Spring Break on the Wild Side

Easy Family Vacations to AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums

SILVER SPRING, MD – Winter is slowly waning, and families are already starting to make their spring vacation plans. Whether it’s a cross-country or a “one-tank” trip, many people are planning family vacations for spring break in March and April.

Families who want to take their break on the wild side often visit zoos and aquariums accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). In cold-climate zoos, many of the animals are more active during the cool spring weather and it is less crowded, making it more likely that guests will see the animals up close. And of course, zoos in warmer climates offer a welcome respite for those looking for the sun. Aquariums are another great family escape, immersing visitors in the secrets of the aquatic world while providing all the conveniences families require.

Several AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums nationwide have opened new exhibits recently, and all offer fun, educational exhibits that are ideal for family vacations. With so many zoos and aquariums to visit and each a unique experience, AZA suggests the following destinations by region — Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South, Northwest and West – for vacation-bound families, whether they are headed across the country or across the state.


Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration – Mystic, Conn.: The new Hidden Amazon exhibit takes visitors to the colorful world under the canopy filled with creepy tarantulas, poisonous dart frogs, piranha and bats.

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo – Bridgeport, Conn.: Visitors can explore the free-flight aviary of the South American rainforest exhibit and the “pop-up” viewing areas of the walk-through prairie dog exhibit.

Bronx Zoo – New York: The Congo Gorilla Forest is home to more than 300 animals, including one of the largest breeding groups of lowland gorillas. The exhibit recreates the African rain forest environment and explains how it works, which animals make it their home, why it is threatened and how people can help save it.

New York Aquarium: The zoo’s newest exhibit, Alien Stingers, explores the many fantastic shapes and colors of mysterious sea jellies. The exhibit features jellies that look like living art, and rainbow-colored anemones and corals.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium: Visitors can see a new baby howler monkey and jellyfish babies. The zoo is celebrating the tenth anniversary of Kids Kingdom, one of the nation’s top three children’s zoos. It’s chock full of hands-on animal experiences, like the walk-through Deer Yard, where kids can actually touch a white-tailed deer. Kids Kingdom also features a walk-through Kangaroo Yard where Australian gray kangaroos get so close, kids can reach out and touch them! There’s also a friendly Goat Yard, beaver and otter exhibits and a fabulous sea lion pool featuring several of these playful marine mammals.

Philadelphia Zoo: The Rare Animal Conservation Center is home to a wide variety of unique and endangered animals such as tree-climbing kangaroos, bats with a three-foot wingspan, and monkeys with vibrant orange fur.

National Aquarium in Baltimore: The new Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit depicts a typical river gorge in Australia’s Northern Territory, and is home to 1,800 animals, including freshwater crocodiles, turtles, fish, free-flying birds and flying foxes.

National Zoo – Washington, D.C.: The zoo’s hottest new attraction is the new giant panda cub, Tai Shan, who can be seen daily at select times. Other exhibits include Think Tank, Great Cats, Amazonia, Pollinarium in the Invertebrate Exhibit, and the Science Gallery at Amazonia.


North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher – Raleigh, N.C.: Now displays sea snakes and lionfish from the Indo-Pacific, tropical reef fishes from Pacific coral atolls, and cuttlefish from the Mediterranean. The new exhibits represent a departure from the aquariums’ 29-year history of exhibiting only the life forms that are indigenous to the state’s waters. The new collection is designed to amplify the interrelationship of the world’s ecosystems.

The North Carolina Zoological Park – Asheboro, N.C.: The new Australian Walkabout exhibit brought kangaroos, cockatoos, wallabies, bearded dragons and pythons to the zoo. The exhibit is the first display of Australian wildlife in the zoo’s history and features three main habitats: Grasslands and Deserts, Forests, and Billabongs, Rivers and Lakes.

Riverbanks Zoological Park & Botanical Garden – Columbia, S.C.: The zoo’s highlighted exhibits include African Plains, the Aquarium/Reptile Complex, Lemur Island and Ndoki Forest. A seventy-acre Botanical Garden provides visitors with an opportunity to experience both native and exotic plants.

South Carolina Aquarium – Charleston, S.C.: The two-story Great Ocean Exhibit is the largest exhibit in the Aquarium, with hundreds of animals and plants visible in the Sandy Seafloor, Deep Ocean and Rocky Reef areas. Sharks and rays are the newest additions to the exhibit.

Tennessee Aquarium –Chattanooga, Tenn.: The Tennessee Aquarium has joined with other regional facilities to offer families a special, action-packed week of fun that’s just a short drive away. Families can be aquatic biologists at a world-famous aquarium, spelunkers deep within a cave or even detectives at the children’s museum. At the end of each adventure, families will take home special gifts and have their passports stamped at each participating attraction.

Zoo Atlanta: Visitors can see the new western lowland gorilla born December 2005. The zoo’s collection consists of nearly 1,000 specimens, representing more than 250 species of animals from all over the world.

Jacksonville Zoo – Jacksonville, Fla.: The recently opened Land of the Jaguar is a unique neo-tropical attraction featuring six jaguars — more than any other zoo in the U.S. — and other Central and South American animals. This exhibit immerses guests in a rainforest environment.

Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Fla.: The new Safari Africa exhibit brings visitors up close to elephants, zebras, warthogs, antelope and crowned cranes. The exhibit is also home to baby Tamani, the female African elephant born October 2005.


Akron Zoo – Akron, Ohio: In May 2005, the Akron Zoo opened Legends of the Wild, the largest expansion in their history. Komodo Kingdom opened in October 2005 featuring three new animal exhibits. Home to more than 700 animals, including several jaguar cubs, which will be soon enjoying their outdoor habitat.

Indianapolis Zoo: The new Dolphin In-Water Adventure is a 90-minute program that allows guests to participate in feeding a dolphin, signaling the dolphin to carry out behaviors, and other up-close, hands-on interactions. Visitors can also see the zoo’s new baby African elephant, Kedar.

John G. Shedd Aquarium – Chicago: “Lizards and the Komodo King” opens April 8 for a limited time. From the tiny day gecko to the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, dozens of lizard species will be at Shedd as part of this new must-see special exhibit. The new Invasive Species exhibit highlights numerous invasive species – including the Asian carp, round gobies, zebra mussels, and others – which threaten the Great Lakes.

Lincoln Park Zoo – Chicago: The Regenstein African Journey exhibit features large, lush habitats for wild dogs, meerkats, aardvarks, giraffes, rhinos, crocodiles, warthogs, ostriches and many other African animals. Providing an unparalleled immersion experience, Regenstein African Journey makes visitors feel as if they, too, are part of the African landscape.

St. Louis Zoo: The Fragile Forest exhibit features the zoo’s chimpanzees, orangutans and lowland gorillas in their new outdoor home, which features flowing streams, huge deadfall trees and vines.

Como Zoo and Conservatory – St. Paul, Minn.: The zoo’s key attractions are Sparky the Sea Lion Show and the Siberian tigers. The newest members of the zoo’s family are newborn Saki monkey twins and a newborn Grant’s zebra.


Audubon Zoo – New Orleans: One of the only family attractions that has opened since Hurricane Katrina, the Audubon Zoo’s rare creatures are displayed in 58 acres of natural habitats. At the Louisiana Swamp exhibit, visitors can catch a glimpse of the world’s only white alligators.

The Aquarium and Rainforest at Moody Gardens – Galveston, Texas: Work or play, this tropical destination is ideal for families and groups alike. Water your imagination and travel the oceans of the world at the Aquarium Pyramid®. Step into the Rainforest Pyramid® with thousands of tropical plants, exotic fish and birds.

Houston Zoo: The zoo’s most recent exhibit, Natural Encounters, brings guests nose-to-nose with meerkats, tamarins, Asian small clawed otters, vampire bats, and spectacular coral. The interactive exhibits represent seven different ecosystems.

Dallas Zoo: The zoo offers two new exhibits: Chimpanzee Forest and Endangered Tiger Habitat. The Chimpanzee Forest features a troop of eight chimpanzees living in a naturalistic habitat and the Endangered Tiger Habitat is currently home to both Sumatran tigers and Indochinese tigers.

Dallas World Aquarium: Mundo Maya is an eight-story, immersion exhibit that takes visitors from the waters of the Yucatan’s gulf coast to the highland rainforests. The exhibit is home to fairy penguins, venomous snakes, bull and brown sharks, jaguars, sea turtles, hummingbirds, owls and eagles.

Fort Worth Zoo: The new Great Barrier Reef exhibit features Australian aquatic wildlife including clownfish, black-tip reef sharks, angelfish, brain corals, moray eels and sea apples. The exhibit is located in the zoo’s newly-renovated Australian Outback, which also houses red kangaroos and wallabies.

Albuquerque BioPark: This unique park is four in one, containing the Albuquerque Aquarium, the Rio Grande Botanic Garden, the Rio Grande Zoo and Tingley Beach. Enjoy a 285,000-gallon ocean tank with brown, sandtiger, blacktip and nurse sharks at the aquarium, and close encounters with more than 250 species of exotic and native animals at the zoo.


Seattle Aquarium: Visitors can see, touch and explore the amazing marine life and natural wonders of the Puget Sound. Highlighted exhibits include Water’s Edge, Life on the Edge, Pacific Coral Reef, Birds & Shores and Puget Sound.

Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle: The Jaguar Cove exhibit represents the lush, dense rain forests of Central and South America, the jaguar’s natural habitat. From the forest floor to the canopy, visitors encounter ocelots, poison dart frogs, snakes and birds in a beautiful, indoor environment. The outdoor loop features lemurs, two African monkey species and two western lowland gorilla groups.

Oregon Zoo – Portland, Ore.: The African Rainforest exhibit features bats and a variety of tropical birds and waterfowl among lush vegetation. Tropical thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour keep the humidity just right for endangered slender-snouted crocodiles, lungfish and frogs in the swamp area of the exhibit.

Oregon Coast Aquarium – Newport, Ore.: Visitors can encounter sharks and rays at the Passages of the Deep exhibit, the aquarium’s 200-foot clear underwater tunnel that snakes through three ocean habitats. With large viewing windows built into the floor, visitors enjoy nearly 360-degree views of wolf eels, rockfishes, giant octopus, bat rays and a variety of sharks.


Denver Zoo: Babies abound at the Denver Zoo! A spotted hyena cub named Panduli and three new Asiatic black bear cubs born in January are scheduled to go on exhibit in the spring. A lion cub, Asali, is now on public exhibit in the maternity area of Predator Ridge called “Pahalli Ya Mwana,” (Swahili for “place of the young”). The public can now see the cub being cared for by her foster mother, Natal, and two lionesses from their pride, weather permitting.

Aquarium of the Bay – San Francisco: The aquarium consists of four exhibits that focus on the Bay’s distinctive ecosystems in an effort to entertain, educate and inspire preservation of this wonderful natural resource. The exhibits are Discover the Bay, Under the Bay, Touch the Bay and Save the Bay.

Oakland Zoo – Oakland, Calif.: The World Safari exhibit offers an in-depth look at selected animals from the biomes of Africa, Asia and Australia.

Santa Barbara Zoo – Santa Barbara, Calif.: The newest additions to the “Eeeww” exhibit are an 11-foot Burmese python and dozens of colorful dart frogs hailing from the rainforests of South America. Visitors can also see the zoo’s young male African lion, Docha, at the Cats of Africa exhibit.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens: The zoo’s highlighted exhibits include the Sea Lion Cliffs, a saltwater habitat for sea lions with underwater viewing areas, and Red Ape Rain Forest, a multi-level tropical habitat for the zoo’s group of orangutans.

Aquarium of the Pacific – Long Beach, Calif.: “Wildlife and Whale” takes guests aboard a Coast Guard-certified boat to sight such travelers as the gray whale, bottlenose dolphin, sea lion, and a host of migratory waterfowl.

Phoenix Zoo: The Monkey Village exhibit offers visitors a unique opportunity to walk through the space where the monkeys roam free. Guests can also interact with animals typically found in Central and South America including boa constrictors, parrots, iguanas, tortoises and vultures.

For more information about AZA-accredited members in the above regions, or to search for the AZA institutions near your vacation destination, visit www.aza.org.

Founded in 1924, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), envisions a world where all people respect, value and conserve animals and nature. AZA currently has 210 accredited members in the U.S. and Canada, Bermuda and Hong Kong. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.

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