Turtle Back Zoo

Trip Start May 16, 2003
Trip End May 16, 2010

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Flag of United States  , New Jersey
Sunday, July 22, 2007

It has been a while since we went anywhere.  We had a good reason, in the past two months we had a baby boy, sold our townhouse and bought a house a few towns away.  We will be moving next month.

So on a beautiful sunny Sunday we knew it would be a sin to stay indoors (not to mention being driven nuts by the kids) so we decided to take the kids to the zoo ... for the first time.

Our daughter was very excited at the prospect of visiting a zoo for the first time, and soon we were on our way (we ate lunch at home).  We decided on Turtle Back Zoo because it's a short ride, we've never been and it looked real cool.  The zoo is easy to get to, but you cannot make a left turn so you have to pass the zoo and make a u-turn, not a big deal.  The parking is free, and it took us a while to find a spot, but we soon did and where on our way.

The cost to get in is minimal, $7 for adults, $4 for kids and free for toddlers and babies (2 years old and under).  First impression was that the zoo was well run and well kept.  We were met by employees outside the gate giving us maps and directing us to the shortest line to buy tickets.  We've read somewhere on-line that the zoo did not take credit cards, but I've seen the family in front of us pay with one, so better call ahead to make sure if you are planning on paying that way.

We met our friends inside the zoo, and let the kids (and adults) acclimate to the surroundings.  Our daughter and her friend ran around looking at a life size metal replica of a Komodo Dragon, climbing on it (it was hot but constantly sprayed with water), going to the wishing well to collect the coins (there were too many people around for us to keep the money, so we made them throw it back ... but it's a good start), and looked at a great statues of a boy and a girl petting a turtle.  We started walking towards the bison, deer, wolves and bear country.  Excitement ensued when we saw the black bear, and two beautiful white wolves.  We moved on to the "Essex Farm" area where the girls got to feed some sheep and goats (there are hands washing sinks in the area).   In order to feed the animals you do have to buy tokens, which cost $0.50 each, and then put them in a gum-ball type machine next to the cages.  Animal food will spill out and you can feed them.  

The big event of the day came when we went on the pony rides (first time for both girls), each ride cost 4 tokens (no cash).  At the time they had two ponies and one big horse, but one pony retired just as it was the girls turn, our daughter got to ride "Lucky" the big horse  (even bigger for a 2.5 year old), which she loved.  We moved on to see the llamas, alligators, eagles, vultures hawks, monkeys, otters and other animals.  All of the cages are pretty small, with one or two of the big animals in each exhibit.  The kids were pretty excited to recognize all the animals, and you could get pretty close to them as most were behind glass.

We continued to take the train ride, which was pretty cool for everyone.  The line was about 20 minutes long, and the train goes in a circle near a lake, through the woods and under a covered bridge.  

We got off the train, by this time the kids were so tired they could hardly keep their eyes open.  That didn't stop them from going into "Reptile World", a very cool looking exhibit of snakes and such critters behind glass so it looks like they are in their own environment (looks like to us, I'm sure they'll disagree).

There was also an animal themed playground, which we didn't get to play in, but we saw it from afar.  There was enough there to keep the kids excited without the slides and swings.

The zoo also includes a veterinary hospital (which I think it is important to show the kids), an amphitheatre for special shows, and they do several special events every month (check the website for scheduling).  You can also adopt an animal (i.e. donate money) which gets you regular updates about the animal as well as other benefits.

Of course we couldn't leave without buying the obligatory magnet, however it must be said that the store is not a mandatory stop before leaving (as it is in many other places).  We especially got a chuckle out of a certain "Turtle Back Zoo" magnet (one of several) featuring lions, tigers, giraffes, elephant and a rhinoceros ... none of which are at the zoo.

The zoo is small, but the kids loved it, and so did we.  There are picnic areas (they do birthday parties), it's close to home and they have many different animals and species.  Do not miss the Filipino "golden mantled" flying foxes, Turtle Back Zoo is currently the only place in the US where you can see them, and the nine-foot monitor lizard known as "black dragon".  These dragons were discovered in Malaysia in 2005 and don't even have a scientific name as of yet.  I believe that currently this is the only place in the world where they are on display.
Best of all, our daughter was asleep by 20:30, an unheard of hour for her (usually it's the time where we start the 2 hour nightly ordeal of getting her to go to sleep).
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