Up close with wildlife at the Detroit Zoo
If a polar bear has never stepped above your head, if a seal never swam past your side, if a giraffe has never kissed your fingertips, get to the Detroit Zoo.
I have always enjoyed walking through animal parks — taking in fresh air, reading little tidbits about the residents, their habitats and conservation efforts and, of course, watching animals go about their day lazing in the sun or swinging from vines.
But nothing compares to immersion exhibits and the Detroit Zoo does them quite well. I was so excited to share the adventure with my girls and our friends.
If you arrive early enough, walk through the entrance and straight to the giraffe encounter booth. For a few bucks you may score a ticket for your child (or you) to feed a giraffe. They sell a limited number for each of the two daily feedings.
It’s an awe-inspiring moment when you are struck with the towering height of these gorgeous, awkward-yet-graceful sub-Saharan African animals.
You walk up an inclined platform overlooking the enclosure, a large pit of sorts. Spindly legs lift the animals up to meet you and the snack they know you have brought. One ticket is good for a couple of leaves.
The kids can hold the leaves in outstretched hands and the giraffes deftly scoop them up with their long blue tongues.
“She kissed me!” my 3-year-old daughter Sophie squealed, drawing her hand back to her body. She seemed to wonder if the giraffe would prefer to nibble on her fingers. (there’s sanitizer available as you leave the platform)
The zoo is generous with the photo op. You can check out the professional pictures they will take and transfer up to the gift shop for your purchase as you leave. But they also give you a hand with your own memory making. The animal caretaker enticed the giraffe back to the platform with another handful of leaves so we could keep snapping away.
Another big draw to Detroit Zoo is the chance to see animals in habitats you could never reach on your own – beneath the Arctic Ocean.
A meandering path leads you through the replicated tundra to the zoo’s crown jewel – a 70-foot tunnel providing a 360-degree view of polar bears and seals swimming, swirling, playing and lounging overhead. Sophie and her friend Max explored every inch of the tunnel, spinning their heads around trying to keep up with the action.
If the animals become a bit, well, redundant, or you just need a break, there are open spaces for the kids to run around in and carousel and train rides. Take a break at the lunch area, as well. You can bypass standard park food for meals such as a tasty vegetable focaccia with humus sandwich.
I hope these experiences leave a lasting impression on the kids, an appreciation for the natural world and our place in it. The grounds are expansive. We didn’t see everything in one day. But we fully enjoyed ourselves, the beautifully landscaped grounds, the animals and the day with friends.
Know before you go
- Detroit Zoo: 8450 W 10 Mile Rd, Royal Oak, MI 48067
- Food options: From hot dogs to veggie focaccia
- Strollers: Yes, but prepare to spend a lot of time trying to maneuver through doors. There are few automatic or button open doors. Most guests just help each other in and out.
- Extras worth the price: Giraffe Encounter $5 per piece of food