Location: Memphis, TN
Cost: $15/adult $10/kid ages 2-11; Parking $5
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, several
Our final stop of this trip was the Memphis Zoo; The main draw for us was the Giant Panda exhibit. My 1-year old has a stuffed panda that is her favorite toy so we wanted to take her to see the real thing. For only $15 per adult (that’s cheap for zoo admission) this was an amazing zoo.
We arrived about 15 minutes before the zoo opened. We were following an internet tip to save money on parking by just parking in the nearby park for free but wanted to give ourselves additional time in case we got lost. The zoo basically sits right next to the park so it’s not difficult for you to find if you go that route. It did save us the $5 but it was a bit longer of a walk (which wouldn’t have been an issue except the weather finally turned on us and it was pouring when we left the zoo later that afternoon). There is a nice plaza at the front entrance and the kids had fun posing with all the animal statues while we waited for the zoo to open.
The zoo was divided into several themed areas including China (where the panda indoor and outdoor exhibits are), Primate Canyon (gorillas, lemurs, etc), Africa, Northwest Passage (polar bears, sea lions), Teton Trek (Grizzley’s, wolves), Hippo Camp, Cat Country, a petting zoo and a few other random exhibits. Each themed area was done really well. All the exhibits looked to be in great shape and were very large.
The zoo also had a few animal shows that are included in the price of your ticket. The shows are seasonal so check with the front desk for times. We saw the Sea Lion Show. We were at the zoo on a cloudy Friday so seating wasn’t too much of an issue (although there were several day camps there with us) on a Saturday or Sunday you would probably want to arrive a few minutes early for good seats. The show lasted about 15 minutes and with several trainers working with 4 of the adult sea lions. The show was entertaining.
The zoo (like all zoos) also had several add-on experiences you could purchase. There is a tram ride ($2/ person all day pass), carousel ($2/ ride), farm train ($2/ride), Giraffe feeding ($5/person), Camel Rides ($5/person), Stingray Bay ($3/person + $2/feeding cup) and the Budgie House (it’s free to enter but feeding sticks are $1 each). We allowed the kids to pick one experience. They choose to ride the camels because that was not something we have available at our home zoo. Because the kids were so little an adult had to ride with them (you have to pay for the adult). The ride was basically just one loop around the camel yard (they did stop the camel in front of me so I could get a nice picture) and then the kids got to pet the camel when they got off. I don’t think it was a great deal for the cost but it’s probably a better deal than feeding a giraffe a piece of lettuce for the same cost.
We happened to be at the zoo when they were having a Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibit. There were random animal facts associated with Ripley’s posted throughout the zoo along with several unique sculptures (like three 20-foot-long lions made completely out of crocheted yarn). In the Expo Building located in the Once Upon a Farm exhibit there were several other hands on exhibits that kids (and adults) could try to beat/match the world records.
We ended up eating at the zoo. The zoo does allow coolers and had a very nice picnic area near the Northwest Passage. We decided to eat at the Cat Café which is the main eating establishment. There is a nice playground just outside the café, so during nice weather you could get food and sit there while the kids burn some energy (this is about the point when it started raining, we sat inside). The Cat Café had a fairly unique set up. It had three station options with different types of food: Memphis Grille (burgers, chicken fingers, fries), Sabino’s (deli subs, soups, etc) and Pranzo’s Pizza. Each station had its own pay window, so if your group wants different things you are either going to have to split up or wait in multiple lines. The food also came out at extremely different rates. My brother-in-law got pizza which was grab and go while I ordered from the Grille because the girls wanted chicken strips. He was done eating before my pager even buzzed for me to pick up my order. There was a nice condiment bar in the center for ketchup, mustard, napkins and other offerings. The seating area was big but not big enough once the rain started coming down. Food prices were what you would expect from a zoo. The food was fairly good and the sandwiches from the Grille were made fresh.
There were several gift shops throughout the zoo but the main gift shop at the front entrance had a good selection of the items available at the side gift shops so you can wait to do your shopping at the very end. We found several penny smashing machines scattered throughout the zoo. I would also suggest bringing either quick drying clothes or your child’s swimsuit along with a towel if you come during warmer weather. There was a very nice splash fountain near the entrance of the Teton Trek. Also at the front of the zoo there is a wading river that ends in a small children’s wading pool complete with lifeguards. I didn’t see anything about this on the zoo’s website. Unfortunately, due to weather the wading pool was not open during our visit.
Overall impression: This is a high quality zoo. The exhibits were amazing with lots of difficult to find animals (giant pandas are only found at 4 or 5 zoos nationwide). The zoo was well maintained and very clean. The price point was very good. Additionally, they let you bring in outside food and drink. This is a must visit zoo.