Last Tuesday the girls and I headed to the St. Louis Zoo for a day of fun with the giraffes and goats. The St. Louis Zoo really is awesome and I should be ashamed that I don’t go very often even though we live a mere ten minutes from it. Definitely falls in that category of things I always think I could just do later and thus avoid doing it now. Major mistake. My kids love it.
The really great thing about the St. Louis Zoo is that admission is free. Did you hear that? FREE! Of course, they do offer extras inside for a fee. But even then, if you get to the zoo within the first hour it is open, some of those things are also free. Here’s the skinny on that:
Zoo: $4 per person. Free admission the first hour the Zoo is
open. Children under 2 are free.
Carousel: $3 per person. This is also free the first hour the Zoo is open.
Railroad is $5 per person, per round trip ticket. You may leave the
train, visit exhibits and re-board. Children under 2 are free.
Simulator is $3 per person.
- 3-D Movie is $3 per person.
You can get a “Safari Pass” which is good for one day. It costs $10/person and gets you into the Children’s Zoo, the Zooline Railroad, Sea Lion Show (seasonal), Conservation Carousel and Motion Simulator. Knowing that if you get to the zoo in the first hour and can do the children’s zoo and carousel for free, the Safari Pass really saves you $1 (for the railroad, motion simulator, and 3-D Movie). Well, I guess it could save you $4 per person if you get the Sea Lion show as well.
The zoo does offer several membership levels. Again, you might ask yourself why bother with a membership when the zoo is already free? I had the same question and here’s what we ended up doing: We’ve only been a member one of the five years we’ve lived in St. Louis. And I will join again, probably this year, but after this year I won’t join for two or three more years (probably). The reason for that is that with the membership we get (the family one), we get the following (I’ve bolded the things that really matter to me):
- 48 Anywhere Plus Passes – These passes are good
for which can be used in any combination for the Zooline Railroad, rides on the Conservation Carousel, the Sea Lion
Show, Children’s Zoo or $1 discount on face painting
- Free parking — six visits
- 10% discount in all Zoo gift shops
- 10% discount on food purchases at Ben & Jerry’s, Carousel Cafe,
East Refreshment Stand, Hippo Hideaway, Ice Cream Oasis, Kettle Korn,
Lakeside Cafe, River Camp Cafe, Safari Grill, Tasty Treats and Tundra
- 10% discount and early registration for Education programs
- 10% discount on standard wheelchair rentals
- Zoo calendar
- stlzoo member magazine
- Free or discounted admission to participating zoos throughout the
- Birthday party discounts and birthday card for kids
Now then, you can see from the Anywhere Passes, that some of the things these passes are good for can be had for free without the passes.
Also, if you get to the zoo early enough, you can usually find street parking for free. BUT, there are times you want to go in the afternoon and it’s usually very difficult to find street parking that late in the day. Those are the times the free parking passes are handy because if you go into one of the zoo parking lots, you will have to pay $11 for the privilege of parking there.
Finally, the reciprocal zoo memberships are really nice to have for when you travel to other locations that have a matching reciprocity.
Because I know we can always get into the Children’s Zoo and Conservation Carousel for free and also know that I can get parking free if I get there in time, getting a membership isn’t worth it to me every year. The Sea Lion show really is fun, but we don’t need to see it every year. The railroad is one thing my kids ask to do every time we go to the zoo and I always have to tell them, “No,” because if we went every time, it would cost us $25. So we haven’t been on the train in a few years. I think we’re about due to experience those things again, so this year I will be renewing our membership.
One other thing that is fun about the zoo is the Imagination Station. It’s an indoor discovery room for kids and it is also FREE! You have to secure a ticket for your time, as they only allow a limited number of visitors in the room at a time and admit a new group of people every hour. We arrived at the zoo at 9am and went straight over to the Imagination Station to ask for five tickets for 11am admission. It’s a nice little extra the St. Louis Zoo provides.
So on last Tuesday, we arrived at the zoo around 9:05. Street parking was already almost full, but there was one curb side spot that required a pretty impressive parallel parking maneuver on my part, if I do say so myself. Don’t ask me to repeat that, though. I’m not sure I will ever be able to again.
We walked in through the North Entrance because that’s where the Imagination Station is. We got our tickets for that and then headed straight to the carousel. My 9yo and 11yo are getting to the age where they don’t really care as much about riding it, but certainly didn’t complain that we were going to. My 8yo and 6yo would have been very disappointed if we hadn’t.
From there we headed in the direction of the Children’s Zoo. I knew we had extra time to get there – you just have to walk in the gate before 10am to get in free – so we stopped off to see the penguins and puffins. This is always a cold, stinky highlight as you can see in my video below.
We passed another handful of animals before making it to the Children’s Zoo in time to get in free. From there we explored all that has to offer including the petting area and small critters, more of your standard variety farm animal, and the goat pen where 3 out of 4 of my girls really enjoyed petting the goats with the provided brushes.
We visited the Insectarium and the Butterfly House. After stopping for a snack, it was time to head to the Imagination Station. I love that my older girls really still enjoy playing with some of the toys there. Sure, it is designed with the younger zoo patron in mind and we probably wouldn’t go if we didn’t still have some younger zoo visitors in my family, but because we’re all going in, it gives my older girls a great excuse to enjoy these things too.
After our time at the Imagination Station, we’d been at the zoo just about 3 hours. I’ve discovered two important things about my family and the zoo:
- 3 hours is really just about our limit (particularly for my 6 and 8yos)
- We can’t see the whole zoo in 3 hours
My older two were really wanting to see more animals. My younger two were getting tired and hungry. I bribed them with McDonalds on the way home sweetly asked them if they could last one more hour. They agreed and we explored as much of the other areas as we could in one hour. We saw the big cats, giraffes, zebras, camels, and some other things, I’m sure. We did NOT manage to see either the elephants or the prairie dogs on this round as I was reminded by two different children on the way home.
So we lasted 4 hours which might be a record for us. If you are coming from out of town you really could make a day out of the experience, but do remember to bring your own lunch. You can bring it into the zoo with you to avoid either taking out a second mortgage on your home to pay for food there or caving in to McD on the way home.