As a Staten Island mom with a toddler and a tween, I've been to the Staten Island Zoo many, many, many times. I don't really need an excuse to visit this eight-acre animal oasis filled more than 350 different species, including lots of reptiles, two rare Amur leopards and the weather-prognosticating/mayor-biting groundhog Staten Island Chuck. But now my family has a great new reason to go: The zoo's recently opened Conservation Carousel featuring two-dozen handcrafted wooden creatures to ride.
The Staten Island Zoo is my family's favorite place to see animals in NYC because it's intimate (we love the Bronx Zoo, too, but it can be overwhelming), rarely crowded and secluded, so you feel like you're going on an out-of-the-city adventure. But since it's an independent institution (it's not affiliated with New York City's five other Wildlife Conservation Society zoos) and located in the so-called "forgotten borough," it's often overlooked by families who don't live on the isle. I'm here to tell you, it's worth the trek. It's near public transportation (there's also a free parking lot) and has lots of special attractions for kids, including a petting zoo and the new carousel, so it's a great daycation destination—then you can stick around and check out some of the other cool things to do with kids on Staten Island.
The first thing we did when we arrived at the Staten Island Zoo was head straight for the new Conservation Carousel, which features two dozen mostly endangered creatures to ride, including a Komodo dragon (with an awesome long tongue), a koala, a rhinoceros, a polar bear and a Tamandua, all handcrafted out of wood by Ohio-based Carousels & Carvings. In addition, there's a designated handicapped-accessible space that resembles a little rainforest and a separate seat for tiny riders in the shape of a flamingo—that's the one my toddler chose. Even my not-yet-jaded ten-year-old liked it (he picked the lion). The ride is slow and gentle, and located in a glass pavilion, though it only operates in season. Information cards give kids a chance to learn about each animal. Rides cost $2.
Although the Staten Island Zoo dates back to 1936 it's constantly evolving, and the new carousel is one of many recent additions. Last fall the zoo unveiled its impressive three-story Amur Leopard Habitat, designed to look like the the Amur River valley in Asia. There are fewer than 40 Amur leopards left in the world, so it's amazing that the Staten Island Zoo is home to two of them! We also saw some other recently added residents, like a pair of seven-foot-tall ostriches, Neo and Nia, lemurs, a porcupine and a Klipspringer, a kind of African antelope.
Of course we visited some of our old favorites, too, like the small Aquarium, the Fear Zone Reptile Wing with all the cool snakes and lizards (this is where the famous Fantasia would have lived if she hadn't passed away), plus the Kids Korral petting zoo ($2 extra), where my sons got up close and personal with goats, sheep and other barnyard animals.
The Staten Island Zoo also has wonderful family events, including Breakfast with the Beasts, when kids can help prepare morning meals for the residents, and annual animal-themed celebrations for Halloween (Spooktacular) and Christmas (Beastly Breakfast with Santa). There are also lots of free with admission educational programs on weekends so be sure to check the calendar to see what's going on.
The Staten Island Zoo is located at 614 Broadway near Colonial Court. It's open year-round. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-14, and free to all on Wednesdays after 2pm. There's a free parking lot but the zoo is also accessible via bus from Brooklyn or the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, where you can gawk at the giant fish-filled aquariums that are maintained by the Staten Island Zoo!
Find out about other NYC carousels and the best things to do on Staten Island with kids.