Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vacation Day 8 - Thanksgiving Day

We spent Thursday, November 25, 2010, giving thanks at the San Diego Zoo.

As wonderful as it is to have a reunion on Thanksgiving Day cozied up with family and scads of tasty dishes, my most memorable holidays have all been spent away from home. I'm sure this one will pass the test of time.

The zoo is located by Balboa Park - a place we had already visited several times - so we knew exactly how to get there. We arrived just as the park opened, and we immediately got in line to take the bus tour of the zoo.

The bus tour is awesome. They use double-decker buses (we chose the longer line to the upper, open deck), and after you board, you get to see 75% of the zoo in under an hour, complete with zoologist commentary. The only problem with the buses? You see 75% of the zoo in under an hour which left us wondering what to do for the rest of the day.

But since the San Diego zoo is a big, sprawling confusion of paths through enclosures that span over 100 acres housing 4000 animals of 800 species, we managed to fill the time: Zoo Exhibits.

We were there early, so the zoo animals were fairly active. Sure, I took photos of the animals, but they're identical to every other tourist photo you've seen of zoo animals... so this is the only one I'm including. We were not the only animals in the zoo who enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast.

What really cracks me up about this photo is the angle of the hyena's head.

I've learned that the four components of good health are 1) Diet, 2) Exercise, 3) Sleep, and 4) Flexibility. I'd say this guy (girl?) has #4 in the bag.

Bridgette did more walking at the zoo than any other day of vacation. We still carried her, but we carried her a lot less than usual.

The zoo had some reasonable topography -- including elevation changes of significance -- and for the first time, B tried her feet uphill and down. (There's enough elevation change that from the bottom of the zoo, they actually engineered steeply angled moving-sidewalks to carry you back up to the top. Cool!)

We were not the only ones to think she was cute. Maybe it was the holiday mood, but we got a lot of comments about her sunglasses, her adorableness, and her good behavior.

When her feet "failed" her, we rented a stroller to save the day. When she wasn't in it, we used it to carry all our stuff. (Please see first photo, top of blog.)

The stroller was an interesting low-step, open-front design. It was perfect for rolling a child right up to a glass wall or for having them hop in-and-out to see things.

But a design for napping? Not so much. The stroller provided nothing to lean on, to the back or to the sides, so zoo day was also No Nap Day. Not a wink. You'll see in the later photos that Bridgette's eyes are deep with exhaustion.

Somewhere, deep in the heart of the jungle, dwells a rare species of variegated pink monkey.

Okay, so the very famous San Diego Zoo lives up to the hype. From what I could tell as a lay-observer, it was a really great zoo. We enjoyed it.

The only complaint we had, which is more a word of warning for anyone else planning to visit, is that the maps around the zoo are not very accurate. I'm a pretty good map reader (see previous post), but there were a lot of branching paths in the zoo that were not demarcated on the map.

The major thoroughfares were spot on, but once you began meandering to either side of the main roads, the sidewalks were misleading, literally. When reaching one of the innumerable forks, you didn't know if the two paths would eventually meet up or not. (Seemed like they "or-notted" on us more than once.) Sometimes the splits didn't even remain on the same elevational level of the zoo -- one going up, one remaining down.

In fact, as we oft gazed befuddled, I found myself thinking of the zoo like a human experiment -- a kind of large-scale mouse-maze. I wondered if we were being observed by scientists in the shadows making statistical tic-marks and time-stamps.

"Checked map for 2 minutes 35 seconds. Chose the left fork."

We were not the only ones. Although initially frustrating, it became rather funny to me by the end. Everywhere you looked there were huddles of "wild" humans staring cock-headed at maps and arguing with each other before picking a path at random.

At one point, we even asked a curator how to get to a certain location. He tried very hard to figure it out for us. But he kept shaking his head and mumbling, "No, that won't work..." Eventually he told us we had to go through the aviary. Fine. We like birds.

But the path he sent us on (trust me, we systematically followed his directions) didn't take us to the aviary. It took us to yet another split in the path that was nowhere *near* the aviary.

As a result, we saw some things we never intended to see. We also missed some things we very much wanted to see.

