Pros: Wilds of Africa, Tiger Exhibit, and Childrens Zoo
Cons: Zoo North, high prices
My daughter is at an age where she recognizes animals and loves imitating them. It makes an afternoon at the zoo into a fun (and funny) experience for all of us. Our family really enjoys zoos, so it was a no-brainer to spend a recent afternoon in Dallas checking out the local zoo.
The Dallas Zoo has kind of an odd setup. It's almost like two distinct zoos in one. On the one hand, they have the spacious, clean, open-feeling Wilds of Africa area, but on the other hand, they also have the dank, dirty, outdated Zoo North area. How you view the zoo probably depends on how much time you spent exploring these two very distinct areas. Here are some of my thoughts...
Animal lovers like to beat up on zoos that confine animals in small dirty cages that don't give them room to move around. I think the Dallas Zoo's Zoo North area is a nightmare come true for these folks. Many of the animals seemed to be cooped up in depressingly small black-wire cages. Even those that weren't physically in cages seemed to be in enclosures that were significantly smaller than those at other zoos.
Believe me though, the zoo isn't any too pleasant for human visitors either...
The sidewalks throughout the Zoo North area were cracked and broken and didn't look like they'd been repaved since about the Eisenhower administration. Half of them ended up in a fenced off, black-plastic encased wall. Construction detours seem to be the norm in Zoo North. Making way for bigger animal enclosures? Hah! Try a restaurant...
Bring your hiking boots when you visit Zoo North. When I was climbing the hill to see the rhinos I couldn't help but think that I'd climbed smaller and gentler hills when hiking the Appalachian Trail.
All is not depressing in Zoo North though. There are flashes of inspiration and brilliance among the grime. I loved the Siberian Tiger exhibit, and not just because of the cool Asian-looking buildings, but also because the zoo gave their tiger a natural looking enclosure with plenty of trees and some room to move around.
I also enjoyed the Childrens Zoo, even though some cad evidently took the children out of their pens and replaced them with sheep and calves and little ponies. Little kids especially loved the pony rides, but they seemed to cut off a bit too early -- quite a few tykes did not get their rides.
Wilds of Africa
Everything the Dallas Zoo does wrong in Zoo North they remedy in spades in the Wilds of Africa. Natural habitats are the norm. Large enclosures free of wire are the norm. Rocks and trees are the norm. Spacious paths for human guests are the norm.
The real treat in Wilds of Africa is the wide open field that is intended to replicate in some small measure the plains that animals would have been running through had they not had the misfortune to step into some game hunter's trap...
To see the plains area, you take a trip on a monorail (hey, it beats climbing hills!) There is (naturally) an extra charge for this convenience. The monorail makes a 1-mile long circuit in 20 minutes (Yes that's right. 20 minutes for 1 mile -- the exact same peak traffic speed that City of Houston traffic engineers hope to someday achieve).
The Dallas Zoo is located on the south side of Dallas just off I-35 at Marsalis. No need to drive though since Dallas has an excellent light rail system and there is a DART station right at the zoo.
Paying the Piper...
Watch out! Prices are high at the Dallas Zoo: $7 for adults and $4 for kids. Parking will run another $4, plus you're going to have to pony up another $3 for the monorail.
If you're used to zoos that charge truly outrageous highway robbery rates (like San Diego), then I imagine this could seem reasonable. But if you come from areas where zoos really are fairly priced (like in Houston) or better yet FREE (like in Washington D.C.), then be ready for some sticker shock!
Yes, I am a cheapskate. There's no secret about that. But when it comes to zoos and museums, I'm a firm believer in such outdated concepts as education, altruism, and philanthropy. I think all public facilities that have education as a goal need to keep their doors as open as possible to everyone in society -- not just those with the Platinum American Express and the new BMW 7-series in the garage.
I'm sorry, but $7 is too much to charge for zoo admission. (And no, epinions does not pay me by the word, so there is no incentive for me to repeat my philosophy of life and zoo prices ad nauseum every time I review a zoo. I do it out of pure love!)
If you want more info about the zoo, see their web site: www.dallas-zoo.org
End of the Day...
So how do I feel about the Dallas Zoo after spending a whole afternoon there??
Overall, it's pretty good. The Wilds of Africa was very nice, and the parts of Zoo North that look like they've gotten some recent attention are also very nice. That's probably a good trend. It looks to me like the zoo used to be pretty dumpy, but that they've been cleaning up their act for a while, and will eventually have a first-rate zoo (but a prohibitively expensive one if they raise prices any further).
In terms of quality alone, I would probably rate the Wilds of Africa area in the 4-5 star range, but the Zoo North only at about 1 and a half or maybe 2 if I were feeling extremely generous. Prices at 2 with an overall value of about 3. Hmmm. How does this all shape up? At the end of the day, the Dallas Zoo is rather average on the whole, so I'll give them a rather average 3 star rating.
Disagree? Write a review and send me an email so I know to read it -- I'd love to hear what more people think about this zoo and I'd love to hear how it improves over time. It would be great if they really can turn it into a 5-star zoo. Til next time, see you at the zoo -- I'll be the guy making monkey noises with my kids!