Just in time for some very nice weather this weekend, the Oregon Zoo makes its triumphant premiere to the public after being closed since March 17th, going nearly four months without daily visitors. Members can start going Friday and Saturday, and the plan is to open the gates to non-members on Sunday. 

It’s not going to be the zoo experience you have become accustomed to over any number of years, but it’s going to be worlds better than the no-zoo experience you’ve had the last four months; please keep that in mind and level your expectations going in. The Zoo and its staff have worked hard to create a safe and fun experience and we should offer them thanks for providing a great option to get the family out of the house in a world extremely low on fun and safe opportunities at the moment. 

One key to keep in mind going in is that patrons were previously given access to roam the property at their leisure – and that’s a thing of the past. Those lucky enough to gain entry for the first of hopefully many summer days will be taken on a one-way tour throughout the property, while being asked to practice social distancing while following the blue paws marked through the pathways. Most indoor facilities are closed indefinitely, so if your favorite exhibit was enclosed, plan on it being unavailable at this time.

Another guideline is that all people in the Zoo must wear face coverings while on the property. The few exceptions are those under the age of six, and anyone with a medical condition that requires them to keep their mask off. The Zoo recommends that any kids 2-5 wear a mask, but it is not required to gain entry at that age range. Keep in mind that you can be denied entry or asked to leave if you fail to wear your mask. For a full breakdown of the new guidelines, visit this page.

A new safety measure that will need immediate attention – all tickets must be reserved online. This enables the Zoo and their staff to prepare for a specific amount of guests at certain times as well as accommodate any guests requiring assistance. In order to gain entry, you’ll need to reserve your ticket(s) for a specific time – similar to how you would plan to attend a movie at the theater (back when that was an option anyway). For those folks who show up hoping to get in on good faith – I wouldn’t count on it. You may be fortunate and they have a slot open and are willing to take drop-ins, but be prepared to be turned away or asked to reserve a slot online at a later time or date if you decide to go on a whim and hope for luck. For a full breakdown of the new expectations to get a ticket, visit this page

For non-members, tickets are $17.95 for adults and kids 12 and older, kids 3-11 are $12.95, and children 2 and under are no charge. 

Before arriving at the Zoo the day of your tour, plan ahead and bring some snacks and beverages for you and the family. While the Zoo may have kiosks open serving refreshments, you may want to avoid those and the lines they are sure to attract. If you are wanting to spend funds there to help keep the place funded, consider a donation. You’re welcome to bring your own food, beverages, and coolers, but no alcohol. So why not load up a cooler or insulated backpack with some wraps, veggies, fruit or berries, and some granola bars or trail mix to keep your little (or not little) group fueled along the way. And because it’s supposed to be warm this weekend – make sure to pack hydrating beverages like water or sports drinks. Who knows, maybe even some coffee and juice to give your group the pick me up they need. Again, you can make a purchase or donation if you’re concerned about helping out, but you may as well bring the basics with you in case the lines are long or you have a group that prefers to bring a sack lunch anyway.

Make it like a good old fashioned field trip – have your group wear comfortable walking clothes, stay together, plan a fun assignment like a simple scavenger hunt they can do in teams or pairs, and above all else – keep your distance from other groups. We don’t need anyone ending up in the wrong team’s huddle. It’s a scary predicament even at the best of times. Have everyone bring a sack lunch (even if you pack them all yourself), walk together, eat together, and if possible, ride home together. Once home, ask them all to write one paragraph about the experience and what they missed most about going to the zoo. You can send these as letters in a thank you to the Zoo once done; it will be a fun and rewarding project and I’m certain they’d love to hear how their fans felt about the experience. 

If you find that the Zoo is not your cup of tea, you don’t want to be among the first to experience the new look, or you don’t live close enough, check out these great options brought to you by Stephanie McCoy and head to the one closest to you. 

Whatever you do, make sure you get out and enjoy the weather, maybe take the kids to meet some wildlife, and above all – stay safe out there. We like having all of you around as long as possible.