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San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego, California:  We packed-up and left our San Diego hotel, The Grand Hyatt, this morning. It was just the perfect location for a vacation with kids in San Diego. They were quite accommodating (pun intended) and honored my request for adjoining rooms. Dave and I had a king bed and a sofa with a coffee table. Our bathroom had a shower only. Lisa's room had two queen beds, two chairs with a small table. Lisa's bathroom had a shower/tub combo. Each room had an entry table, closet, safe, dresser, desk, TV, coffee maker, and a small refrigerator - just an empty fridge; not one stuffed with expensive sodas. Nice - and the rooms were spacious. We had views overlooking the harbor and the Coronado Bridge through floor-to-ceiling windows. The room rate included the breakfast buffet and we went each morning to fuel ourselves for the day. The hotel has a fitness center and two pools (one is adults-only). There are many restaurants, bars, Starbucks, FedEx and assorted shops. On the 40th floor is a bar with a beautiful view of the bay. From the Grand Hyatt, a tourist can walk to most of the attractions (Seaport Village is just outside) or hop-on the light rail across the street. There are miles of walking, jogging and biking paths - and the bay - outside the hotel door as well. Tickets to the zoo, safari park, etc., can be purchased at the hotel concierge desk, so there is no need to wait in the ticket line when you get to the zoo.

Fueled for another busy day - our "Spoonacorns" were ready to safari.

We checked-out of our rooms after breakfast and took both cars out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, about a 45 minute drive from San Diego. Our tickets were already purchased, so we only had to walk in!

Our situation: Lisa brought the stroller. Lucy can ride inside (under shade, if wanted), Leo can stand on a rear kickboard, and there is a ton of room underneath to hold all the assorted stuff toddlers require and acquire. The park has designated stroller-parking areas when strollers are not allowed (like on a tram, in an aviary).

Here are photos, and captions as necessary (and if I can recall the species!), of our day: Lagoon Loop flamingos + tethered air balloon ride (no, we did not!)


Lucy loves owls, so we were lucky to hear a zookeeper talk about Eurasian Owls today - one of the largest owls in the world.

Plenty of shady spots to rest

The little "volcano mounds" hold flamingo eggs. Mom and Dad take turns sitting on the nest mounds.

Sometimes our little situation switched-up a bit

We came upon the loading area for the trams that take visitors up into the "plains of Africa" but found the lines so long. Over one hour to wait for the 30-minute tram ride; included in admission.

Then we noticed that for a mere $14 fee, we could cut to the front of the line - and Lucy was free. So, we splurged and were on the next tram! We thought we were so clever. It was an amazing ride, traveling up the hills behind the park, where all the non-predator-type critters live - giraffes, all the deer-type guys, etc - together, just roaming around as they please... or so it seems?

I was happy Lucy was free, because she fell asleep two minutes into the ride and missed everything! The safari park has a new giraffe, born two weeks ago. Adorable, of course.

In other parts of the African area we saw big cats, rhinos and a giant ass.

It was now 4p. Bubbe was exhausted. All I wanted was a hot bath and a cold glass of pinot grigio. I would get neither. We had saved the most-special treat for the last night of our trip - a Roar & Snore sleep-over inside the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! I had booked it months ago - reserving two Premium tents for our group. The premium option comes complete with an actual bed, two cots for the kids, a fan, a heater, etc. Campers share two large bathhouses, no tents have private baths, and there are only six shower stalls. (Insert sad face here.) We went to our cars, gathered sleeping bags for the kids, our overnight bags, and brought our belongings to a designated area of the parking lot. Roar and Snore staff checked us in, tagged our luggage and by the time we had listened to a short intro talk and met a few turtles, our bags were in our tents. Magic.

We had tents 39 and 40

Tent #40. The chests can be secured if you bring a small (luggage) pad lock. Premium tents have one electrical outlet, two lamps, an electric fan and an electric heater.

Sleeping bags!

I can't say exactly how many campers were staying overnight at the Roar and Snore, but I will estimate 80. We were divided into groups, according to the areas of our tent accommodations, and each group had a guide/camp counselor.

After settling-in to our tents, the first order of business was to gather with our group and - guess what - we went directly back to the African tram! We completely wasted our money this afternoon jumping the line - we did not know a personal tour of the African plains was included in our itinerary. (I think the itineraries change according to the weather, season/length of day. Check before you go.) Never mind. We were very lucky to see the animals again - their activity was completely different as the evening grew near and they had all moved around and were in different parts of the grassland. Second activity on the agenda was dinner - grilled burgers (veggie or beef), beef hot dogs, mac & cheese, baked beans, tossed salad). They also had a full bar, but no pinot grigio. Dinner and breakfast are included in the room rate; booze is extra.

After dinner, a fire was lit for S'mores and each group headed-off for more activities. Our group first went to an animal encounter hosted by the most delightful zookeeper. He had us in stitches and completely captivated the kids (and adults) in our group with his energetic personality, information about the animal and a few butt jokes for the many young kids in our group.

The animal we met tonight was an odd one for sure - the Echidna, a close relative of the platypus. The Echidna is basically unchanged for six million years. It is technically a mammal, but lays eggs... then (oh Leo and Lucy just loved this part)... puts the egg inside her belly button until it hatches and is fed with red milk that secretes through something like a hair follicle. Echidnas live in Australia and New Guinea and eat four-to-five thousands ants a day. Here are a few really bad blurry photos. It was dark. No flash and I just brought my teeny camera. Zookeeper with Echidna

This bad photo sums-up the encounter: Leo = huh? Lisa = the kids are loving this and that guy is hilarious. Lucy = can I touch it?

I was not afraid and ran my hand down her back - from front to back. She had spines or maybe (?) quills. They are sharp, but really, really, really feel and look like rubber hairbrush bristles. Lisa and Lucy gave it a try as well. Leo was having nothing to do with this strange red-milk producing monster.

But wait! There is more. Next our guide took us to the Lion exhibit. By now it was completely dark. Our guide had a flashlight, but we were instructed to not use our flashlights nor the flash on our cameras because lions have very sensitive eyes. This was the most amazing thing that happened during the week (for me): as we stood there, the male lion rose up and walked to just a few feet in front of our group. He stared at us and gave such a loud roar, we all nearly jumped out of our skins! He stood there and roared for about a minute. We could feel the vibration from his powerful roar. It was amazing and even our guide was impressed with the show, calling it "highly unusual" for this male.

More activities awaited the kids back at the camp - an egg hunt through the herb garden. If a child found five (illuminated) eggs, they received a gift bag filled with stickers, pencils, junk and stuff). There was also a craft: making a bird feeder by coating a empty toilet tissue roll with corn syrup and dipping it in bird seed. The roll was then fitted with a string so it could be tied to a tree branch when the kid gets home. The previously roaring fire was now ready with hot coals and S'mores were the final treat for the day. The clever staff used Peeps instead of traditional marshmallows due to the upcoming holiday. We crawled into our beds, exhausted and slept well... even though all during the night we could hear lions roaring. It was magical! And what about Leo's hyena? Guess what? They are off-exhibit at the Safari Park as well. Someone is going to get a letter from a very unhappy Bubbe. Leo, again, took it in stride. (We did buy him a stuffed hyena toy.) Not the same as seeing your favorite critter. Back to the drawing board. Think this was the end to our adventure? Nope. The Roar and Snore continues into Saturday morning, so check back for that report. Until my next update, I remain, your snoring correspondent.