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PTR: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay


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This my first PTR here, so go easy on me!

Edit: No, it isn't my first PTR on here. It's my second. Failing already.

 

Over the weekend, I had the great opportunity to take my family to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for their “Media Appreciation Days,” a weekend every summer where working members of the media are invited into the park. For those of you who haven’ t made the trip, I cannot tell you how much you are missing. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was recently ranked as the number 1 zoo in the country, after spending years in the #2 spot, behind the San Diego Zoo.

As you approach the Zoo from parking lot (on foot or on the free trolley service), you come to a gorgeous new entrance plaza which features food and drink, a gift shop, and guest services all situated around a large globe sculpture and fountain. If you go straight through the plaza, you’ll pass thru the main entrance for the Zoo and Aquarium. If you turn left at the plaza, you’ll find yourself on a wide path that takes you to the Animal Encounters Village, Jungle Jack’s Landing, and at the end of the path you’ll find the main entrance for Zoombezi Bay. The ticket booths are outside the main plaza, and you can choose to buy a Zoo admission ($12 for adults, with discount tickets available at Kroger), or a Zoombezi Bay admission ($30 at the gate, discount tickets available at Kroger). Zoo admission is included with a Zoombezi Bay ticket, and admission to Jungle Jack’s Landing and the Animal Encounters Village is included with Zoo or Zoombezi Bay admission. The rides in Jungle Jack’s Landing work on a ticket/point system, but a very reasonable POP wristband is available. I’ll break the rest of the report down by individual park, with the photos included for the Zoombezi Bay and Columbus Zoo portions.

 

Animal Encounters Village

The Zoo’s website describes it as such:

Located in Jungle Jack’s Landing, this unique area gives you, the Zoo guest, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a close, personal connection with some of the animals that call the Zoo home. You may come face to face with a wallaby or see a cheetah on stage. Every day offers a new encounter and a new way to connect to the Zoo on a personal level.

The “village” is a collection of buildings in the old Key West style, mixing several different types of architecture with bright, tropical colors. You can see the daily “Walk of the Flamingos”, where the pink birds are walked freely from the exhibit inside the zoo out to their area in the village. Throughout the day, you can meet and touch several of the zoo’s residents, including snakes and alligators, and also see stage demonstrations with cheetahs (as close as a few feet away, on leashes), Lynx cats, and some primates. This is simply a must do if you head to the zoo, and it’s included with admission to either park. The area is the brainchild of longtime Zoo PR member Suzi Rapp, who regularly appears with Jack on Letterman, GMA, and the CBS Early Show.

 

Jungle Jack’s Landing

JJL features a decent amount of lightly-themed flat rides, and has always seemed to have a decent crowd. The park is anchored by the classic Sea Dragon junior wooden coaster, the 2nd oldest operating coaster in Ohio. A complete list of rides at JJL from the website:

Jungle Jack's Landing Rides

Jungle River Falls: 1,250 feet of log flume splashing fun that includes two drops; one plummeting guests from 36 feet and the other from 28 feet. With a fourth of the ride 38 feet in the air, this is sure to thrill. There are 16 four-person logs. Riders must be 56 inches tall or accompanied by an adult. Minimum height of accompanied riders is 44 inches.

 

Sea Dragon: This fully restored coaster features a double out and back, figure-eight layout that begins with a 37 foot hill. The coaster is 1,320 feet long and can reach speeds up to 25 mph. The train has four cars with two rows each, seating two per row. Riders must be 42 inches tall.

 

Condor Craze: The condors are circling above and guests below need to look alive in this bumper car style attraction. Riders must be 44 inches tall to ride.

 

Whirligigs: This free-spinning attraction rotates on a pond that makes each whirligig move in its own chaotic motion while the level rises. Riders must be 46 inches tall to ride or accompanied by an adult.

 

Dust Devil: Stir things up a bit with this classic “scrambler-type” ride as three arms with clusters of cars weave and rotate to really kick up the fun. Riders must be 48 inches tall to ride or at least 36 inches tall and accompanied by an adult.

