Winter may not be a great time to visit the zoo in most places, but in Phoenix, it's one of the best times of the year to go. My family visited the Phoenix Zoo earlier this year with my husband's brother, who lives in the area. We all loved spending time with him and seeing what makes the Phoenix Zoo special.
What can you expect from a visit to the Phoenix Zoo? Here are our recommendations.
Exotic animals of the African Savannah are a hit at any zoo and they a good fit for the Phoenix Zoo because they are built for the warm, dry climate. We had fun seeing and taking photos of lions, giraffes, elephants, zebra, warthog and rhinoceros and other African animals on display.
The Arizona Trail is the exhibit that set the Phoenix Zoo apart from other zoos we have visited because Arizona's unique geography and native animals are really interesting. Pieces of all four North American deserts – Mojave, Great Basin, Chihuahua and Sonora – can be found in Arizona. Having watched my share of Wild Kratts with my 8-year-old son, we were both excited to see some of Arizona's desert creatures, such as mountain lion, wolf, snakes, tortoises, and lizards in person.
The highlight of the Tropics Trail for my family was Monkey Village. In this exhibit, you can walk right into the squirrel monkey habitat where you can watch these cute creatures play in the trees up close, and all around. Monkeys are my 11-year-old daughter's favorite animal. This was her favorite part of the Phoenix Zoo.
Find Harmony Farm along the Children's Trail. Here, we found tractors to climb, goats to brush and (simulated) cows to milk. My children had fun here, but I think that this area would be especially fun for families with younger children.
The Phoenix Zoo has three water playgrounds, so consider packing a change of clothes or swimsuits for children. There are changing rooms, shade and seating nearby. Water is turned off during the winter.
We were tempted to upgrade to the Value Ticket or Total Experience Ticket, which include experiences like the 4-D Theater, Stingray Bay, Safari Train and more, but decided to stick with General Admission and are glad we did. We often enjoy experiences like these, but at the end of the day, we were happy with our choice. There were still plenty of things to see and do at the Phoenix Zoo.
The experience for which we did pay extra was a camel ride for our two children. Not every zoo offers this, and we had never done it before. It was $6 per per person at the time we visited, and it is a fun memory and photo from our day at the Phoenix Zoo.
All animal encounters, experiences and prices are listed on the website. If you'd like to do more than one or two during your day at the zoo, you may be able to save money with the Value or Total Experience Ticket.
Video courtesy of Phoenix Zoo
If you'll be visiting the Phoenix Zoo during the winter, check out ZooLights! At this annual holiday event, you can see the zoo in (ahem) a whole new light. According to the Phoenix Zoo, ZooLights is one of the largest holiday light displays in the U.S. Keep in mind that most animal habitats will not be lighted, but there will be some additional winter-themed performances and activities.
Visit ZooLights each evening, from late November through early January. Ticket prices vary, depending on the night you choose. Tickets for less popular nights will cost less. Learn more about this event at www.phoenixzoo.org/event-items/zoolights/
Disclosure: We received complimentary admission to the Phoenix Zoo for the purpose of review. As always, all opinions are my own.
Good to Know
Where: 455 North Galvin Parkway Phoenix, Arizona. It is inside Papago Park, which offers a variety of fun family activities and near Arizona State University.
When: Open year round, but temperatures will be most pleasant in the fall, winter and spring. Closed Christmas Day. The zoo opens at 7:00 a.m. during the summer to take advantage of milder morning temperatures.
How Much: Three ticket packages are available starting with General Admission at $20 per adult and $14 per child (ages 3-13). Children under age 3 get in FREE. The Value Package includes 4-D Theater, Stingray Bay and Safari Train. The Total Experience includes 4-D Theater, Stingray Bay, Carousel, Camel Rides and Safari Train.
Discounts are available for seniors, military, students, AAA and others. Find all prices and options at www.phoenixzoo.org/plan-your-visit/hours-rates/
How Long: 3 hours or more
Amenities: gift shops, restaurants, restrooms, picnic areas, play areas