My dad called me the other day and proposed that he and my mom would take us to Brookfield Zoo to see the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. They know Niko’s true and abiding love of dinosaurs, and thought he’d get a kick out of seeing some animatronic dinosaurs up close and personal. They were totally right!
Unlike Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free and closer to us, Brookfield Zoo has an admission fee and many exhibits have additional fees/admission costs as well. As such, we’ve taken Niko to Lincoln Park Zoo a few times, but neither Nesko nor I have been to Brookfield Zoo in at least twenty years. It was a little weird returning there, at least for me, since so much is the same as when I was a kid.
We parked in the North Lot, which cost $10, and met my parents. We went in together after my mom bought a family membership, which was cheaper than buying admission for 4 adults and a child and will let us come back many other times. As soon as we got in, my dad went to rent a wheelchair for my mom, who is having some hip pain, and I went to rent a wagon to haul our stuff. We’d brought a cooler of canned drinks and sandwiches, and a big bag that held swimming stuff, a towel, clean clothing, some chips, etc. There’s a splash pad we thought Niko might have fun at, but we wound up not hitting that side of the park. Brookfield Zoo has Electric Convenience Vehicles (scooters) for rent, but were out of them, so if you need one you probably need to get there super early OR call ahead to reserve one. The Wheelchair was $10.00 to rent it, but you need a credit card as a deposit; the wagon was $8.00 with an addition deposit of $10.00 which you get when you return the wagon and a barcode-printed piece of paper they give you. Niko wound up riding in the wagon for most of the visit, taking up half the space with the cooler in the other half.
Our first stop was the carousel.
Niko’s never ridden a carousel before, and this huge and beautiful one was a great introduction. He wanted to ride the camel, which was stationary, so was a good choice for a first time rider. He held on super tightly at first, as instructed, but soon was comfortable enough to wave hello and good bye as we spun past Grandma, Tata, and Pop pop. We also found one of the limited edition dinosaur Mold-A-Rama machines near the carousel, the Trachodon.
We headed for the Dinosaurs Alive! area after that, and stumbled across two more Mold-A-Rama machines for T-Rex and Apatosaurus. Dinosaurs Alive! requires an additional ticket, and has presentations on various dinosaurs at different times. There’s big animatronics of various dinosaurs, some old favorites and some lesser known ones. Niko was excited to see T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Amargasaurus, Carnasaurus, Spinosaurus, and others he loves and was really interested in the new-to-him (some recently discovered) dinosaurs as well.
Some of the animatronics had control panels/buttons one can push to make the animatronics move or make noise. The buttons were pretty high up, though, so a little kid or someone in a wheelchair would have a hard time reaching them without assistance.
There was a “Feathers and Fossils” exhibit under a tent (which was pretty warm) with some hands on stuff kids could do, including “digging” for “fossils” (molded bones embedded in a matrix and covered in shredded rubber, which they can brush aside with brushes), reproductions of fossilized bones and eggs people can touch, articulated skeleton replicas, and animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar. There was information about recent dinosaur discoveries, like juvenile T-Rex being covered in feathers, and brief presentations about competing theories like whether dinos were cold blooded or warm blooded.
I was disappointed that the only exit from Dinosaurs Alive! involved walking through the gift shop. Predictably, Niko melted down because he wasn’t getting toys (other than the Mold-A-Ramas he was clutching in his hands at the time).
We broke for a picnic lunch after the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit, settling in on some benches under some shade. I brought sandwiches and stuff from home, which my mom didn’t think would be allowed. I double checked the zoo’s website and didn’t see any rules about outside food and drinks, or even if glass containers were banned. My gut says skip the glass containers though as many venues in Chicago ban them because of the dangers of broken glass. (Lincoln Park Zoo has a ban on disposable straws which doesn’t seem to be in effect at Brookfield Zoo, interestingly.) If you don’t want to schlepp your own big cooler around, though, there are a LOT of places to buy hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, fresh popcorn, massive soft pretzels, ice cream, beer, frozen cokes, and more. As you might expect, they’re really expensive. Like, $10 for a glass of beer expensive.
We sauntered over to the Dolphin Show after lunch, but we’d missed the show by like a minute (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) and the next one wasn’t for 90 minutes. So we scoped out the dolphins under water, and found the (pink) Stegosaurus Mold-A-Rama next to the (blue) leaping dolphin Mold-A-Rama.
Niko was starting to get tired, even though he’d been hauled in his wagon chariot for 90% of the trip, and turned up his nose at seeing the seals underwater. He lobbied hard to go play at the park near the 7 Seas Exhibit and of course we gave in. My parents left for home around that time. The playground had a train theme, almost as if they’d designed it to Niko’s specifications, and he had a fun time running around and playing tag with other kids.
We lured him back into the wagon with promises of ice cream, and saw some more animals (a sleeping tapir, some sleeping kangroos…. or wallabies maybe?… some bored looking emu), and found the last two Mold-A-Rama dinosaurs (Stegosaurus and Corythosaurus) near the Rhinos/Elephants.
We returned the wagon, to Niko’s dismay. He really did not want to WALK on his FEET using his LEGS and there were several melt downs on the way back to the car that included him wailing “I don’t WANT to WALK. I’m too SLEEPY to WALK. But I really want ICE CREAM. I’m NOT too sleepy to eat ICE CREAM so I am WALKING but I DO NOT WANT TO WALK.” A woman ahead of us, pushing a stroller, kept laughing at him because he was being so dramatic and ridiculous.
We loaded into the car and drove off, stopping at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins where Niko once again elected for a sprinkle donut over ice cream. Dude loves his carbs I guess. He sacked out on the way home and had a really long nap, his Mold-A-Rama dinosaurs keeping watch over him.
Brookfield Zoo was really accessible using a big bulky wagon. My dad pushed my mom in the wheelchair (if she were a longer term wheelchair user I expect she’d push herself… I don’t know that she’s used a wheelchair before) and neither the chair nor the wagon had problems getting anywhere we wanted to go. There’s a lot of ramps, some of them sliiiiightly steep, but not enough to give us problems. I saw a lot of people with strollers, wagons, manual wheel chairs, electric wheelchairs, and scooters and nobody seemed to have any problems getting around or into attractions. Contrast this with Lincoln Park Zoo where I had serious problems getting baby Niko into newly constructed buildings when he was in a stroller… lots of exhibits had heavy narrow doors without automatic open buttons, and lots of stairs with no ramp or elevator alternative. So Brookfield Zoo definitely wins on physical accessibility, although it’s more expensive and can be harder to get to.
We didn’t look at many animals today. Our main focus was the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. I’m hoping that we can visit once a month or so with my parents’ membership and get to see more of the animals, including the Dolphin show.
If you’re thinking of heading to Brookfield Zoo, I’d recommend you check out the different pricing options, bring your own lunch, and consider renting a wagon or bringing your own. The wagon made a huge difference with a four year old in tow. Check out the zoo’s map and Exhibit and Animal Guide as well as the Exhibit Updates to plan your visit. Don’t forget your sunscreen, and your water, and have a great time!