Friday, June 19, 2015

Day 6: In Which I Curse Big Cities, Maps, Parking, Money, and Commercialism

Today's Distance: technically under 10 miles but we're still in San Diego
Total Distance: 1841 miles
Today's Destinations: San Diego Zoo

I love going to the zoo.  It's one of my favorite things to do when I go to a city.  My family went to the San Diego Zoo when I was 9 and I thought that was pretty great, so Justin and I wanted to come on our trip.

First impression: the zoo is EXPENSIVE!  Admission is $48 per adult, and that's just the beginning. I knew from previous experiences that zoo food is like airport food plus 20%, and that zoo gift stores will eat away at your college fund, but I don't remember there being so many other opportunities to drop serious cash.  Caricatures ($16-35), face paintings, professional photos ($30 for three prints in various sizes, plus $32 extra to get all the photos the staff take of you throughout the day), not to mention the extra tours you can sign up for.  A family of four could easily plunk down $500 in one day.  I can't imagine this zoo having a hard time funding any of its numerous programs, and I suppose that's good because the San Diego Zoo does a lot of work in conservation and training and helping reintroduce animals to the wild, and those are important things.  But man, they sure know how to turn the zoo into a commercial experience.  I felt a little like Charlie Brown at Christmas.  At least it's still free to park.  By the way, we arrived at the zoo 15 minutes after they opened and the parking lot was already full.  Crazy.

Second impression: San Diego Zoo is really easy to get lost in.  It's not just the size; the way the exhibits run, we did a lot of backtracking and spent a good portion of our time looking at our maps trying to figure out which way we were going.  Some of the "you are here" directories at various exhibits were upside-down compared to our handheld maps, which made things more confusing, at least for me (not a good sense of direction).  I don't know; I've been at other zoos where it seemed like everything flowed naturally so that you could easily see every exhibit in a reasonable period of time.  We were there 5 1/2 hours and we didn't see everything.  Fortunately, we took one of the tour buses (free with a day pass), which led us to most of the major areas.

Oh, and one more thing: there are very few water fountains at the San Diego Zoo.  For a place that's supposedly all about conservation and the three Rs, I expected there to be water fountains or water bottle refill stations everywhere, but they're not.  Why not? because there are restaurants and snack bars everywhere, and who's going to buy water for $4.00 when you can refill your water bottle for free?  I think we walked past two water fountains in the whole time we were there.

Okay, now for some positives: we saw BABY ANIMALS!!! Like, a lot of them!  Baby giraffe, baby gorilla, baby gazelle, baby leopard - the zoo is just bursting right now because of the time of year.  That was totally awesome because I don't know if I've ever seen baby animals in a zoo before.  It was worth all the confusion to sit and watch a baby gorilla bugging its mom while she was trying to eat, while she just pushed the kid away to try to enjoy her lunch.  Reminded me so much of my own family growing up.

We also took the Skyfari (free with a day pass) which is a quick way of getting from one side of the zoo to the other.  We did this at the end of the day when our feet were just dying.  Worth it!  It was totally scary for me because it's just like a ski lift over the zoo.  I clung to the pole in the middle of our lift the entire way over, but it was so amazing to get an aerial view of the zoo.  Plus it just felt great to be up so high with the wind in your face and everything.  I recommend it, along with the guided bus tour (which we did first thing in the morning).

We saw some awesome animals: pandas, koalas, polar bears, flamingos, lions, tigers, bears (had to go there), kangaroos, meerkats, monkeys, and way more.  I still love the zoo, but the next time I go to a giant one like San Diego, I think I will have to mentally prepare a lot more.

As you can imagine, we were pretty beat afterward, so we rested at the hotel for a few hours.  Justin really wanted to see Inside Out, so he found a mall nearby with a theater that was showing it.  Quick review: Inside Out is a spectacular movie.  I laughed and I cried just in the animated short before the film (seriously, the short alone is worth the admission fee), and I laughed and cried way more during the movie.  Another brilliant creation by Pete Docter, two thumbs way up, take your whole family.

Getting back to our hotel was easy.  Parking at our hotel was not.  Again, since they don't have a parking lot, we had to look under the bridge where we parked last night, only to find that it was full.  We drove around for maybe half an hour looking for a place where we could park the car overnight.  Finally we called the hotel and they helped us.

So for tomorrow (Phoenix), I've pre-booked a hotel that is directly off the interstate, is not downtown, and is another Choice hotel (we are loving Comfort Inn, and stuff is cheap in Phoenix!).  But for now, I am glad to be back at the Hotel Vyvant, which by the way, for all the pain of parking, has the most luxuriously comfortable bed I've slept on since my daybed at my parents' house that has three mattress pads.  It's like sleeping on a cloud


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