Sunday, August 28, 2011

Millennium Park - Grand Rapids, Michigan


We love this park!  Partly because it's not far from our house but it's also a lot of fun and not that expensive!

There are some things you can do for free like park, play in the playground area, picnic in one of the many pavilions (can be reserved),  walk/run/bike on the beautiful trials, and they have nice restrooms.

The main portion of the park that we visit is in the paid area.  They have a great splash pad for kids and a beautiful beach area with swimming.  One thing that I like with my little ones is that the water is pretty shallow in the swimming area.  However, there is a drop off past the area they have marked for swimming.

It's hard to see but if you look in the distance you can see that they offer chairs to sit in.

FYI - There are a couple of these poles in the splash pad area (I think the other one is orange).
The water is set to turn off every now and then (to preserve water).
You just have to move your hand over the sensor located in that section to turn it back on.
It's helpful to know if there aren't a lot of people around and your little one is freaking out because it "stopped working"!

Sandy beach so don't forget your sand toys

The "no swim" and drop-off area is well marked.
Of course there are some of these visiting those picnicking on the beach ;-)

The park offers restrooms, changing rooms, showers, lockers, and tables to sit and eat.  You can bring your own food or, during busy times, they offer nice options to purchase food there.  I think it's fun that they offer a kids meal in a bucket so the kids can use it for play after they eat :)

These are near the buildings to provide shaded seating.

This is a side view of the picnic table area and changing/shower rooms.

Menu and pricing for summer of 2012

The park is continuously growing.  Recently they added a boat rental option.  It's located outside of the beach and splash pad area so you do not have to pay an entrance fee.  I have not rented a boat there yet but I noticed a nice variety of options (canoe, paddleboat, kayak, row boat) while we were on the beach.  The cost doesn't seem to be bad and I even came across a coupon for $3 off any boat rental (found in a local advertisement at my library).

The boat house

Kids in the Kitchen: Taco Chip Dip


1 cup refried beans
16 ounces sour cream
1/2 package taco seasoning
12 ounces shredded cheese
1 bunch green onion (chopped)
1 tomato (chopped)
lettuce (chopped)
sliced black olives
tortilla chips. 

Don't forget to wash your hands!

 1st layer:  spread refried beans in bottom of small cake pan.

2nd layer:  in a bowl blend together sour cream and taco seasoning.  Spread on top of beans.

Topping:  top with shredded cheese, diced green onions, diced tomato, chopped lettuce and sliced black olives (I don't care for these so I leave them out).

Serve with tortilla chips.

She was so proud to say she made our dish to pass for our family reunion :)

Detroit Zoo

This is kind of a mini blog post on my visit to the Detroit Zoo in Michigan.  I'm calling it a "mini blog post" because it was my first visit there and I am sure there is much more to discover than what I have learned so far and will be sharing in this post.  But, I felt it was worth the time since it was a great visit!

First, the Detroit Zoo is large so you might want to make sure you go in with a plan.  Check out the website ( and park map to figure out what the most important sites are to you.  I actually printed the park map that was online (see below) and outlined our day.  We didn't see everything and we were there for nearly 5 hours!!  That's an extremely long time when it comes to my fussy 4 year old!

The Detroit Zoo does offer some discounts so do your research before going.  I found out that my local zoo membership gave me a 50% discount due to the reciprocal list for zoo members (that I mentioned in my previous blog on Binder Park Zoo).   Parking was not free but only cost $5 for our SUV.  We paid for that at the entrance with our admission.  FYI - we parked on the 3rd floor of the parking ramp which was perfect for the walk-way they have to get down.  

The website may also tell you days and time of special events that you might want to check out  But, a good time to ask is at the entrance when you are purchasing your tickets.  Here is a sign I found while checking out the Penguins.  

NOTE:  Giraffe feedings are something that you need to plan for.  The website will give you the details but I can tell you a couple of things.  You have to buy a ticket when you pay for admission to the zoo.  There are only 50 people allowed in per feeding time and I'm not sure how many feedings they offer a day.  It looked like a fun opportunity but since we have already done this at Binder Park Zoo we opted out.

