We started the morning off right by riding the train to daycare. Cora loves the train and she was quite excited to have Lee join us for our morning commute. Now that the weather has warmed up significantly, Cora and I have been taking the bus and train to and from University. It was much too miserable this winter to bother with a 2 year old and standing in -40F temperature waiting for the bus that was more than likely way behind schedule because it wouldn't start in the morning. We opted to help pollute our environment and had Lee drive way out of his way to drop us off at the front door of each of our buildings. Once at daycare we hopped onto a big yellow school bus to make our way to the zoo.
If there is anything I have learned in my life, it is how to effectively navigate a zoo to avoid huge amounts of crowds and see more animals up close. When Lee and I saw troves of school buses arrive at the zoo shortly behind our bus, we knew some strategy would be involved for Cora to experience the zoo at it fullest potential. Note: the fullest potential for this zoo is not much. Outside of a couple tigers, an old elephant, and some red pandas, this zoo is little more than an expensive petting zoo. However, it is nice to have something in Edmonton. I have a hard time not cringing at most of the displays. I am a huge advocate for zoos, but this zoo needs some money to help it out. They make the most of what they have though, which I definitely appreciate.
Golden rules for navigating a zoo
Rule #1: Go backwards. Every one always goes in the same direction every time. The keepers know this. Going in the opposite direction really is the path of least resistance. Less people mean you'll get the best view. We were able to see unobstructed views of many of the "big animals". Cora was often times ran over by bigger kids and this way she was able to enjoy much of the zoo by herself.
The alpacas were busy roaming around.
We came around the corner and Lucy the Elephant was out for a walk. They often walk Lucy throughout the morning. We got to see her before they took her out to the big open pasture for people to see. I love that Cora is pointing at her in this picture.
Cora and Lucy.
Viewing Lucy from a distance. Cora still doesn't understand that you can't run up to everything. We were practicing using a little voice and standing still. I can't stand it when people stress animals out by being loud and obnoxious around them.
Even when people are coming around, Cora still gets a good view.
Rule #2: Go in the morning or leave when they close. Get there in the morning before they open and be the first one through the gate. If that isn't possible, be the last ones out in the evening. Keepers feed in the morning and night. They also spend more time with animals in the morning and late afternoon when fewer people are around. Chances are, you'll get one on one time with keepers and animals this way. Our daycare was there waiting for the gates to open. We were one of the first groups through and Lee and I tried to make the most of it.
On this particular day, we met Marcy the red-foot tortoise. She was out for a morning stroll eating dandelions and grass. The keeper told us she was 13 years old and would live to be 40-50 years old. She was a beautiful critter. Cora was very good with only looking. I was quite proud of her.
Rule #3: If the indoor exhibits get crowded, go to them first. The Edmonton Valley Zoo has one indoor exhibit and it is awful to get through with crowds. And, for some reason, everyone takes their strollers in! We headed there first and were the only ones in the building. Yee haw! The animals had just been fed, so they were pretty active. Cora was so excited to see monkeys. She was dragging us into the building because she wanted to see the monkeys.
The spider monkeys came out to play much to Cora's delight.
Despite the nice angle of the monkey's butt, the monkey and Cora both had their hands pressed up against the glass right before the picture was taken.
Rule #4: Go to the petting zoo and touch the animals. Nicely pet them and love them and hug them. Petting zoo animals tend to be "bomb proof" and aren't going to maul your kids. They also aren't dirty. Let your child pet them and then let said child eat a sandwich without decontaminating their entire bodies first.
The lambs were seeking refuge in their safe place while Cora was cruising around pen.
This old goat seemed perfectly fine with her petting him.
Rule #5: If the crowds are mostly school groups, save the "pay-for" items until the end. If the crowds are families or on the weekend, hit the activities you have to pay for first.
We were up against the school crowds, so the last thing we did before going for lunch was ride the ponies. Cora has been telling us she "needs" a horse. She "wants" things like ice cream, chocolate, cheese and milk, but she NEEDS a horse. Oh boy. She understands the difference between wants and needs. We thought it would be good for her to ride a pony because of her obsession lately over horses. We walked up to the fence where two ponies were lazily eating hay. We had a pretty long conversation about whether she wanted to RIDE the horse. She seemed adamant that she had to ride at least one of these horses. The lady running the pony rides asked us if we wanted to sit her on the horse to see if she would like it. Deep down, I thought she would get up on the horse and think it was great until the horse moved. Then I thought there would be a mini melt down where she had to get OFF the horse at that very moment. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Cora entered the pen, marched right over to Frodo the Pony, let him smell her and started trying to climb into the saddle. I lifted her up and she grabbed the saddle horn like a champ. I was shocked and delighted all at once. See photo below for my exact expression.
As soon as that horse moved, Cora's eyes lit up. She thought this was the best experience ever. I think horses may trump cats in her book of things she loves.
Trying to smile and concentrate isn't the easiest of tasks.
Close to the end of the ride, I released my grip on her pants and let her go all on her own. She's a natural.
At the end of her ride, she hopped down and scooted over to the other horse. I had to explain to her that we were all done and had to leave. Cue the giant belly sobs. In between belly aches she was saying "my horse, my horse." Poor tyke. It's hard to explain things to a 2 year old. It is even harder when they are crying so loudly they can't hear you. Eventually we were able to move on. I think the sight of a big grassy hill and the word "lunch" was enough to divert her attention.
Rule #6. Have fun and make the best of the zoo your city has to offer. Even when the weather isn't perfect.
Sleeping toddler = Successful Zoo Day!