Covington vacation advisor Mary recently visited the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and shares the animal interactions and safety protocols she experienced.
For several years I have had Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on my radar. I have been an animal lover my whole life, and since watching Secrets of the Zoo on Nat Geo Wild, this zoo just seemed like a must-see. The charismatic keepers and their relationship with the animals, as well as the zoo’s connection with Jack Hanna, drew me in!
Traveling Safely During a Pandemic
I’m not someone who can sit still for very long, so as 2020 progressed and my planned trips kept getting canceled, I decided now was the perfect time to hop over to Ohio to visit the Columbus Zoo. A short flight, a hotel room to myself, and an outdoor attraction were within my comfort zone!
I was very pleased with my experience with Delta Airlines and the Richmond, Detroit, and Columbus airports. Social distancing was very easy in the airports with the decreased number of travelers, and the airports have implemented plenty of safety measures such as floor markings, blocked seats in the gate areas, required masks, six-foot spacing in TSA lines, etc. Delta hands out wipes and hand sanitizer at boarding. They require masks to be worn during the entire flight process and provide snacks and water in individual pre-packaged bags instead of traditional snack service. I took a carry-on and utilized the Delta app to ensure a contactless check-in process. Mary’s tip: I did peek at the check-in lines in the airport. All were marked for social distancing and employees wore masks.
I also felt very comfortable and safe at the AC Marriott Dublin-Columbus during my stay. As a Marriott Bonvoy member, I was able to use online check-in and their mobile room key to make check-in contactless. Masks were required in all public areas and the hotel room door was sealed to assure me no one had been in my room since housekeeping sanitized it. Housekeeping services were on request only to avoid contamination. Elevator capacity was limited to a single party, so I always had it to myself.
On my first day, I rented a car to drive about an hour out of Columbus to visit Columbus Zoo’s conservation park called The Wilds. I used Enterprise and again was able to check-in and pick up my car contactless. The car seemed very clean with a long checklist in the car of every spot that had been sanitized before my use. Mary’s tip: I did bring my own wipes and wiped some things down just for my own peace of mind.
Visiting The Wilds
The Wilds currently requires pre-booked tours so they can control crowd size. I chose the small group Wildside Tour over the standard tour, although I observed that the standard tour limited passengers on the vehicles to ensure proper distancing. It was a cold, rainy day so I ended up getting a tour all to myself. While I sat in the back of a pickup truck, an animal management team member drove me around the park to see all the different species that live there.
I was very excited to see the Takin herd that is often featured on the show! Other highlights from the Wildside Tour included a visit to the carnivore building where cheetahs, dholes, and painted dogs are housed and a stop at the giraffe barn to meet and interact with the giraffes. I even got to see the new rhino babies! The zoo also offers a special version of the Wildside tour led by one of the animal management team members who regularly appears on the TV show. Unfortunately, that one was sold out for my date. Drats! Mary’s tip: I wholeheartedly recommend the Wildside tour for animal enthusiasts who want to get a little more up close and personal with the animals. With the smaller vehicle, we could drive into pastures and get closer to the animals than we could when staying on the paths.
Amazing Columbus Zoo Experiences
I spent my next two days exploring the Columbus Zoo itself. Advance ticketing (no walk-ups) was also required there. Entry was timed throughout the day to manage crowd flow. At the time, masks were not required but recommended, and I saw very few people not wearing them unless eating or resting far away from others. The tours I participated in did require masks though, as they took place indoors where maintaining physical distance is sometimes difficult. The zoo also had lots of signage and ground markers reminding people to social distance. Mary’s tip: Mask requirements and other safety guidelines change periodically, so verify current policies with your travel advisor before you go.
The Columbus Zoo was fantastic! It is very large and if you want to see every single animal, give yourself two days to explore. It is easy to navigate and plan your day, as they have the zoo divided into seven different areas: Adventure Cove, Asia Quest, Australia & The Islands, Congo Expedition, Heart of Africa, North America, and The Shores & Aquarium. Mary’s tip: I used my second day to revisit and see the animals that were hiding or indoors during my first day.
Columbus Zoo Behind the Scenes Tours
The big highlights of my visit were the two “Behind the Scenes” tours that I purchased. Columbus Zoo did a wonderful job re-working many of their experiences and adding new tours designed for smaller groups. My first Behind the Scenes tour was Chatting with Cheetahs. Cheetahs have always been my favorite animal. The cheetahs and their keepers are my favorite part of the show, so I couldn’t pass up this tour. It did not disappoint! One of the keepers often featured on the show lead the tour, which was an added bonus! We toured the building where the cheetahs are housed and learned all about what goes into their daily care and training. The keeper shared some fun information about each cheetah. We also saw hyenas and aardvarks in the same facility, and I got to feed an aardvark! Mary’s tip: Two of the young cheetahs at Columbus Zoo are actually the first cheetahs in the world born through in vitro fertilization, a great success for the survival of the species.
My second Behind the Scenes tour was the Elephant Bath Experience. This tour is a must-do for any animal lover who wants to get up close and hands-on. The elephant used for the tour rotates, but I was lucky enough to get Hank, the big star elephant of the TV show! We got to help the pachyderm team scrub and hose off Hank while learning more about their care and species. They even had Hank lift a foot and we got to inspect and touch and take a picture with him! Mary’s tip: Behind the Scenes tours are engaging and interactive educational experiences and the perfect addition to your trip to the zoo!
My visit to Columbus Zoo was such fun! If you’d like help planning your own trip, just reach out to me.
When Mary Atkinson isn’t arranging memory-making trips for vacation travelers, she is an animal lover, a horsewoman, an adventure traveler, and a world explorer.