Species such as the Pere David Deer exist only in captivity after being wiped out in their native China during the Boxer Revolution.
I think that it’s the goal of the WCF and the Zoo to eventually return captivity-only species to their natural habitat. For this reason, I think places like the Bronx Zoo are important. I’ve been to under-funded exhibition only zoos before, and seeing the sad state of the animals there (namely a caged wolf pacing back and forth to the point where he created ruts in the grass) has been stuck in my mind as a vividly heartbreaking memory that I’ve carried with me since I was 8 years old.
The Bronx Zoo is not like this.
Although this photo of a semi-caged camel does little to support my claims.
For the most part, the recreated animal habitats, like the Sea Bird Aviary, where birds flew freely around a netted, open-air habitat, were great.
In the Asia Plaza area, there were multiple animals housed in recreated tropical setting, including an aquarium area with fish and turtles, and a rainforest-like area with bats and birds flying about.
My favorite animals were the monkeys, of which the zoo had many.
My favorite part of the zoo was the historic Astor Court area, which despite some upgrades, retained a special turn-of-the-century charm — like looking at an old Barnum & Bailey’s Circus poster. In a world of theme park zoo combos, there was something simple and nice about Astor Court. Nothing fancy here — just a bunch of beautiful old buildings housing smaller animals (Monkey house was a favorite), surrounding the original Sea Lion Pool.
In 5 hours time, we still did not get to see the entire zoo, or ride the monorail African Safari thing. We did, however, purchase lunch at The Dancing Crane Cafe
Food ranges from healthy salads, wraps, and organic cookies, to typical elementary school cafeteria food — steamed burgers w/out cheese, personal pizzas, chicken tenders with fries — to Kosher vending machine food.
They also serve several kinds of beer, which, given the lovely indoor/outdoor facilities, is kind of a tasty treat on a warm afternoon at the zoo. Personally, if I had thought to plan ahead, I would have preferred to have brought my lunch, and spent the majority of the day picnicking on the lovely grounds.
Following lunch we took the mandatory trip to the main gift shop, which was a flurry of activity and ear-splitting shrieking of hyper rug rats. I’m a gift shop type of person (love them) — this gift shop, while it had many zoo-branded items, did not have a decent t-shirt. And by decent, I mean, something simple, for an adult, that didn’t involve a herd of elephants/lions/wolves kicking up dust on the front of an acid-washed shirt.
Having wanted to visit the Bronx Zoo for as long as I can remember, and then finally being here while on a trip to NYC, it was a little disappointing to leave empty-handed (seriously, how can such a popular zoo have such crappy merchandising?) But, given everything else experienced that day, I suppose the trade-off was in my favor.
Bronx Zoo. (2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY)