The day had emerged warm and clear at the world famous Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. The cloudless sky coupled with heat implied that the thick of August was ready to close the door and let the autumn winds rustle in.
Minutes before 9:00 AM, when all the final scampering around had reached a calm, the zookeepers did their final prep before the gates would open to the public.
One zookeeper watched as a once helpless baby hippo was swimming freely in her habitat while be looked over by her mother.
Fiona the hippo was born during the month of January in 2017. She had been born prematurely by six weeks and weighed under 29 pounds.
Most baby hippos weight anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds. She was unable to stand, unable to be nurtured by her mother and the zoo was unable to guarantee her safety.
But she was born in the Midwest and quickly took on the Midwest grit that the city of Cincinnati instills in its population.
Looking for what to expect when visiting the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden? This post will highlight everything you should know before visiting!
She earned her name because her ears made her look like Fiona from Shrek, and much like the movie, this story would begin to turn toward a happy ending.
By the springtime Fiona had taken her first steps, weighed almost 300 pounds, and was stealing hearts across the city and world.
She became a social media star.
The newfound way of communication was increasing her exposure and giving everyday people an intimate look at what zoos across the country face on a yearly basis. By her first birthday she had her own show and multiple children’s book written about her.
Now she’s the main attraction at the Cincinnati Zoo.
What to Expect When Visiting The Cincinnati Zoo
The zoo path is designed in a circle to help the flow of traffic and give the visitors a free range of movement.
Below we'll highlight some of the habitats you'll find throughout the zoo during your visit.
The Africa Exhibit includes African Painted Dogs, East African Crowned Cranes, Hippopotamus (Princess Fiona and her mother), Impalas, Lappet-faced Vultures, Lesser Kudus, Meerkats, Ostriches and Gazelles.
The last available animal in this habitat before you make your way to the Giraffes are two fully grown Lions.
The Giraffe Exhibit offers a feeding opportunity, which is great for getting pictures.
For a small fee anyone can hand feed the giraffes which is sure to be a memorable experience!
African Penguin Point includes penguins and Kangaroos.
The Kangaroo area is by far my favorite. You can walk amongst them but are told to keep your distance. They have no problem hopping along with you or cutting off your path and makes for some great photos and interactions.
Cat Canyon allows the visitors to watch a Cougar, Malayan Tiger and two Snow Leopards lurk in their own habitats.
Dragons are located inside a small building protected by Lemur Lookout, a small island containing a pack of Lemurs. Inside the building you’ll find the Dwarf Monitor, Green Tree Monitor, Quince Monitor and then the big ticket: Komodo Dragon.
The Komodo Dragon has an outside and inside habitat and is able to roam freely between the two.
Gibbon Island is usually active. There are three different species of Gibbons, you’ll be able to hear them from across the zoo!
Gorilla World is a fan favorite. There are indoor and outdoor viewing areas. The outside area is protected by a moat while the inside offers a typical glass wall.
Both are suitable for watching the gorillas interact. In the mornings they feed the gorillas inside and that is the best time to watch the clan interact.
The Jungle Trails offers a nice change of pace in comparison to the rest of the zoo. The trail winds through six different monkey habitats and is protected from the sun by the tall trees, giving the guests a place to cool off while viewing one of the more active species.
Across from the trails sits three large pools. Each dedicated to three different Arctic bears.
Another place to cool off is the Night Hunters Exhibit. It’s dark, the song of insects fills the void as you move through the building. It has a haunted house feel to it that is quickly erased when you see the cute cats, fox, aardvarks, and bats.
Manatee Springs is reminiscent of an aquarium you’d find in Florida.
It’s a spacious room with one large tank accompanied by a couple dozen smaller tanks filled with turtles, snakes, and other small fish. The large tank is occupied by the manatee and other fish in the backdrop.
The Reptile House harbors the most harmless animals in the world. While most people fear snakes, they are mostly innocuous in comparison to most animals you’ll see at any zoo. This building is important because it is one of the oldest buildings in the country.
Built in 1875 the Turkish style is a national landmark. It was used for holding monkeys in its early days but is now home to the thirty plus species of reptiles.
Another historic landmark belongs to the Elephant House.
It was renovated into an exhibit in the early 2000’s and renamed to the Elephant Reserve a short decade later.
At the center of the zoo sits Swan Lake. I’ve always appreciated its symbolic position of the zoo.
Maybe it was purposely positioned this way or maybe it’s just me, but the lake always felt like a watering hole.
Only at a zoo there is no such thing due to safety. The only animals you’ll find here are the cranes and ducks.
Which exhibit was your favorite? Be sure to stop back and drop a comment below!
Where is The Cincinnati Zoo Located?
The Cincinnati Zoo sits on 65 acres in the middle of the city, just outside of the University of Cincinnati’s main and medical campus.
The zoo is only a handful of minutes off I-75, the main highway that slices through the western side of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Zoo's address is 3400 Vine Street Cincinnati, OH 45220.
If you're looking for hotel accommodations for your visit, you can check out great deals on hotels in Cincinnati here! There are tons of fun things to do in Cincinnati if you're from out of town. From underground brewery tours to watching the Reds play baseball you can find tons of things to do in Cincinnati here.
Where do I park when visiting The Cincinnati Zoo?
The parking lot is attached to the zoo. It is affordable at $10 and takes both cash and credit cards. There is a ticket booth at the exit of the lot, which is where you can pay upon leaving.
If you're on a budget - you might be lucky enough to find metered or free street parking on one of the surrounding side streets.
The Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights
During the winter days between late November and early January you can visit the PNC Festival of lights.
You’ll find roughly four million LED lights to enjoy while strolling through the zoo. The lights turn on at 4PM and the zoo closes at 9PM.
Inside the gates you’ll find Santa’s village where you can see Santa and Mrs. Claus. There are also nightly performances that take place at the Bird Amphitheater.
The zoo’s train becomes the polar express and rides through light tunnels to brighten up your experience.
Additionally the lights and the giant tree at the opening gate offer a great opportunity for family photos.
How old is The Cincinnati Zoo?
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was founded in the late 1800’s. The gates opened for the first time in 1875, making this Zoo the second oldest Zoo in the United States. What was once used as a landmark now is home to over 1,800 animals including numerous endangered species.
How much does Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden entry cost?
The cost to enter The Cincinnati Zoo can vary widely with age, season and whether or not you plan to purchase a season pass or any add-on activities.
It's best to check the official Cincinnati Zoo website for rates before visiting. Tickets are generally cheaper if purchased in advance and you can also avoid waiting in lines if you do so.
Check out the current ticket prices and entrance fees at The Cincinnati Zoo.
How long does it take to visit The Cincinnati Zoo?
Visitors should budget about 4 hours if they want to hit most of the exhibits in the zoo.
There are many other variables to consider that could add to this time and it wouldn't be surprising if you end up spending the better part of a day here.
If you purchase optional activities like train rides, animal encounters or plan to sit in on any zoo keeper exhibits expect to spend additional time here.
There are cafes scattered throughout the zoo and I'd suggest grabbing a meal here during your visit.
Did I mention they sell beer?
Are dogs allowed at The Cincinnati Zoo?
Pets and emotional support animals are not allowed at The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
However, licensed service animals are permitted to enter The Cincinnati Zoo.
When is the best time to visit The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden?
The Cincinnati Zoo can be extremely crowded on the weekends and for this reason I would suggest visiting on a weekday.
Regardless of what day you visit I would suggest arriving early, when the Zoo first opens to avoid lines at the entrance.
Arriving late in the day can be another way to avoid crowds at the most popular exhibits but you may be squeezed for time depending on how long you hope to stay.
The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden offers a large variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits making visits on hotter days tolerable since you'll have many opportunities to view animals indoors where it's cooler and shaded.