By Rachael McMillan
Living in C-U typically means weekending in one of three major metropolitan areas: Chicago, St. Louis, or Indianapolis. All are great American cities with lots to offer families. After many uninterrupted years of visiting them, though, those destinations can take on a bit of a “been there, done that” quality. It’s great to have other one-tank road trip options to freshen the palette every once in a while.
Recently, en route to Washington D.C., my family stopped for the night in Columbus, OH. We planned to get there early enough to enjoy the Jack Hanna-sponsored Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which was no small feat–of course, you lose an hour heading east. Enjoy it, we did. Recommend it, we do (slipped into Yoda mode for a minute there). Here’s why:
It’s well planned.
The Brookfield and St. Louis Zoos, both delightful in their own right, suffer from the same major downfall as far as I’m concerned (although Brookfield is by far the worse offender): they are laid out in a sprawling fashion around central greens. Walking both takes quite some time. The Columbus Zoo, by contrast, makes excellent use of its space. You’re never far from seeing something great, and its innovative animal habitats and exhibits are nicely maintained. The Columbus Zoo even has a somewhat-unnecessary-but-cool-nonetheless free tram that will take you from the parking lot to the front gate.
It’s a good value.
Your membership to any of the following local zoos gets you into the Columbus Zoo for half price: Scovill, Miller Park, Henson Robinson, or Peoria. The premium exhibit wristbands are $9 per person, which actually seems like a good deal once you realize what fun the extras are (Dinosaur Island rules, although I’m still not sure why it has a Southeast Asia theme). You do have to pay to park.
Zoombezi Bay Waterpark is right next door.
We did not visit it, being constrained by both time and the fact that we’re more zoo people than water park folk. However, if you really wanted to make a weekend of it, you easily could hit both places to the delight of, I’m sure, your entire group.
Priceline seems to love giving good deals on Columbus hotels.
We stayed in east Columbus on the way to D.C. and west Columbus on the way home. Both times we were able to score a Priceline Express Deal and get a hotel with a pool and free breakfast–and a decent user rating–for an average of about $60.
Rachael McMillan teaches sixth and seventh grade history at Campus Middle School for Girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, third grader Jack, second grader Kate, and super smiley baby William.