We saw these at many of the animal stops.  I wasn't really sure what they were for until we saw a little girl use one.  So, I asked her mom about it.  Apparently you can buy a "key" at the gift store near the entrance.  It only costs a couple of dollars.  When you use your key at each station it tells you about the animal in a fun way.  And, when it is done telling you in English, it repeats it in many other languages!  Of course we were already near the end of our zoo visit so we didn't buy any but I would next time.  I was told they are good through the season if you are a repeat visitor or know someone else who might want to use it...

Okay, there is a ton of walking to do!!!  So they offer a train that will take you from the beginning to the end of the park and back.  The cost to ride is $3 per person each way.  We planned our day at the park so we would end on the far side and have the train take us back to the entrance.  The kids LOVED the train ride and were really happy to be off their feet for a while!  Oh, for $8 you can have your child ride with the conductor and they get a hat.  A parent must be with them so you might have to pay another $8 but I'm not sure.

And there is plenty of stroller space on the train!

I mentioned that there is plenty of space on the train for strollers (and wagons) but I thought I should also mention this.  If you plan to check-out any of the many indoor exhibits most of them will not allow you to bring in your stroller /wagon.  There are places where you can park them outside of the entrance.  Of course you have to hope that no one takes anything while it is there.  Also, the exits are generally in a totally different section of the building so you will need to find your way back to get your items.

I thought I would share a few pictures of some sites you may see while visiting:

There is a beautiful butterfly exhibit!

My son had to have his picture taken in front of this.

Giraffes - we didn't feed them but still had a great view of them!


This was in the Polar Bear Exhibit.

This was awesome!

They swim right over you!
Each summer they appear to have a special exhibit so you will want to check out what that is.  This summer it was all about dinosaurs and it couldn't have been more perfect for my little ones!!!  It was like walking through Jurassic Park!  You paid extra for this ($4 per person at the exhibit gate) but it was well worth it.  We followed a trail through the "jungle" and saw life-like dinosaurs in their habitat  They moved, made sounds, spit water, roared!!!  My son wanted his picture taken with every one of them ;-)

While we were there we also visited one of the 3D/4D rides ($4 per person and we had a couple of options based on age and preference).  They also have really cool face paintings, hand-print art, character drawings, gift shops, food stations.  

Oh, food!  They have a lot to pick from in the summer.  We opted to go to the Arctic Food Court because it was the largest and had variety for all our picky eaters (even a veggie burger for me).  The food was good but kind of pricey which can be expected when you visit places like this.  

A BIG FYI - The Detroit Zoo allows you to bring in your own food!!!  We saw many people pulling wagons with coolers in them.  They have a ton of places around the park that you can stop and have a picnic at if you plan ahead on what you want to do for meals.

Have you been to the Detroit Zoo?  I would love to hear about your experiences there and tips that you might have!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Binder Park Zoo - Battle Creek, Michigan

 My family loves this zoo!  It is about an hour from my house but much more fun than our little local zoo.  The animals are in more of a natural habitat and there are many more varieties of animals.  Plus - you have the opportunity to feed giraffes!

Discounts:  They offer a military discount.  They are also part of a reciprocal list (you get 50% off admission if you have a membership with another  participating zoo).  I have seen coupons for Binder Park Zoo.  One year we found $5 coupons at a McDonalds.  This year I saw $2 coupons in a Michigan Fun Pass Travel Guide (little newspaper full of coupons that was at my local library).

My BEST tip:  BUG SPRAY!!!

Part 1 of the 2011 park map

Part 2 of the 2011 park map.  This section actually shows where you enter the park.

I thought these schedules where interesting.
You might want to see what the times/days are for your visit.
We always plan a visit to the Wildlife Discovery Theater which only runs 2-3 times a day. 

There's plenty of parking on both sides of the entrance.

I thought this was a little "funny".
Makes me wonder why they later had to add a sticker stating that firearms are not permitted??? !!!
 There are great food options in the park but here's a look at what the picnic areas are like.  Around this area you will see an entrance for hiking trails that they have too.

