When Jason and I took Benjamin to the zoo a couple of weeks ago, we bought an annual pass for the family, so I am determined to feel like it was money well spent. The cost of admission is $11 for adults ($10 for military) and $9 for children ages 2-11. So, the cost of admission for one family visit would be $49. That is i-n-s-a-n-e. The cost of the annual family pass with $75 (with military discount), so with more than two visits over the next year, it will feel well paid-for. It also includes a reciprocity agreement for free admission to other zoos and aquariums that we can hopefully take advantage of.
The Norfolk Zoo has undergone several renovations over the past few years and is continuing in those improvements. Still, I would say this is a 2-hour zoo. You could push it to a 3-hour adventure if you breaked for a snack or to let the kids play in the splash fountains. The lay-out of the zoo is divided into continents with landscaping inspired by the natural habitat of the animals housed there.
"Africa" was the first animal community built under the new park design. A design so authentic that the encaged animals fought one another as if trying to survive in the wild- Rhino killed rhino, Zebra killed rhino, Zebra fought lion, Lion killed lion. No, none of these exhibitions were included in the admission price justifying the $49 price tag. Actually, thankfully, the greater minds of the zoo staff seem to have figured out how to resolve these issues because they haven't made the news in a long time.
The "Australia" exhibit is just one big cage with a couple of kangaroos and emus. They are really cheated in the whole park theme. Hopefully, some focus of the renovations will go there soon because I have never seen the kangaroos hopping about as if they were happy to be there. (Yes, the animal-lover in me really battles the right vs. wrong of caging animals in zoos.)
"Asia" is the newest addition to the zoo mega-exhibits and structurally, it is beautiful.
Just a few tips if you plan on making a visit.
1. The bathrooms by the snack shack in Africa are FAR more larger than the ones at the newly remodeled entrance. It makes no sense. For a kid-focused venue, the new bathrooms have one changing station and you have to go into a REGULAR-sized stall and pull it down over the toilet to us it. Don't even bother, go to the other bathroom.
2. Check the big map at the entrance. It will tell you the feeding times for different animals- something fun to add to your agenda for the day.
3. Planning to buy lunch at the zoo is going to cost you about $7 a person. Not bad, but will add up quickly for a family. There are various different ice cream options stationed around the park- Dip'n Dots (butterfly gardens), Flavored Soft Serve (farm), and sandwiches/ other freezer-bought types (snack shops). These average $3 each. Bottled sodas and water are $2. (They do not do a bag check at the gate... just saying.) If you buy a fountain soda at the snack shack, they are refillable in the restaurant, but there are no lids and straws (animal hazard), so be sure to have a sip cup for the kids needing that.
4. There is a small splash area with spurting fountains at the park's entrance for kids to play in. It's not a very adventurous area but it will give the older folks a chance to rest... especially if you are embarking on a long ride home and want a sleeping kid! Outside of the zoo entrance is a park area with lots of new playground equipment also. I personally did not venture there, but the boys took Benjamin and said that it was very littered. Since the area probably gets some questionable visitors at night given it's location in Norfolk, you may want to just be mindful.
5. The snack shack and the reptile house are two places to get cool on a hot day.
Today was the first time I saw the armadillos active. Their water dish was empty, and one of the two would climb up and look in the dish, then go over to a faucet on the wall and try to turn it. It was rather amazing how smart and agile these guys were.
6. Lastly, there is a train ride around the park for $2 per person. Unless you have a young train enthusiast like I do, it's really not worth it. The ride is a 10-15 minute circle of the park. The conductor is pointing out different exhibits and sharing facts about them, but the view is from the back of the exhibits and there is nothing interesting to see.
So, overall, it is a good place to visit, but you need to take your time and see everything it has to offer (unless you will be returning with an annual pass), but plan it wisely or it could turn into a $100 venture.