Don't let winter winds keep you from the zooPhotos courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo The tigers frolic at Lincoln Park Zoo all year round. This year, the Zoolights Festival is free.
By the time January rolls around, my kids and I have already exhausted our indoor and outdoor winter activities. From crafting to making snowbunny families to frequenting crowded museums, we've done it all.
I know it's cold outside, but I can feel cabin fever creeping in. My little holiday angels are turning into cranky little devils and I, too, feel on edge. That's when I announce it's time to go to the zoo. My little savages' screams turn into excited laughter.
Both Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, and Brookfield Zoo, First Avenue and 31st Street, Brookfield, are open every day of the year, and both offer benefits for winter visitors. The buildings are open, but there are fewer adventurous souls to crowd you out of enjoying time with the animals. Not only are you more likely to have an exhibit all to yourself, but parking is a breeze and you don't have to wait in long lines for bathroom and lunch breaks or to buy tickets for special exhibits and shows.
If you're a real cold-weather wimp, plan ahead to make your zoo visit more enjoyable.
• Do your homework. The zoo's Web sites, www.brookfieldzoo.org and www.lpzoo.org, offer maps and information on all of the programs and exhibits, so you can plan what to see and spend less time roaming around. Brookfield Zoo offers a free heated shuttle to get you around. Or call the education office for information on family and children's programs so you can visit on the day they offer some fun indoor activities. Brookfield is (708) 485-0263, ext. 361, and Lincoln Park is (312) 742-2053.
• Indulge in the usual. Hamill Family Play Zoo at Brookfield is open every day, but you will get a lot more of the 13,000-square-foot indoor play space to yourself in the winter. There, kids transform themselves into birds, lemurs and veterinarians using costumes and face paints. They also make craft projects, create or manage a zoo, read books, take care of plants and get to know animals. Lincoln Park Zoo's Farm in the Zoo exhibit also is a must. Baking, butter churning and tasting, cow milking and meeting the animals are daily activities.
• Be prepared. Bring a stroller or the backpack carrier or rent a wagon at the zoo. They are good for holding the layers your kids will shed when you spend time in an exhibit. Add a few extra tissues to the diaper bag and throw one or two winter blankets in the car, just in case.
• Forget vanity. The animals won't care what you look like. Dress everyone in layers. And keep in mind that most kids don't care if they are running around half in and out of their winter gear, especially if they are having fun. Put your money and ID cards in your pocket so you don't have to dig for them later.