If you’re anything like me, the idea of spending $100 on one day of family fun can leave you hyperventilating into a paper bag. If I’m going to save my pennies and fork over that kind of money to be a good parent, it better be the kind of awesome, childhood-memory-creating experience that will keep my kid out of therapy. For anyone currently trying to decide between Granby Zoo and Parc Safari as that special budget-busting end-of-summer adventure, take it from me — as someone who’s spent an obscene amount of money and time at both, Granby Zoo’s the clear winner. Here’s why:
1. Kid-pleasingly interactive without the car damage. Parc Safari is best known for its “safari” — you know, driving your car down a dirt road where some of their less aggressive animals roam free. It’s a novel experience, and there is really no question that every kid should have their hand licked by a giraffe or a zebra at least once.
But if you’re not already in line when the park opens, expect a safari rush hour that puts the Turcot to shame. It can take a very long time to get through the attraction — and there is only one break area about halfway through, so if nothing else, make sure everyone pees before you start.
Once you’re in, you become immediately aware of how much damage horns and antlers can do to a car. In a bumper-to-bumper safari jam, you are at the mercy of the animal kingdom. It’s also worth noting that the law of the jungle appears to bring out the worst in already questionable drivers. Expect to see children sitting on top of moving minivans as parents gleefully snap “before” pictures of the tragedy that’s about to unfold.
Over at Granby Zoo, kids can get licked by all kinds of animals in their different zones split up by continent — with your car left safely in the parking lot. You can feed nectar to a tropical bird perched on your hand while visiting Asia, chat with a kangaroo during a quick trip through Australia or pet a (totally awesome) slimy ray fish during a stop in the South Pacific.
2. Meltdown-friendly layout. While there is something about it that almost matches the obsessive compulsiveness of Disney, Granby Zoo was designed by a genius who understands parental necessity. Unlike Parc Safari, which has a central area for eating and taking breaks between sections of the park, at Granby it really feels like no matter where your kid has his meltdown and/or accident, there is always a picnic table and restroom within eyesight.
3. Compulsive cleanliness. There can’t really be any doubt that keeping up with the volume of people that come through the two parks requires a Herculean effort in sanitation. The people tasked with keeping the parks clean are well-qualified for sainthood. And between the two parks, Granby is the clear winner. The real test in both venues isn’t the animals — it’s the water parks. When it’s time to get wet, many people rent lockers and hit the wisely over-chlorinated water, and the pavement in between, barefoot. At Parc Safari, I had to force my little guppy to keep his shoes on until the last possible moment, but Granby’s Amazoo was impeccable. We walked the length of the water park barefoot, without a bacterial care in the world.
4. The it’s cool-to-know-stuff factor. Clearly, animals are awesome. But Granby Zoo puts a lot more effort into making it easy and cool to know about the animals on the other side of the glass your kids are knocking on while you’re not looking. The connection between seeing the animals in action and learning about them is remarkably seamless. There’s so much information, so many artifacts — just so much context — that even kids with the average attention span of fruit flies can stay engaged from beginning to end.
5. Price-per-awesomeness. While the price of the two parks is very similar, Granby Zoo just has way more to see and do. And even more than that, sometimes it’s the little things you notice. For instance, both parks have a “lazy river” type ride that involves tubing through shallow water that weaves its way around the park. At Parc Safari, you rent the tubes, but at Granby’s Amazoo they are free. And real or imagined, there is something about not having to dish out more money that makes the ride that much better.
In the end, my dimpled minion always finds ways to remind me that, no matter how well a park is planned or cleaned, the happiest moments always come from something simple. From our trip to Granby Zoo, his best memory was getting “pooped at” by a sheep he was chasing in the petting zoo. What I remember, on the other hand, is spending the day having a crazy awesome time with my kid without having to search for bathrooms, dodge dirty sidewalks or try to keep anyone entertained. And that is money well spent.