Saturday, August 7, 2010

Insider Information

Our wild and crazy summer is coming to a close, and if you've spoken with me recently, you'll know that we spent A LOT of time at The Philadelphia Zoo and The Please Touch Museum. We have memberships to both, and I cannot tout these enough. Olivia and I (and whomever else we can drag along with us) have thoroughly enjoyed exploring all that these places have to offer.

I thought I'd take some time to show off some of our excursions as well as give some visiting tips:

The Zoo
Location: 34th St & Girard Ave

Traveling by car? Take the back roads! Getting to the zoo from I-76 is always congested on beautiful days, so consider alternative directions. If you are coming from the western suburbs (in other words, you are traveling toward the city on 76 East), get off at Montgomery Dr, make the right off the exit and then a left onto Belmont. You can follow signs at this point, but Belmont intersects with Girard. Make a left on Girard and the zoo will be on the right.

Traveling by car on a weekday or in the winter? Warning: You cannot take this route during the weekends from April through October due to the closure of Martin Luther King Dr (aka West River Dr). Take an even faster route! Get off at Montgomery from I-76 no matter what direction. If you were headed west (coming from the city), then take a right off the exit ramp. If you were headed east (toward the city), then take a left off the exit ramp. Then, take a right on Martin Luther King Dr (aka West River Dr). Make a right at Sweetbriar Dr (it should be the next light). Make a left at the stop sign and VOILA! The next intersection is 34th and Girard Ave -- so easy!

Come early... or late! We've found that the best time to visit the zoo is either right when it opens at 9:30am or about 1 - 2 hours before it closes. Why? The animals are fed just before the zoo opens and right when it closes (unless otherwise noted in the daily schedule), so they are generally active, moving, and, most importantly, easily seen! Also, it's easiest to park at these times of day. Even more flexible? Go on a weekday! The only crowds we hit Monday through Friday are school groups and other moms. Very worth it!

Parking -- The best lot to park in is the Tiger Lot, which is located on 34th St. The lot is immediately located next to the entrance of the zoo, but many people get lured by the lot on Girard Ave and all the cars turning here. If you are arriving very early or late, bypass the Girard Ave lots and make the right onto 34th. Or if you take my super-simple, weekday or winter directions, just go straight after making the left at the stop sign! The Tiger Lot is just past the zoo entrance on the right.

Check out the events schedule on the website and see if there is anything special going on! For instance, we just enjoyed the Rock 'N' Roar Concert with Two of a Kind. Every other Tuesday throughout the summer, the zoo is hosting kid-friendly musicians on the Impala Lawn at 11am. Olivia had a blast running around and dancing to the music. Other upcoming events: Extended hours for pajama wearing, more kid-friendly rockin' and members-only early entry.

Got infants or children in strollers? All exhibits are wheelchair/stroller accessible! So, if all you see are stairs, look around. There will be a ramp or elevator located nearby; this includes the PECO Primate Reserve -- look for the elevator to the Mezzanine level for even better primate viewing. The only exhibit which does not allow strollers is the McNeil Avian Center because for the short 5 minute walk-through, you actually walk with - or under - the birds! Leave the stroller at the door and enjoy pointing out each feathered-friend. Olivia really loved being so close to the birds, which surprised me; she even let out a "Wow!" the first time we entered. And stay for the show -- there is a short, 14 minute animated, 4D show about migration and conservation. I was amazed at how much Olivia enjoyed it at 15 months old!

Lastly -- if you live in the area, get a membership! Each visit can get costly with $12 for parking (as of August 2010), and tickets for everyone over the age of 2. Not to mention it's tough to see everything in one trip! A membership allows us to pick up and go on a moment's notice without caring about the cost or worrying about how much time we have. And with a toddler, that's huge!

Olivia and her friend Matthew check out some primates

The Please Touch Museum
Location: 4231 Avenue of the Republic
GPS address (from the website): 4231 North Concourse Drive

Traveling by car? It's super easy to get to PTM! Take the Montgomery Dr exit off I-76 and get yourself to Belmont Ave. In other words, turn right if traveling toward the city or left if traveling away from the city [on I-76], and then, make a left onto Belmont Ave. The Avenue of the Republic is the first left once you are on Belmont. The PTM is the beautiful building on the left.

Parking costs $8 (as of August 2010); the lot is very safe. Occassionally you can find a spot on the street for free, but tourist beware -- you should only park on the same block as the museum is located. Use safety, caution and good judgement when parking on the street.

Flexible in your arrival time? The best time to visit is on perfectly sunny days because everyone else is outside! Other than that, the same holds true as the zoo - come early or late. There are less crowds first and last thing of the day. This is vital information if you have a toddler who won't stand up to the hustle and bustle. Also, every Thursday in August [2010], the PTM is open until 8pm.

Leave your strollers in the car! Unless you have a very small infant, then keep the stroller away. They can be cumbersome in the museum where the point is to allows kids to be hands-on. Use a carrier if your bambino is not yet walking, which will also enable him to more easily see the exhibits and other children playing.

Check the website for special events. For example, the new Playhouse Theater Show "Gram Adele" can only be seen Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Some other fun events are limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Is your tot a fan of Sprout (PBS Kids)? There will be a Sprout Host visiting the museum August 26th and September 23rd [2010] in the morning. They also celebrate different children's author's birthdays, so do your homework and see if there are any upcoming events sure to please your child.

And you guessed it! Get a membership if you live in the area! This one was a no-brainer for us. Olivia loved the PTM, and this summer, we've gone at least once a week. Even more than the zoo, trips to PTM can get costly because tickets start for children over the age of 1! A family of 3 plus parking costs around $50 and basic membership starts at around $150 [as of August 2010], so if you think you'll be back, go the distance and pay for the membership!

Olivia enjoys splashing in the duck pond with Daddy

Humoring Mommy for a pose with the Goose... yes, I now know it's a Swan

Playing the piano - a recent and now favorite discovery

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