 

Jack’s Tea Party: Adults and children can join in this tea party of sorts, while the table top spins, riders manually spin their own tea cups. There are six cups and saucers that can seat up to 24 people per ride. Riders must be 36 inches to ride.

 

Safari Stampede: Bring on the herd, as this “matterhorn-style” ride spins you and one or two of your friends. There are 16 ride vehicles each holding two to three riders for a total capacity of 28 - 32 per cycle. Riders must be 46 inches or accompanied by an adult.

 

Journey to Zanzibar: Experience the high seas as you travel to Zanzibar during this high impact family thrill ride ship that swings to heights of more than 50 feet. The capacity is 42 guests per ride; riders must be 48 inches tall to ride or must be accompanied by an adult. Mission Macaw Cost is $1. In parks since the 1940s this classic ride gives riders control over their flight by manually controlling the rudder. Eight vehicles can seat up to two riders each. Riders must be 48 inches tall to ride or at least 42 inches and accompanied by an adult.

 

Swingin’ Gibbons: Glide atop the trees with the greatest of ease on this classic wave swinger that has been popular since the 1970s. Designed for both adults and children to ride together, this ride has 16 adult-sized swings and 16 child-sized swings, for a capacity of 32 riders each time. Riders must be 42 inches tall to ride the outside chairs or 36 inches tall to ride the inside chairs.

 

Jungle Trek: Experience a one-of-a-kind safari as you drive one of our four-person vehicles through this 1,200 foot jungle trek - no license required. Riders must be 42 inches tall to ride or must be accompanied by an adult. This ride currently closed.

 

Tiny Tusks: This procession of pachyderms is designed for both adults and children to ride together; riders manually raise and lower their elephant vehicles. There are eight elephants that can seat up to 16 people per ride. Riders must be 36 inches tall to ride.

 

Golden Frog Hopper: Hop to it! As the Year of the Frog is upon us, this ride takes kids up 25 feet and provides an exciting bouncing descent. Riders must be 36 inches tall to ride.

 

African Express: This classic electric train features a locomotive, 2 tender cars and a caboose designed for both adults and children to ride together. The ride has a capacity for 24 riders at a time. Riders must be 36 inches tall to ride. Hours of operation for the rides are subject to change without notice.

 

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The zoo is unique in that their animal collection is arranged into “Biomes,” meaning that they are grouped by climate, not by species, although the regions are named geographically:

-North America, featuring the new Polar Frontier

-AsiaQuest

-The Shores

-African Forest

-Voyage to the Islands of Southeast Asia, and

- Austrailia

 

The Zoo also features a very well done animal show, Animals on Safari, that plays several times daily in an indoor/outdoor theater at the side of the Education Building near the main entrance. The show was produced by the same man who produced the Pets Rule shows for the Bush parks, starring locally rescued dogs, cats, birds, and livestock, performing alongside some of the Zoo’s big cats and other animals.

 

 

North America

The zoo’s North America region, built in the 1980’s, is now the oldest development in the park. It is a very large, heavily wooded area, and it home to several species of wolves, bobcats, bald eagles, otters, bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs, black bears, brown bears, wolverines, moose, and a large aviary of North American bird species. The new for 2010 Polar Frontier region is an off-shoot of the main North American loop. Polar Frontier is simply incredible, and impossible to describe. The area is home to Polar Bears, Kodiak Bears, and Arctic Fox. The Polar Bear enclosure features a 400,000 gallon pool which is stocked with live trout that the bears can catch and eat at their leisure, sand and gravel digging pits, fallen trees to play with, a splash pool, and large grass yards. The bears can be viewed through large glazed glass windows at eye level with the bears, thru glass that forms the edge of their larger pool, or a very unique underwater viewing area where you can watch the bears swim over your head.

