Saturday, October 3, 2015

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Gluten-Free Friendly

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Gluten-Free 

Winner of 4.5 stars from TripAdvisor, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in the southeastern US, with over 800,000 visitors annually. The mission of the Zoo is "to connect people with the living earth." One of its most important conservation programs is the Manatee Hospital, the only nonprofit critical care facility of its kind in Florida.

I love the Zoo…and the Aquarium.  I think it’s left over memories of days spent with my Dad.  And we’re lucky to have a really nice Zoo right here in Tampa.  It’s not a huge Zoo, so spending a full day is not difficult and not exhausting. The Zoo emphasizes endangered, threatened and vulnerable species from climates similar to that of the Tampa Bay region, with park areas devoted to Asia, Africa, Australia and Florida.  Which is actually pretty smart since it cuts down on enclosed, climate-controlled spaces and allows the animals and birds to be kept in comfortable open air environments.  And I love that even though the entire place is outdoors, there are tons of shady areas with plenty of places to sit and enjoy.

September was a ‘freebie’ entrance fee for us so after 3 weekends of rain we decided to take the plunge on our last Sunday and attempt a day at the Zoo. Now when I say ‘comfortable’ don’t be misled…this is Florida after all…it’s the sub-tropics. That means the Zoo is one place you won’t normally find me during the summer.  With temps in the 90’s and humidity in the 80’s I’m definitely spending my time some place with air-conditioning.  This trip wasn’t too bad because it was overcast and grey all day while we were there.  So the animals were out, doing their animal thing, and much more interactive then they are when they’re sleeping in the shade away from the intense heat of the Florida sun. 

As we were leaving the driveway for the day I had told my daughter that I was going to walk on the wild side and I wasn’t bringing any Gluten-Free snacks.  She understands that can be a real challenge for me, but I figured we’d only be a few hours and home was only minutes away…I would survive.  Bringing food into the Zoo is not difficult…but it does pay to be discreet. They do frown on any disposable plastics because they can endanger the animals.  And most certainly bring something that won’t melt in the Florida heat…because you will be outside. 

First stop for us was to pick up a Scooter for me.  I have a mild walking disability and one of those electric Scooters means I can keep up with my girls and not be a drag.  And for $25.00 for the entire day it’s a lot cheaper than the ones at those big parks.  Our next stop was to feed the Lorikeets…that’s always a favorite!  Except perhaps when one lands on my head!  Bird poop in the hair is not a pleasant way to spend the day. The Lorikeets are hand fed a mixture of juice/honey/water and they absolutely love it.

After wandering around for a bit, the girls got hungry & thirsty so they stopped for some chocolate milk and a doughnut.  I knew they wouldn’t have anything there for me so I didn’t even ask. I figured I’d get a cold soda later…so when we stopped for them to ride the Carousel I wandered over to the Sweet Shop to investigate.  I was totally surprised to find they had a whole cabinet with Gluten-Free treats!  Rice Krispy Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Brownies and Peanut Butter Cookies…nice :-)  By the time the girls got off the Carousel they found me happily enjoying a brownie while I waited.  I did share though.

We skipped over lunch, the Safari Grill was closed for a private party and the Garden Grill was over at the Main Gate and we weren’t ready to leave.  It’s my understanding that Gluten-free menu options are available at the Zoo restaurants but you’ll need to speak to a Food and Beverage team member for assistance.  We were more interested in stopping at Chili’s Restaurant on the way home for what the kids like to call L’inner.  So after the Giraffe’s they settled for some nachos and cheese to hold them over and I simply got a bag of chips and a drink.
We ended up spending the entire day wandering the Zoo and enjoying some great family time together.  The weather held out for us…we didn’t even need sunscreen this trip…and we left late in the afternoon just before the thunderstorms began.

Carolanne LeBlanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
               101 Imperial Palm Drive
               Largo, Florida  33771

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