The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world, forcing everyone to adapt to new normals. As we slowly emerge from our “shelter in place” orders, folks are still shying away from public gathering. Places dependent on public support must find new ways to fund their missions. In one example, zoos still need to house, feed, and care for their animal residents- a costly undertaking that requires paying visitors. In May and into June (so far) the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is trying a creative new means of fundraising and, with the help of Dollar Bank, has opened a weekend Cruise the Zoo. The hope is to bring needed visitors to a park otherwise closed to the public, as well as providing a much-needed break for families that have been stuck in their homes for weeks.
I must admit, the idea of driving through the zoo seemed a bit silly at first. However, PrettyWife is a long-time member and supporter of Cleveland Zoo, Columbus, and Toledo zoos, so there was no way I was getting out of this one. We packed the family wagon with water and snacks and invited DaringDaughter along for a drive-through safari at the zoo- our first event in weeks!
Tickets for Cruise the Zoo sell online (rumor has it every tour is now sold out), $20/ carload for members, $40 for non-members. As usual, PrettyWife threw in a donation with our member price, one of her many worthy causes. We entered the parking lot early in our time slot to join the line snaking around the perimeter of the lot. As we got closer to the entrance, masked staff were on hand passing out rules and scavenger hunt sheets. While in line, a few animal ambassadors, like the kookaburra we saw, were brought near the cars to experience. A cellphone audio tour provides entertaining information about the exhibits along the way, with well-marked points indicating where you should be in the program.
Once we passed the gate, driving the walkway brought us close enough to see about a dozen different kind of animals while s-l-o-w-w-w-w-w-l-y driving past. It was a bit like the ride through Jurassic park with bumper to bumper SUVs and minivans, but drivers still had to watch traffic and control the vehicle.
We saw a tiger, several bears, giraffes, elephants, and more on our family wagon safari. We brought drinks and snacks but found pull-off kiosks with the usual zoo foods and souvenirs. Really well thought out, and much more accessible than expected. The best part (for me) was the pure dumb joy of driving through the zoo! Might be a “car guy” thing, but navigating tight corners, twists, and turns near wild beasts (even at 4mph) let the imagination escape to driving an actual photo safari.
We spent about 30 minutes queueing in the parking lot (there are port-a-johns, if needed), then about an hour underway in the zoo. In addition to viewing the animals, the scavenger hunt had all watching for 2D animal photo boards hidden along the path. The three adults in our car had a blast on our zoo cruise. Judging by smiling kids hanging out of windows and sunroofs, many with binoculars (available at the first souvenir stand, of course) pointing out distant animals to the rest of the car, I would say most of the families felt the same. In a thoughtful finishing touch, the zoo exit included a pull-off to buckle everyone back into place before heading home.
We’re all hopeful it won’t be long before we can walk through the zoo again like we did in “olden days”. In the meantime, this was a brilliant way to make the best of a bad situation, and we thank everyone involved at The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for such a fun event!
Keep Riding Local, Dreaming Global, and rolling safe- wear a mask! See you on the road!