My kids are always excited for a trip to the Franklin Park Zoo; I mean, who isn't awed by lions, gorillas, or those gorgeous, roaming peacocks? But when we learned that some new animals were taking up temporary residence in Franklin Park this summer—life-sized, moving, roaring dinosaurs, no less—our curiosity was piqued even more than usual. So, on a quiet Wednesday afternoon in June, my 6-year-old played hooky from kindergarten and we went into Boston to take in Destination Dino, on display at the Franklin Park Zoo through September 3. Here's what we saw—and what to know before you go.
Getting There (and Getting In)
As any zoo-bound mom knows, it's best to go to Franklin Park's 72-acre complex with a game plan. First, buy tickets beforehand: There's an additional fee for Destination Dino, but you can take advantange of a 15% general admission discount if you buy online tickets, which earn you entrance to the special exhibit as well as the rest of the zoo (The cost at the gate is $24.95 for adults and $18.95 for kids ages 2-12; babies and toddlers are free). Next, you'll want to be strategic with parking. Knowing Destination Dino is situated on the northwest side of the zoo, we parked at the Giraffe Entrance off of Pierpont Road. From there, it was just a short walk past Bird's World until we saw the Destination Dino sign pointing us in the right direction. Since it was the part of the zoo we were most excited for, we went straight there when we arrived (and energy was at a high point).
You have to trek a bit down a paved path to find the dinos. Zoo staff and exhibit planners have cleverly placed the creatures in a relatively obscure part of the zoo, along a shaded, winding walkway lined by thick vegetation, so you really feel as if you're entering a different world than the fenced-off animal exhibits. At the entrance, you'll also notice a small sign: Dinos can be scary. No refunds! It's a point worth considering if you have children under 6 who are very timid. As soon as you head past the gate, you can hear some faint roaring in the near distance, and even my bold, dino-loving 6-year-old reached for my hand.
Walking Among the Dinos
Part of the fun of Destination Dino is seeing who can be the first to spy each of the dozen or so creatures—from winged Quetzalcoatlus to a 40-foot Tyrannosaurus rex—camouflaged on either side of the walkway. There's thick brush as well as a few strategically placed props, like boxes labeled "Dinosaur Repellent," so it can be a fun surprise to suddenly hear a roar or see an arm or claw moving when you round a corner. Created by a company that crafts animatronic animals for zoos and museums around the country, the dinosaurs indeed look very authentic, and while they don't cover any ground, they do have subtle movements that add to the realism. Several emit roaring noises (though none loud enough to be startling), and one dino even spits "venom" (water), which delighted my little guy.
Along the way, we saw feathered dinos, duckbilled dinos, and even a cute baby dinosaur. Throughout, there were signs that explained surprising facts about each dinosaur in simple terms that even young elementary schoolers can read and understand. My son and I learned the difference between a horn and a "nasal boss," the types of hides that protect against predators, and why certain dinosaurs were thought to steal eggs from other species.
The dramatic finale to the dinosaur exhibit is the looming, ferocious looking T. rex situated at the end. The spectacle is made even more dramatic by a wounded Triceratops, along with an overturned jeep and some torn t-shirts among the leaves. While the Triceratops could possibly upset some sensitive children—the beast is taking shallow "breaths" and has a bloody-looking wound—my son seemed simply fascinated by it all. "That's just the way it was a bazillion years ago," he said, and then ran off to explore the rest of the zoo.
Good to Know
It takes about 30 minutes to explore Destination Dino. There's a small gift shop with toys and some glow-in-the-dark dinosaur t-shirts to check out after. Just beyond the exhibit is the Franklin Park Zoo's giant playground, which is a great way for kids to blow off some steam after studying the dinos, and the Giddy-Up Grill, our favorite place to grab lunch when at the zoo.
If you have a seriously dino-obsessed kid, there are programs and opportunities beyond simply exploring the exhibit. At the end of the dinosaur display, there's a small Dino Dig section where children can use spades and brushes to explore some hidden fossils in the dirt. On Fridays, zoo staff lead kids in fossil hunting and footprint crafts. There is a very cool Dine with the Dinos program ($15, not including general admission to the zoo), in which families can hit the exhibit before the zoo opens and enjoy continental breakfast and chat with education specialists. For the very bold, look into Dinos After Dark, where kids ages 6 and up can sleep over at the zoo on a Friday or Saturday night and explore the dino exhibit by flashlight, as well as the rainforest exhibit with its "modern day" dinosaurs. Children with summer birthdays can even have a very special party at the Destination Dino exhibit.
No matter how you choose to experience Boston's prehistoric summer residents, it's almost a sure bet that you and your kids will be thrilled—and learn something new—when visiting Destination Dino. Just be sure to plan your visit and snag your tickets before the exhibit disappears after Labor Day; much like their real-life counterparts, these dinosaurs aren't likely to reappear anytime soon!
Photos by Mommy Poppins