I recently bought our family of five an annual pass to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford. We’ve been to the zoo a handful of times over the years with our three boys, ages ranging from three to ten. It’s outdoors, it’s educational, and the boys get to burn off that never-ending energy at entertaining spots including the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground, KaBOOM! playground, and Zoom Air Adventure Park.
However, something I never anticipated during these zoo trips were how many priceless memories we’d make.
This week, I took my youngest son Kenny to the zoo while the big boys were in school. We arrived a little after it opened and visitors were just beginning to trickle in, so we felt like we had the place, and the animals, all to ourselves.
Strolling down the boardwalk trail with him reminded me of the very first time my husband and I brought my oldest son, Kevin, to this zoo. He was only five months old, and we couldn’t wait to show him the monkeys, see his excitement, and hear him make his adorable animal sounds. I also thought about when we brought my middle son, Harrison, who loved the splash pad so much he didn’t’ want to leave.
Peering through the glass at the giant alligator exhibit made me laugh. This is the same spot where my husband always tells his childhood story about coming here with his Grandpa, and how the gator moved unexpectedly, causing them to jump back and topple over each other.
At the zoo that day, my three-year-old and I took our time and soaked it all in. We observed the family of Tamarin monkeys, and we watched the lemurs gather around for a morning snack. We said “good morning” to the sloth. We learned a little bit about the rhinos, and we met hungry and adorable friends Gizmo the goat and Andre the llama, who gently ate a snack out of Kenny’s hands while he giggled with excitement.
As the two of us left and headed toward the parking lot, we made one last stop at The Little Florida Coastline Train, a miniature red streamline train built in 1951 that takes you on a short ride through the woods that surround the zoo. Kenny couldn’t hold back his excitement to ride the same train that his big brothers thought was once so adventurous when they were his age.
Kenny’s face beamed with joy as the two of us squeezed in the tiny train car and he watched the engineer punch our ticket. The little horn blew, he grabbed my hand, and we were off. Since then, the train ride has been part of our daily conversation, along with our new friends Gizmo and Andre.
As our local zoo adds more exhibits and discovery areas, it remains a place of nostalgia for so many. I can’t wait to one day tell Kenny about his excitement the first time he boarded the train, but for now we are going to sit back and enjoy a few more rides. See you at the zoo!
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