 

The Kodiak Bear enclosure features another large pool, large grass yards, and activity pits. The third and final enclosure within Polar Frontier is the Arctic Fox exhibit, which is a nice enclosure themed to an abandoned mine.

 

The Polar Frontier area is very nicely themed to an abandoned Alaskan mining town, and has a large education building at its center.

 

There is a nicely themed train ride that circles thru most of the North American section. The ride costs $1, and is included with the POP wristband.

 

 

AsiaQuest

The AsiaQuest region was completed in 2003 and is home to Sun Bears, markhor, red pandas, langurs, Pallas’ cats, giant fruit bats, colorful pheasants and the endangered, Siberian tiger. The area is highly themed, starting off inside a richly detailed show building replicating a Himalayan village. The area is also home to the largest Pachyderm building in the world, and several large outdoor elephant and rhino yards.

The tiger exhibit is consistently ranked alongside Disney Animal Kingdom’s as the best in the world, and it really cannot be missed. AsiaQuest is also home to the largest snake in captivity, Fluffy the reticulated python.

 

The Shores

The Shores area is comprised of Discovery Reef (the largest man-made coral reef when it opened in ’94), Manatee Coast, the zoo’s Reptile house, a large Penguin exhibit, and a very unique mixed Flamingo and Alligator exhibit (they share a pool divided by an “invisible” barrier). Manatee Coast is the standout in this region, with a huge pool that holds as many as 6 or 7 Manatees, alongside turtles, rays, and fish. The manatees are brought up from Florida, rehabilitated, and then released into the wild.

 

African Forest

This area is home to endangered lowland gorillas, rare bonobos, Jaguars, red river hogs, leopards, okapi, and Colobus monkies. The Zoo’s first claim to fame was the first captive-born Gorilla, Colo, in 1955. Since then, the Zoo has grown to house 3 troupes of Gorillas: 2 family groups and 1 bachelor group used for breeding. The gorillas have a gigantic multi-story outdoor yard and a unique indoor exhibit where guests are “surrounded” by the gorillas with 360-degree viewing (the animal’s areas extend over the doorways allowing them to completely surround you). The zoo has a successful Gorilla surrogacy program, which allows orphaned or injured baby gorillas to come into one of the family troupes, where several males and females have been “trained” to raise the babies as their own. It is the only program of its kind in the world.

 

Besides the Gorillas, you can’t miss the Bonobos within this region. They have a gorgeous, lush outdoor yard, as well as 2 indoor playgrounds that actually feature large playground equipment you’d see at a school or park. The primates can be seen on the jungle gyms, going down the slides, and flying across the monkey bars. No pun intended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voyage to the Islands of Southeast Asia

The islands area is beautifully done, but in my opinion put a little but too much focus on the themeing than the actual presentation of the animals. The area is home to Orangutans, Komodo Dragons, Clouded Leopards, Asian Small Clawed Otters, and a unique indoor-outdoor Lemur habitat themed to an abandoned temple. There is a very nice boat ride that takes you thru all the exhibits for breathtaking views of the animals. The ride costs $1, and is included with the POP wristband.

 

 

Australia

The Australia region is home to the famous Kangaroo Walkabout and Koala outdoor exhibits, along with the unique Roadhouse nocturnal building, which features Tree Kangaroos, Kiwis, Sugar Gliders, and Tiger quolls. The Roadhouse starts inside an authentic Australian roadside diner, and from the diner you begin your “night hike” thru the outback. In the Kangaroo Walkabout, you enter the enclosure and walk around with the animals, without any major barriers between you. The animals don’t often venture onto the path, but the experience is very, very cool.

