Toronto Zoo’s Scenic Safari is a Success

Photo: Canadian Press
Toronto Zoo’s Scenic Safari is a Success
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins has been a reporter with Oakville News since 2016. Covering local news and live events, he specializes in film, theatre, and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. Tyler is a proud graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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While most attractions are currently closed due to Covid-19, the Toronto Zoo is trying something new – a Scenic Safari. While the animal can safely roam in their enclosures, it’s unsafe to have guests walking around the same way.

So Toronto Zoo has opened a safari drive-thru. Instead of guests walking around, guests are now enjoying the zoo from their own cars.

The Scenic Safari program is a way to generate revenue for the zoo and open to guests amid the pandemic. After buying tickets online, visitors drive their own vehicles through the zoo on a marked route to see the animals.

“You’ll see the Zoo from a whole new perspective as you drive on staff-only roads,” says the Toronto Zoo. They also say the scenic safari takes you “through the Zoo site, and even through the lion cave!”

But is the experience worth the time and cost? How many animals do you see, and which ones? Oakville News signed up for one of the first visits earlier this week to experience the scenic safari first hand.

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

How to Buy Tickets

Tickets are only available online directly from the zoo and must be purchased in advance. While tickets were notoriously difficult to get when first made available last week, there is no longer online queues to purchase tickets.

Admission prices are based on how many people are in your vehicle. One or two guests in the car cost $44.00 plus tax, while three or more guests is $59.00 plus tax. There are discounts available for zoo members. All passes are date and time specific, with tickets usually available 1-2 weeks in advance.

Weekends are radically more popular, selling out within hours of them being made available. Unfortunately, the zoo doesn’t announce when the next week of passes go on sale before they do. The good news is weekday passes are regularly available.

Once purchased, you’ll be asked to reserve a specific start time for your safari drive. You can print your pass from home to be scanned before entering or have it scanned from a mobile phone.

Most importantly: there are zero on-site sales. You must buy a pass in advance.

When You Arrive

Upon arrival, there is a small service area for guests to enjoy minimal zoo amenities before they enter the grounds. There are restrooms, an ice cream cart, snack stand and small gift shop.

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

The zoo recommends arriving 20-30 minutes before your scheduled safari time to use the amenities. Once you begin the safari itself, there is no stopping allowed. (It’s especially a good idea to use the restroom as its the only chance. This goes double if you have small children.)

Even if you don’t purchase a drink on site, having cold beverages will make the visit more pleasant on hot days. On our visit it was 30 degrees outside and having water was an absolute must.

5-10 minutes before your reserved time, you can get in your car and line up to enter the safari. After passing through a gate to make sure your vehicle will fit, tickets are scanned and the adventure begins!

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

The Experience Itself

The scenic safari itself goes through four principal zones of the Toronto Zoo. Indo-Malaya, Africa, the Americas and Eurasia all have animals featured on the 3.4km route.

Because many of the indoor exhibits are collected in pavilions themed to the world’s continents, most of the zoo’s 5,000 animals are kept inside, and inaccessible to viewing from your car. That also means you won’t see a large number of animals, because the safari is limited to outdoor habitats.

The good news is most of the animals on route are among the most exciting. Highlights include Indian rhinos, flamingos, white lions, jaguars, camels, giraffes and red pandas.

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

One detail that can’t be controlled is how visible or active the animals may be on your particular visit. Though as a tip, going earlier in the morning or directly at closing means the animals will be more active. (Many rest during the afternoon heat.)

In addition to the well-designed driving route, the scenic safari offers an audio tour on the Zoo’s podcast. The Wild for Life audio guide can be downloaded in advance and played in the car while driving. There are signs to tell you when to play and pause, and the age-appropriate content is very informative.

Finally, make sure young children are well positioned to see out the windows. Windows have to stay rolled up, and you should manage expectations for your family some animals may be hard to see.

(One more bit of advice: about 70% of the animals and exhibits are on the right side of the car if you’re wondering where to sit.)

Is it Worth a Visit?

The big question is whether the scenic safari is worth the time and money. Ultimately, the safari is only part of the experience of what the Toronto Zoo has to offer. But in the absence of most attractions being open, it’s a lot of fun to do once.

After three months at home, most visitors will simply be exciting to have anything to do at all. But you’ll feel better for your money going in with the expectation some animals might be hard to see.

The zoo suggests the drive should be 45-60 minutes, but including the pre-tour stop the whole experience is about two hours. The drive itself depending on traffic actually is 75-90 minutes because some families stop for pictures.

Your visit is also a better value if you load the car and bring more people – provided there are seats. But all proceeds from snacks, souvenirs and the ticket go to help maintain the zoo. That also includes the huge budget for animal food.

Overall, it’s a surprisingly efficient and well-run adaptation in the Covid-19 pandemic to put a smile on people’s faces. And any experience that safely allows people a bit of adventure these days is a big success.

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News

Photo: Tyler Collins / Oakville News


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