Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2012 Family Vacation, Take 2: Visiting Family and a trip to the Detroit Zoo (including zoo review!)

Our trip to Michigan was timed around us going to my cousin's graduation party - mostly to celebrate this great achievement, but also to visit with family we haven't seen since Christmas 2009 {right before we moved to NC}.

The party was the evening of the first full day we were in MI {Saturday}. After hanging around my Grandma's house all morning, we drove out to my Aunt's {my mom's sister}. All of my mom's siblings {my Aunt and 3 uncles} were there, plus my Dad and his new wife {whom I hadn't met until that night - my Dad and I aren't in contact with each other much, and they just got married last year}, plus my sister, niece, cousins, Grandma, Great Aunt/Uncle, and some other extended family members were there, so it was nice to catch up with everyone. It was also a great way for everyone to see Valentino as a young boy - he was pretty much a toddler last time we were there.

Valentino at the party
The weather was perfect, and the kids were entertained by the trampoline and all the bigger cousins who looked after them. Vic helped set up badminton/volleyball and played with the graduates, then he set up a bonfire for everyone. Once it got dark, a few "big" {read: illegal mortar-type} fireworks were set off while the adults enjoyed beer and goofing around on the deck. We didn't leave until after 11pm {party animals, right?!}, and Valentino was asleep within 2 minutes of pulling out of the driveway.

Sunday we goofed around Grandma's house some more, then ended up going to our favorite mall {Twelve Oaks} with my Mom, Sister and Aunt for some Coney Island {a Detroit-area staple!} lunch and walking around.

Valentino obviously liked the play area best - we need a nice one like this in Raleigh! It's HUGE.
My Mom left from the mall to head back to WI, and then my Grandma watched Valentino Sunday night so that Vic and I could go to a movie together. We saw the Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg movie "That's my Boy!" It was GREAT - probably our favorite Sandler movie thus far. Raunchy, very quotable, with lots of silly Vanilla Ice jokes/cameos. So funny! It was so relaxing to see a movie in the theater together knowing that our boy was in good hands.

I really wanted to do some kind of fun activity while we were in MI and we've been wanting to go to the zoo for a while, so on Monday we picked up our niece and took her to the Detroit Zoo with us.

At the gates of the zoo.
I hadn't been to the Detroit Zoo since my Sister was about Valentino's age {so over ten years ago}, and with the overall decline of MI/Metro Detroit, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I grew up mostly going to the Toledo Zoo - my family had always said that it was nicer and had more animals, so that's where we went when I was a kid. I didn't really want to head south to Toledo for the day, so I decided that we could give the Detroit Zoo a try.

Turtle, turtle! The zoo had many of these bronze animals throughout the park for the kids to climb on

We actually had a great time, and I thought the zoo itself was quite nice - clean and shaded, with plenty of exhibits and information. We arrived around 11am on that cool, sunny Monday, and although the parking garage was packed, the zoo itself didn't feel that way. Admission/parking was kind of high in my opinion - for the four of us, admission and parking cost $51.00 (it would've cost $40.00 for us to go to the NC Zoo). One perk we noticed right away is that the zoo allows coolers and "outside food" and they have many picnic areas - bringing your own food and drinks can save you from buying the mediocre and overpriced park food.

One of my favorite features of this zoo is the Rackham Fountain towards the front of the park. We were sure to snap a few photos there:

Big bear butts.
Resting by the fountain
Another cool feature is that they have free-ranging peacocks walking around the grounds. During my last visit with my Sister, we saw a peacock fanning it's plume. This time, we didn't get a plummage show, but Valentino was able to get really close to {and even touched!} the peacock!

He would've followed that guy all day
The kids really wanted to see elephants, but this zoo does not have any - we broke the news to them and they requested the giraffes instead, so we worked our way through the zoo, exhibit by exhibit {of mostly sleeping/lounging animals} until we reached them... at the back of the park. Luckily, the kids were happy and didn't fuss as long as we fed them snacks and gave them drinks.

Valentino sharing snacks with his cousin and my hair growing longer and unruly-er by the moment.
Valentino was so great with his cousin - he was sure to share everything with her and try to include her in/tell her about what was going on. There wasn't a single bit of bickering or arguing between the two of them, and they were perfect all day.

Clearly amazed by the zebras
I was really excited to check out the Arctic Ring of Life - it had been under construction at my last visit - and I have to say that it didn't disappoint {mostly}. The exhibit features some outside viewing areas for seals and polar bears as well as an underwater walkthrough tunnel. The seals were being fed, which we watched from outside. As we went through the tunnel, the seals were swimming all over - it was so fun to watch and to see them up close. It reminded me of the polar bears Vic and I saw at the San Diego Zoo on our honeymoon. On the website, it seemed as though the polar bears also swim around you in the tunnel {there's supposed to be a wall between the two tanks}, but we didn't see any. The single polar bear we saw here was quite pathetic looking - it was out in the sun panting and laying around.

Walkthrough underwater tunnel - the seals were swimming all around us
Everyone was getting hungry and ready to leave so we started the walk back to the front of the park - stopping at the carousel for a ride {Valentino rode the praying mantis and my niece was on a horse}, through the petting zoo, and in the penguin house {which I so clearly remembered from a visit in kindergarten!}.

Waiting {not so} patiently for the carousel
Riding on a preying mantis
A stop at the gift shop for some souvenirs {$21 later... for 3 small things}, then we split. The kids played wonderfully in the backseat for the ride home and everyone seemed happy with the outing. I'm glad we were able to do something as a family {including my niece} that I think we'll all remember for a long time.

While we probably won't be visiting the Detroit Zoo again anytime soon {if ever}, I'm glad we went and I feel it's worthwhile for those in the area. There are plenty of exhibits and things for the kids to play on, and it's very do-able - there's walking, but it's not excessive and there are plenty of benches and restrooms along the way.

COST: $14/adult, $9/child for general admission {we didn't get any of the extras}, plus $5 parking and $2/rider for the carousel.

BRING: Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, picnic lunch, water/drinks

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak, MI 48067

 On a personal note about this outing: this was our first "run" of sorts with two young kids. Two car seats in the car, two stollers, two admission tickets, two souvenirs, two mouths to feed... it was a glimpse into life with two. With that said, any minor incovenience or extra cost was very worth seeing them interact, share, converse, and play with each other, and it made my heart and uterus yearn for a sibling for Valentino {don't get me wrong - I know it's not always rainbows and sunshine with two kids - my brother and I are two years apart and I can remember fighting and bickering quite a bit!}.

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