Monday, July 9, 2012

How Long Can You Look at Something Cute?

I have volunteered my services in the near future to watching the newborn of a pair of friends for around three months. So Melissa came up with the great idea to have a little staycation with the four of us before things got hectic with our schedules. I loved the idea and it has certainly given me a great number of things to write about so you can expect several upcoming posts that are Idaho-specific, but hold some universal ideas. I hope you enjoy!

One of the best things I have ever done in life is nothing. I mean that, I really do. To this day, Melissa and I will talk about the time we took a full week off from our jobs and barely left the house. It was not a sexy thing, I can assure you. We ordered in lots of food, we barely wore anything outside the realm of pajamas, and our activities were almost exclusive to TV and computer games. Part of what I loved about that week was how little effort we put into any of it. It seems like most vacations are so stressful. You worry about getting things in your life to a point where you can leave for however long. Then, you worry about making sure you bring everything you need. Then, you worry about filling your days with new and exciting things that you wouldn't normally experience. Then, you worry about making sure everything you've brought is making the return trip home. Finally, you worry about getting everything back to normal. Vacations can be a real nightmare. That's why I love staycations, and Melissa and I were having those before it was even a word.

So as I mentioned there is probably going to be a write-up for each of the three major activities we took part in during our week, and I should add that a staycation with two little ones is a lot different than the ones with just the two of us. Kids really do change everything, including your definition of "relaxing." This, the first in the series of three stops is for Zoo Boise.

You can check out their website at .

So let's get the little stuff out of the way. A zoo can be a great day trip destination for the family. Zoo Boise is very conveniently located just inside the downtown limits, which is a quick and easy 20 minute drive from our house. The price was fantastic at $7/adult and both the boys (3 and under price range) were free. So at $14 to go in, that seemed more than fair. The animals were as fun to look at as you could expect and the zoo itself was clean and easy to navigate. There's even a food place with very reasonable prices, but I have never tried the food and can't speak to the taste or quality of any of it.

That being said...

Every time I go to our zoo, I leave in a pretty sad state. This most recent trip, like all the others, gave the wink of what was to come from the moment we drove into the parking lot. Zoo Boise is located at the most eastern side of a park. It's one of those very simple, but very beautiful parks that is basically a well maintained lot of grass and shade trees. I love it, and can't wait for the boys to be old enough to sit and have a picnic lunch there without running away every possible moment. What does that have to do with the zoo? Parking! Here's the kicker, I don't even mean that it creates a parking problem, but the city has placed two-hour parking limit signs for almost every spot near the zoo. Really though, that's only an issue if you're going to be at the zoo for more than two hours (more on that in a moment), and to be honest, I'm not sure how strictly that policy is enforced.

For our visit, we wanted to be there when the gates opened. Our plan was to go from open (9am) till about noon at which point we could leave and grab lunch at one of our favorite little spots in the downtown area. We thought it was a pretty solid plan. We were a little late (surprise) and ended up getting inside closer to 9:15. Here's where I started to get a little...cranky. As we entered (a mere 15 minutes after they opened) we noticed a great deal of people inside the various animal exhibits cleaning things up. So strolling down an uncrowded zoo, we found that it was pretty easy to move from sight to sight since there were no actual animals to look at. Lucky for us, moving along so quickly allowed us to catch up to the guy using a blower to get dirt off the walkway. I've mentioned before that I'm from Florida - Land of Theme Parks. I don't understand why basic clean up couldn't be done prior to the opening time. I feel like we interrupted the workers, similar to when I've just mopped and William must run across the floor at that moment. It was a big turn-off, and seriously, why open the park at a time that you've specifically put all the animals out of sight? I can look at empty cages at Petsmart, even online!

We brought our double stroller to avoid the rental prices, which led to yet another issue. Every theme/amusement/aquatic/zoo park I've ever been to was more or less a circle. As I said, it was easy to get around the zoo without the use of the map (possibly due to the small overall size), but I like to think of Zoo Boise as more of an "E" that has been laid down flat. As you enter, you have three choices of direction but for anyone with wheels, they all dead end somewhere. It stopped bothering us at some point and just became laughable. We'd walk a little ways and get cut off by a locked gate or stairs and be forced to turn around. Easy to navigate, but equally as annoying.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the zoo itself, and this sadly gets echoed for a number activities locally. Here in Idaho, the grand scale just isn't that grand. I still love when local people complain about "traffic." It's pretty cute. The big announcements just aren't that big, and it's due in no small part to the small number of people really willing to help fund these types of projects. I love the parks systems here, but some are very underwhelming when you compare them to others that are a five minute drive away. Likewise, the zoo has a great selection of animals, but they feel presented in a way that I find myself in a constant state of "ready for the next one." I didn't feel drawn in by the exhibits and many have such a small viewing area that as a family of four with a big double stroller, you are either blocked from any sort of view or boxed in by the mass of people trying to find a way to look around you. Not to mention that since the viewing areas are so small, you pretty much get all the view you ever will, in about 5 seconds. It becomes as interesting as going online to look at photos of the animals. Cute yes, but how long can you look at something cute? Going very slowly through everything, stopping at various exhibits multiple times and an extra special trip back through everything to actually see the animals once the cleaning crews were done, we were still done in around an hour. We used the second hour of our parking time to let William run around in the park.

In summation, we had a good time but it was one of those moments where you must ask yourself, "how long do I need to be here to get my money's worth?" Perhaps the two-hour parking is enough for anyone. I just couldn't help but leave with a little pit in my stomach thinking it could have been better. It's unfair to expect a huge, expensive beast of a zoo in this area but I can't help but wonder if it's out of the question to want a little more. Yes, we had a nice time, but I've been to hockey games where I had a nice time...and my team lost.  Fun and disappointing don't always travel separately.

I'll add: We'll go back. Of course we will, what are the zoo options around here? The price is still good enough to not feel bad about an hour visit. Also, like any zoo, they do great things for conservation and animals in general. I'm happy to support good programs, but it will take some amazing change before I feel real desire to go back.

It doesn't have to be a zoo, but it's always a good idea to send money to the places you really want to do well. Our little staycation has certainly shown me that Boise has a lot to offer, but without help from donations it's never going to be a draw that makes people want to visit this amazing place.

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