Example of picnic areas outside of the park (near the parking lot)
When you are paying to get into the park, make sure you check out any updates for the day.  For example, late start times for giraffe feeding or certain areas that might be under construction.

Stroller rental options

This is what most of the walking area is like throughout the park.
There are a ton of picture opportunities.
This is one we take every year to look back on how much they have grown.
Another tip - get to the giraffes as soon as you can!  They are much more friendly when they haven't been fed all day!!  The giraffes are located in the "Wild Africa" section of the park.  Check for opening times since it will sometimes open a little later than the first part of the park.  You have to get to the International Depot for a free tram ride to Wild Africa.  

You will pass this building and walkway.

Inside that building is a very cute wildlife carousel.

There's also face painting outside the building.

This is the correct place to get on the tram.
 The tram leaves every 15 minutes and carries many people at a time so you shouldn't have to wait long. The front cart is great for those that need wheelchair space.

This is what it looks like.
There is stroller parking but recently they added a trailer on the back of the trams to carry your strollers for you!
This is awesome since I hated not having one (or only having a small umbrella stroller) when my kids were stroller age!!!

Some seats on the tram have a storage compartment in front of them.
This is great for bags and small strollers (umbrella strollers).

Okay, you get off the tram at Wild Africa and your first instinct is to check everything out. My recommendation is the same tip I had for you earlier - get to the giraffes!!!  You want to get there when the crowd is small (for prime feeding and picture opportunities).  You can always check out this other stuff later.  

The "Entrance" sign on this building is the way to the giraffes.

I took the full trip around the trail the first year I visited this zoo.  The past couple of years we decided to just turn around after feeding the giraffes.  It is a nice walk and we do miss some animals by not going all the way around.  But, it's a big zoo and we have a lot of things to see before my little ones get tired and fussy.  When my kids are bigger we will start taking the full hike around.

LOL!!  This is adding to the history they share with you on the tram.  
Be sure to check out the sites.
Once you get to the giraffe feeding area you are given the option to buy something to feed them (the purchased item is all you are allowed to feed them).  You can buy biscuits for $1 each or 6 for $5.  I say "biscuits" but sometimes it is actually leaf lettuce (like this last visit).  The biscuits are large and since there are a bunch of people waiting to feed them I recommend only one per person.  However - the lettuce is eaten up quickly so I generally buy more of that.

This one was really hungry and didn't want me feeding the
little baby that was having a harder time reaching the food.

The giraffes were hungry (since we got their early) and we beat the crowd
 so I had a lot of great picture opportunities this visit.
Back near the tram area you will find a place to eat and a gift shop.  We usually eat lunch here but this year we were a little early so we ate lunch on the other side of the park.  It was nice to know that the menus are the same.  I love the kids meal options and they also have a veggie burger for me!!!  :)

Okay, the rest of the information I am going to share with you is back at the first section of the park (after the tram ride back).

I mentioned that we like the Wildlife Discovery Theater.  It's located across from the carousel. It's a cute and informative show that really doesn't run for long.  Children laugh as they see the actors work with animals.
Wildlife Discovery Theater

After the show you can stick around to meet the animals.  I didn't get a picture of it but there is a bird that will talk, do tricks, and if you give it a $1 tip it will place it in a tip container.

As you walk through the park you will see many animals and birds wondering around.  This one wasn't scared of us at all and actually got a little bit in my personal space while I was trying to eat :)  I had a long talk with him (just inches from my face) and later he walked away.  Feeding the animals is not permitted but it would have been fun to give him what he wanted.

You don't want to miss out on this HUGE dinosaur!  

Another tip:  There are signs all over the park directing you but for some reason this train really had us confused the first year we visited the zoo.  We knew that we needed to take a "train" to the giraffes but you could imagine our surprise when this train did not!  With that said, it is a fun experience for train loving kids.  It's $2 a person with kids under the age of 2 free.  You really only see wilderness on your short train ride but it follows train tracks and makes train noises.

Just a few more pictures from the our visit: