Which creatures will thrill you at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium?

My two children and I join a gathering crowd at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. We press our noses against a wall of glass to view trout swimming in a massive tank. The sun’s rays glisten through the rippling water.

“Let’s go,” says my 4-year-old son, Max. “This is boring.”

Just then a white creature sticks its pointy nose into the water’s surface. We see the animal’s face from below and gasp with excitement. The giant female polar bear dives in, heading toward the bottom of the tank in search of a snack. In a moment she spirals back up and stands atop a glass ceiling to eat her treat in the fresh air. We’re now under her, admiring the mammoth feet of one of the world’s largest predators.

“Oh my gosh,” exclaims Max. “This is awesome!”

[wowslider id=”24″]

Close encounters with animals we’d flee in the wild are among my family’s favorite experiences at the 87-year-old zoo, ranked No. 1 in the United States by USA Travel Guide.

Under the watch of Director Emeritus Jack Hanna, the zoo has created clever habitats that permit visitors to intimately observe animals such as African lions, Siberian tigers and Alaskan grizzly bears. Expect to see gorillas, sharks and pythons, and even hand-feed leaves to giraffes from a raised platform.

During an early spring visit, I load the kids into their wagon and set off on an adventure. Max and his 6-year-old sister, Rosie, pretend they’re on a bus, heading to faraway places in Asia, Africa and Australia, with stops at exotic playgrounds along the way.

We begin in the North America region, where we marvel at the dexterity of grizzly bears as they delicately use their giant claws to eat treats. Next stop is the Polar Playground, where Max and Rosie work off some energy while bounding from atop an igloo to inside a safari truck to down a twisty slide.

We head to Asia Quest and settle in near the tigers. The observation window is adjacent to their watering hole, and one tiger gazes into our eyes as it passes by for a drink.

After an ice-cream break, we zip past the lions and Conservation Lake, toward an area called Shores. There, we visit the zoo’s 85,000-gallon aquarium, a popular hangout for parents with young children.

I catch my breath as my children admire a constant stream of colorful fish, including one they call “Long Nose.”

“Let’s pretend we’re sea turtles,” says Rosie as she pretends to swim alongside the tank.

Later, at Manatee Coast and Expedition Congo, we observe even bigger creatures munching on lettuce—first, several chubby manatees, then some beefy gorillas.

We culminate our adventure aboard the most endearing of zoo features—the antique carousel, which boasts a band organ and 52 original horses and chariots. I gladly pony up $1 per child for a spin.

As we head toward the exit, Max contemplates the illustrated zoo map.

“I want to ride the slide,” he says.

He’s looking at Dolphin Dash at the neighboring Zoombezi Bay water park. I tell Max he’ll have to wait until the weather warms up.

“Next time we come to the zoo, we’re wearing our swimsuits,” he says.

For more information about the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, visit www.colszoo.org.

Experience Columbus is offering a “Roar and Explore Adventure Getaway” package for $411. It includes a two-night stay at a Drury Hotel, four tickets to COSI, four tickets to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and four tickets to Zoombezi Bay. Learn more at www.columbusfamilyfun.com.

  • 2