I mentioned before that my husband, son, and I recently went to the North Carolina Zoo where I lost my watch. We went again a couple of days later to retrace our steps to see if we could find my watch. Alas, we couldn’t. However, going there twice gave me an opportunity to think about how to save money while making the most of a trip to the zoo.
The zoo has two sections, “North America” and “Africa,” although we only went to the Africa part. Admission to the zoo gives access to both the North America and Africa sections. You can walk from one part to the other, either inside or outside the boundaries of the zoo, or you can take a shuttle. The zoo recommends that you allow at least 3 hours to tour the North America section and 2 hours to tour the Africa section.
Before we went to the zoo, I did a quick search on the Internet to see if I could find printable coupons for admission. I couldn’t, but it was clear that sometimes they are offered online. It’s worth checking before you go — I just googled “North Carolina zoo coupons.” General admission tickets to the zoo cost $10 for adults, $6 for children above age 2 (children under 2 are free), and $8 for adults 62 and older. From April through October, you may elect to pay $4 more per ticket to purchase a “Combo package” which provides general admission to the zoo plus three “fun tickets” redeemable for the Carousel, Giraffe observation deck, and the Adventure 4-D Theater, in any combination. Bought separately, tickets are $2 each for the Carousel and Giraffe deck and $3 for the Adventure 4-D Theater; you can pay for each at the attraction itself if you don’t buy the Combo package at the main entrance.
We opted not to get the Combo package, so our admission price was $26. I asked the ticket agent whether they offered AAA discounts and she said they did — $1 off each ticket — which brought our total price to $23. However, when I pulled out my debit card to pay, she noticed that my card said “State Employees Credit Union” across the top and she commented that state employees get a larger discount than AAA members. With the state employees’ discount, we paid $20 total. Lesson learned: Ask about all the discounts offered. You may unexpectedly qualify for a discount.
North Carolina Zoological Society
The first time we went to the zoo it was packed with people (it was a holiday weekend). We waited in line for about 20-30 minutes just to get tickets. There was a kiosk located near the back of the line where you could sign up to become a member of the North Carolina Zoological Society; membership is effective immediately. There are several different membership levels. The “Family” membership, which is the one we would have qualified for, is $59 a year and provides free admission to the zoo and an express, members-only admission line (which would have been very nice the first day we went). Membership in the NC Zoological Society also offers free or discounted admission to over 150 zoos and aquariums across the country, including three aquariums in North Carolina. We live over an hour from the North Carolina Zoo so it didn’t seem likely that we would visit more than once a year (little did we know at the time we would be back just a couple of days later looking for my watch!), so this didn’t seem like a good deal for us. However, it’s a great deal for individuals or families who think they might visit the zoo (or some of the other zoos and aquariums included in the list of over 150) more than a couple of times a year.
Food and Drink
You are not permitted to bring food into the zoo. Snack items and drinks are offered at a couple of different areas in the zoo and, in the Africa section, there’s a small cafe right as you enter the zoo that sells lunch items. Not surprisingly, the prices are fairly inflated and, when we were there, the line at the cafe was very long. We brought water in refillable bottles (there are water fountains located throughout the zoo) and just refilled as we needed it. We brought snacks in the car to eat on the way to the zoo so we didn’t get hungry while we were there. I saw lots of people who had brought picnics with them. There are several places to eat a picnic outside the main entrance. People were picnicking in the parking lot on some grassy areas near the shuttle stop. If you’re planning to spend the day at the zoo, you could go to the Africa section in the morning, walk out to the parking lot and grab your picnic lunch from the car, eat it, and then hop on the shuttle to tour the North America section in the afternoon (or start with the North America section and move on to the Africa section). Since we only toured the Africa section, when we were done we just got in the car and ate at a pizza place in Asheboro which was undoubtedly less expensive and less crowded than the zoo’s cafe. There seemed to be a lot of inexpensive places to eat on Highway 64 on the way to or from the zoo.
Walking with Kids
There are over five miles of pathways throughout the zoo. Though we only toured the Africa section, my son got tired of walking. We didn’t bring our stroller, but I did bring a carrier for him, so after a while, he opted to climb onto my back and sit in the carrier. The zoo rents strollers on a first-come, first-served basis but I don’t know how much they charge. If you’re bringing young children, I definitely recommend bringing your own stroller or carrier.
So there you are, just a few simple tips. I hope they help if you’re planning a trip to the zoo.