Saturday, February 18, 2006

San Diego Zoo - Visiting with the Mobility Challenged

I've been to the San Diego Zoo dozens of times: with toddlers, my husband, nephews, neices, visitors, and even with twice with a dozen Brownie Girl Scouts each time, but never before with anyone who faced any physical handicaps, until today. After convincing my mom to move to southern CA from NH, and of course promising her a trip to the world famous zoo more than 6 months ago, we finally came through on our promise. Mom is in decent health, but cannot walk 25 yards without severe shortness of breath. Anyone who has ever been to any zoo knows that walking around is a major component to the trip; San Diego zoo is notorious for its sprawling campus and steep grades. So how to do this?

Stop 1: Before leaving home check the San Diego Zoo website for information on enjoying the zoo with people with handicaps.
Stop 2: Check on the internet for specials both at the San Diego Zoo website, but also at Entertainment and AAA. We were able to get 10% of with our AAA card.
Stop 3: Check the weather, calendar, and set your alarm clock. We have trouble getting go in the am, and unfortunately hit traffic from Orange County. You could also stay closer to San Diego. Pick a cool day if you can, even better one that threatens rain to keep the crowds down. Summer, school vacations, and weekends are most crowded in that order. If you do get a late start, just stay until they kick you out (evening and early mornings are the best times to see active animals).
Stop 4: Remember your handicap placard, but don't count on parking close. They don't have enough handicap spots, and you will likely need to drop off your party at the entrance. Send them directly to guest services to chose their entrance package.
Stop 5: Either go to security to arrange free shuttle transportation or go directly to the guided tour bus for a 30 minute drive around the zoo to get your bearings.
Stop 6: Go back to security and rent a foldable wheel chair - only $10. Bring at least two people who can push your person, the hills get a bit tiring. You can arrange free handicap shuttles, or ride on and off the express buses to your locations, or do as we did, and mosy around on foot taking turns at the wheelchair. There is no where you can't go with a little will and elbow grease.
Stop 7: Don't forget to go see the mamma and baby pandas. We poked our noses in at 4:45, 15 minutes after official exhibit close, and the wonderful docent/keepers, still allowed us our own private viewing - amazing!

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