VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, N.J. is a quaint day trip for New Jerseyans or visitors to the area. The kids had a blast running through fountains that were turned on to help people cool off, gawking at the sea lions (see above), and feeding the birds. Discover what you’ll experience should you make the journey to TBZ:
In the above sign, you’ll notice Family Fun Nights in the summer and ads for the Zoological Society of New Jersey. Encouraging guests to “have a wild day” was perfect for me and mine.The Turtle Back Zoo offers locals many opportunities to connect with nature. We were braving the zoo with three kids 5 and under. Indeed, it was wild. Frankly, the kids might have been wilder than the animals they were seeing.
The Charm of Turtle Back Zoo
Appropriately, the first animals we saw upon our visit to the Turtle Back Zoo were turtles. Actually, they were tortoises, but close enough. What fascinated the kids? The baby pooping right before their eyes. They found it downright hilarious. And we adults had the chance to sing, “Everybodyyyyy poopssss,” ala Dinosaur Train. My son was really looking forward to seeing the stars of Happy Feet, but there was a long penguin in the habitat, which had my sister the professional zookeeper concerned. Still, despite that disappointment, we charged on.
One of the unique aspects of the zoo is the interactive aviary. Guests are not allowed to touch the birds, which include parakeets (see photo below), but they can feed them. You can purchase sticks with birdseed on them and hold them out for the birds to come to you. The kids went wild. The birds were chirping directly in their ears and munching the food off the sticks that they held in their hands. My son and niece had grins as wide as the Hudson. My mom was another story. She had birds sitting on her feet and trying to fly up her leg because much of the bird seed lands on the ground. My sister-in-law and I had to maneuver the strollers with bird seeds on the wheels without rolling over an unsuspecting parakeet.
Sea lions and monkeys are always entertaining. A small petting zoo with all the usual suspects, including goats, rounded out the highlights. As we walked out of the gift shop on our way out of the zoo, a lovely peacock walked up to us and displayed his plumage despite the rain storm. The promise of giraffes existed when we went to the zoo, but they had not arrived yet. As of 2016, you can find them in the African Adventure.
What’s lovely about these little zoos is that they are not so overwhelming. The three kids actually amused themselves by observing the animals and taking in the details of the zoo. There was an elephant statue that they all climbed on to take a picture. Running through the fountains (see below) was not just for cooling off. It was also a memory in the making. They were dancing around without a care in the world, and it brought us all back to our own childhood. Isn’t that, in part, what a day at the zoo is all about?
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.