 

 

 

 

Zoombezi Bay

Zoombezi Bay was created when the Zoo bought Six Flag’s Wyandot Lake Amusement Park after the 2006 season. The park was kept closed thru the 2007 season and reopened as Zoombezi Bay for 2008. Wyandot Lake itself was built from the old Zoo Amusements, a small ride park built next to the Zoo in the 1950’s. Wyandot Lake wasn’t a bad park, but it was a very odd mix of old flat rides, a roller coaster, and water slides. By the time the park closed, it hadn’t seen any major expansion since the mid-90’s, meaning that the park was allowed to stagnate for more than a decade. The transformation to Zoombezi Bay required that most of the old water park be razed, only saving the water fortress, the lazy river, and the Sea Dragon roller coaster. The flat rides were taken apart, restored / rethemed, and repositioned to the new Jungle Jack’s Landing area. The zoo then built a new wavepool, new support buildings, a 2nd “action” river, and three new slide towers. From the Zoombezi Bay website:

Wild Tides – Take on one of the seven different waves at this 544,500-gallon wave pool with a maximum depth of six feet. Waves can reach up-to four feet high.

 

 

Croctail Creek – Take a ride on the relaxing side in this lazy river containing 203,000 gallons of water, 850 feet in length, and just a little under 32 inches in depth.

 

 

Roaring Rapids – With nine special features, the action river is sure to surprise guests at every turn. Over 570,000 gallons of water roar 1,500 feet at 32 inches deep and an average of 17 feet wide.

 

Barracuda Bay – Come and play in this 18,000-square-foot custom pool divided into three interactive play areas, including a four-and-a-half story tree house with a hundred different gadgets, gizmos and slides. Watch out for the large barrel that is overhead! This barrel dumps 500 gallons of water every few minutes on all who dare to visit Barracuda Bay. Guests must be 36 inches tall to enter or accompanied by an adult.

 

Katoomba Lagoon – An area just for the little tykes, this 4,000 square foot water playground features 12 marine animal play structures and includes an 11,350 gallon pool that is 12-14 inches deep.

 

Sea Splash – This tower is home to the Slippery Seals, Sea Snakes and Sea Tubes.

 

Slippery Seals – No need for a raft on these three body slides! Starting from a 63 foot tall tower, guests slide thru the 310 foot slide containing portions that are enclosed in darkness. Guests must be 48 inches tall to ride.

 

Sea Snakes – Two one- or two-person raft slides starting from a 51 foot tower challenge riders for 200 feet with the premier attraction being a bowl shaped slide section where the rider slides around the side of the bowl in a circular motion. Guests will be required to transport rafts on their own. Guests must be 48 inches tall to ride.

Weight Restrictions: Maximum of 250 pounds for single tube (1 rider) & Maximum of 400 pounds total for double tube (2 riders)

 

Sea Tubes – Plummeting on a one or two person raft from 51 feet, guests experience the many challenges that the Sea tube offers including a portion of the slide enclosed in darkness. Visitors will be required to transport rafts on their own. Guests must be 48 inches tall to ride.

Weight Restrictions: Maximum of 250 pounds for single tube (1 rider)

 

Cyclone – Dropping from a 55-foot start to reach unmatched speeds of 20 mph, this extreme four-person raft cruises into the largest enclosed reducing -radius tunnel in the world. This is sure to be the most exciting and popular ride in the park. The Cyclone stretches 209 feet in length. Raft transport is complimentary and starts from the same tower as the Tahitian Twister. Guests must be 48 inches tall to ride.

Weight Restrictions: Maximum of 700 pounds for cloverleaf tube (2-4 riders)

 

Tahitian Twister – Bring the whole family and start from 55 feet in the air on a five-person raft to experience a journey in total darkness through a series of acceleration drops, vortex loops, back to back curves and a 360 degree turn before arriving in the pool below. The slide is 512 feet in length. Raft transport is complimentary and starts from the same tower as the Cyclone. Guests must be 48 inches tall to ride or at least 42 inches tall and accompanied by an adult.

Weight Restrictions: Maximum of 800 pounds for raft (2-5 riders)

 

Dolphin Dash – Starting from a 49-foot tower, up-to six guests can compete in this head-first, mat racing, high speed attraction. This slide has a length of 310 feet and is longer than a football field. Guests must be 42 inches tall to ride.

One thing that I really like, is that the Croctail Creek is actually only for people 18 and up, there is a tiki bar built into the middle. The river circles the Sea Dragon rollercoaster, just as it did at Wyandot Lake.

 

The architecture in the park shows quite a bit of variation, with some buildings remaining in the Key West style that were carried over from Wyandot Lake, and the new buildings having a south seas tropical theme. The themeing is very well done.

 

We ate lunch at Zoombezi Bay, and found the quality and value to be much better than any Six Flags or Cedar Fair park, but not quite up to Kennywood or Holiday World standards. And here’s where I think the park is getting thru to people: Profits made at Zoombezi Bay thru gate sales, souveniers, supplies, and foods, go straight to the zoo for their conservation efforts. So long as the zoo keeps communicating this to guests, people will continue to pay.

 

Though the zoo is a non-profit, they set up a separate “for profit” entity to handle funds from Zoombezi Bay, this way money can be used for expansion of that park when needed. Any such move would have to be approved by the Zoo’s Board of Directors.

If you’ve never been, it could easily take you 3 days to see all that the Zoo’s different parks have to offer. In the next few years, the zoo will open a large hotel for multi-day guests, including an indoor waterpark, as well as a 70-acre African savannah region and a Madagascar region. A few years further down the road, they expect to complete a South America region, as well as expansions to the Shores and Australia areas.

If you haven’t been, you simply need to. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Zoombezi Bay, Jungle Jack’s Landing, and Animal Encounters Village are all world class facilities that we are lucky to have here in the Buckeye state.

Edited by PREMiERdrum
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I've heard good things about the Columbus Zoo but I seriously just added it to my must do list for this summer. Thanks for the nice report.

You won't regret it!

If you're going to come down to Central Ohio for a few days, you should also check out The Wilds. It's a sister-park of the zoo that occupies 10,000 acres (yes, ten-thousand acres) of open range habitat for exotic hoofstock like Camel, Banteng, Bison, Oryx, Goral, Takin, and several species of giraffe, as well as an awesome cheetah program and rhinoceros conservation program. They offer safari tours on their vehicles (you can't drive through) daily through the summer.

 

While in college, I was fortunate enough to send a few days there shooting an episode of our news magazine show. I was field anchoring the show from the park, which entailed my videographer and I driving over the whole of the property in the PR director's Jeep with free reign to get out and shoot where ever we wanted to (save for the Cheetah enclosure). The hoofstock mostly ignored us, but the rhinos were surprisingly friendly and affectionate, believe it or not.

 

Check out their webiste: The Wilds

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^The Wilds is great, although it is a bit out of the way for most of the people going on Midwest coaster trips (over an hour and a half east of Columbus via I-70).

 

I live only 20 minutes away from this place, yet haven't been in a year and a half. I still haven't been inside the waterpark, but it does seem like they have a decent collection of slides and activities.

 

The zoo is absolutely spectacular, one of the best in the world. Many of the exhibits are surrounded by spectacular theming as well.

 

Sweet photos too!

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I loved the Columbus Zoo when I visited in 2006. They just recently sent a baby Gorilla from our zoo in Louisville, who was injured in a fight, up to Columbus to be raised by a another Gorilla. Great report, can't wait to get back up there.

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I loved the Columbus Zoo when I visited in 2006. They just recently sent a baby Gorilla from our zoo in Louisville, who was injured in a fight, up to Columbus to be raised by a another Gorilla. Great report, can't wait to get back up there.

Here's the story my station did on the baby from Louisville. Be sure to watch the video in the player to the right of the page:

LINK - 10TV.com

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What makes it better than the San Diego Zoo? When I visited there SD, I didn't think it could ever be topped.

 

The #1 rating is obviously up for debate, but it was a big deal locally when Columbus finally overcame San Diego.

 

 

In my opinion, though, what makes it better?

 

Both zoos have incredible animal collections, but the lengths that Columbus goes to for storytelling and context of the exhibits is what seals it up for me.

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