But the best mistake we made that day was when Jeff took us to Red #11 instead of Green #11, an easy mistake, especially when you're color-blind: Official Zoo Map.

We had decided when we arrived at the zoo to eat our Thanksgiving meal at the Sabertooth Grill. Mmm... chicken sandwiches... fries... maybe some apple slices or salt & vinegar chips. But a little errant map reading took us to Albert's Restaurant instead where they were serving a *real* Thanksgiving dinner!

Albert's Restaurant was right next to the gorilla enclosure, but there were no gorillas to be found. This was as close to a gorilla as we got.

BTW: Here is a British news report about a gorilla video that has gone viral in the last few days:

So when we found out that Albert's Restaurant was serving a traditional (though expensive) Thanksgiving dinner, we were most excited. Conversely, when we found out you had to make a reservation far in advance, we were most disappointed.

But then we were told we could be put on a waiting list and hang around until they could seat us. Wa-hoo! Then the maitre d' suggested it might take an hour or more. An hour? With an exhausted 2 year old? Frustration!

We opted to list ourselves anyway, and Bridgette and I wandered off to bide our time doing something a small child would enjoy. Mostly that included playing with (but not buying) stuff at a gift shop.

After all that, we were happily seated within 10 minutes. I guess the long wait time was to eat outside "with the animals." I don't know which animals, but we were just as pleased to be seated faster. Truthfully, it was a pretty chilly day, and I think inside was the better option anyway.

They had several preset Thanksgiving meal choices, from prime rib to salmon, but we went with conventional turkey.

Here are Jeff and Bridgette playing menu-peek-a-boo before ordering.

And this was one of the most delicious salads, ever. Mmm...

While Jeff and I ate our salads, Bridgette had her very own appetizer:


I forgot to take photos of our impeccable dinner plates (I know, I can hear you groan with disappointment), so let me describe them for you: flawless-looking turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, roll, and cranberry sauce (all in tiny amounts that did in fact fill us but made us feel gypped). We didn't order traditional pies, but got slices of chocolate cake and cheesecake instead.

The entire dinner was delicious, with the exception of the turkey which tasted gamy. We wondered if maybe the missing gorillas had anything to do with that.

Even Bridgette ate a delicious traditional Thanksgiving dinner of peanuts dipped in gravy!

The cheesecake was so good that we asked where they purchased it. Next big event, we're hoping they'll ship one to us: M and M Patisserie Cheesecake.

Bridgette liked the chocolate cake. Normally cake is off limits, but she got some Thanksgiving nibbles.

After we finished Thanksgiving dinner and cleared off, we went to watch the zoo's animal show at the amphitheater. It started late, so we had time to check out the nearby exhibits.

It was definitely educational as we were able to witness the wonder of creation. In this case, the creation of baby tortoises.

Bridgette thought the tortoises were hilarious, and she kept mimicking the noises they were making. And of course we thought *that* was hilarious. We took, and will keep to ourselves, some video of the experience.

So the zoo show featured condors, a wolf, and a sea lion... but fortunately not at the same time.

I took this photo after the show. The trainer was trying to teach the sea lion a new trick. It looked to me like he wanted a "good-faith" sardine before performing.

Both Sea World and the San Diego Zoo have a skylift. In the case of the zoo, it also serves a purpose. Not only does the "Skyfari" give you an aerial view, but it takes you from the Discovery Outpost to the Polar Rim without having to refer to the map a single time. It was like taking the Clue shortcut from the Conservatory to the Lounge.

Being late afternoon by the time we headed to the Polar Rim, we were all starting to shiver from the cold. Traveling above the zoo gave the benefit of sunshine but the detriment of wind.

Bet you can't find Bridgette.

We ended the day at the Elephant Encounters. See for yourself.


Lore said...

Oh, I am so happy to see another post! What a fun day! I am glad you got to have a traditional Thanksgiving feast even though you were traveling. The Elephant Encounter photos seem oddly reminiscent of other striking poses that I have seen over the years. Glad to see that you still enjoy some drama.

Heidi said...

I think the real reason you get to see 75% of the zoo during the bus ride is because you'll be lucky if you get to see the other 25% by following their map. :P

Tiffany W. said...

that last picture is hilarious! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your vacation with us. I really enjoyed it!