We have been planning a family trip to the Henry Villas Park Zoo in Madison, WI for the past two weeks and were all very excited. When Reese woke up on Sunday I asked her which animal she was most excited to see. Her response: "Grandma Potter!" I guess I should have been more specific!
Randy, the resident weatherman, was not so excited. He checked the weather forecast in Madison and found that there were supposed to be pretty severe storms throughout the day. Despite the forecast, we packed up the kids and car and headed for Dubuque to meet up with my family. When we arrived in Dubuque the skies were black and it was pouring down rain. We waited for a break in the rain and ran into the HyVee to meet up with the rest of my family. We discussed the weather, but decided to forge on with our plans. After they finished their breakfast, we took all the kids to the bathroom and loaded into our cars. When Brandon finally arrived, we lined up and headed our caravan out of town. We took the lead as we had GPS and could direct everyone else to the zoo. About 20 minutes into the trip we stopped to take another bathroom trip. Fearing that an 80 minute drive was going to take about 160 minutes, Randy became a little irritated. Fortunately, we made it the rest of the way without another stop.
When we arrived, everything looked pretty wet, like it had recently rained, but the skies were bright and blue! We unloaded all of the kids and had a picnic lunch outside the zoo. After taking our picnic baskets back to the cars, we finally headed in. It was a bit hectic when we first entered the zoo as we had to stop for another potty break and the kids were so excited to get going. Finally, we made our way to the gorilla and monkey display. Randy, the kids and I kind of took off in advance while everyone else fed babies and decided how to handle strollers, as they were not allowed into the building. Though I didn't get much time to chat with my family, because we were always ahead of them, it was easier spreading out than trying to keep our large group together (we had 7 adults and 9 kids under the age of 6 in our group).
After the monkeys, came the lions and a tiger. Randy took Aidan over to see the tiger, while we were looking around for the giraffes. He said that when they approached the surround, the tiger came up very close to the fence and stared at Aidan, while Aidan tried to get closer (thank goodness I wasn't there!). According to a sign inside the giraffes pen, they had been separated into different cages because they had been fighting. When we found them inside another building, 2 that looked like adults were in one cage, while a smaller one was in his own cage. All I could think was that animals must not be that much different from humans. The smaller giraffe had to have been the baby of the two giraffes in the other cage. My guess is that the baby giraffe was going through his terrible 2's or else was going through the equivalent of puberty!
After checking out the ostrich, emu and flamingos we came upon a treehouse play area where the kids played for about 45 minutes! They were all completely drenched with sweat and parched, so we took a break to get something to drink before continuing on. I took a quick look through the herpetarium, snakes and bats and bugs, and left in favor of looking at the fish, ducks, giant turtle and alligator. Next we looked at the buffalo, prairie dogs and llamas. There was a building that contained many tropical animals and an actual rainforest. Finally, we got to see the black bears, otters and capybara. Unfortunately the polar bear and penguins were in hiding, can't imagine why!
Upon reaching the point where we started, we took another bathroom break. The babies needed to eat again, so the older kids played in the park while the adults fed the babies. Finally we packed everyone back into their cars and started the caravan back home. Our kids were asleep before we even left the zoo grounds. Because we planned on driving while the kids were asleep and had longer to drive to get home, Randy led everyone back to the highway that would lead them back to Dubuque and then picked up speed. By the time we reached Dubuque, the kids were awake and we decided to stop for dinner. One really nice couple came up to us as they were leaving and told up what nice children we had and how well behaved they were. Though their good behaviour was probably attributed to sheer exhaustion, it was still nice to hear! We finished up our dinner and drove the rest of the way home.
The zoo was a perfect choice for our group because it was affordable. Though there is no charge for admission into the zoo, donations are greatly appreciated to help keep the zoo operating. The only costs for the day were our gas for the ride there and back and also for our picnic lunch. Also, all of the children in our group, 9 under the age of 6, were entertained for the four hours were spent at the zoo. It can be difficult to do things with this group because there are such different levels of ability (newborn, toddlers and school agers) and interests, but there really was something for everyone!
Though the day had been hectic at times, it was definitely worth it! We will be planning another trip back to the zoo next summer and hopefully every summer after that!