I figured with the long weekend ahead of us, we could have a couple of days full of family fun.
A few days away from home, as a family, couldn’t come soon enough. My wife, Jane, has been working long hours since her promotion. I’ve been busy running the shop. And the kids have had their hands full—Megan’s increased orchestra practice before the state showcase, and Bryan’s weekly soccer practices are starting up. It seemed as though even the dog could use a vacation. (Sorry, Baxter, but you’re staying with Grandma.)
Now was as good of a time as any to take a trip.
I figured with the long weekend ahead of us, we could have a couple of days full of family fun—maybe we could even explore and experience a new city.
I did some surfing online, bought a few glossy travel mags at the bookstore and asked some friends and coworkers for suggestions. “Have you considered Columbus?” my coworker Andrew said. “Heather, the girls and I just did their Roar and Explore package this past weekend—my youngest is begging me to go back!”
Back to the Internet. The package included tickets to the Columbus Zoo, Zoombezi Bay and COSI, The Center of Science and Industry plus two nights at a Drury Hotel. Sold.
We arrived in Columbus early on Saturday morning to take full advantage of the day. After unloading our bags and a quick refresh at the Drury Inn & Suites, the first stop on our weekend voyage to Columbus was COSI.
“What would everyone like to see at COSI?” Jane asked the kids. “There are more than 300 exhibits, so there’s a lot to choose from,” she explained.
“I’ll check their Twitter account to see what’s new,” Megan said. As an eighth grader, Megan is our family’s resident techie. “Ooo, 3D movies on the National Geographic Giant Screen Theater.”
“I want to check out the Space exhibit,” said Bryan, looking at a pamphlet of all that was showing at COSI. “And the Ocean one, too.”
We catch a viewing of National Parks in the theater, where the stunning visuals of Yosemite National Park, the Everglades and other natural wonders in America's parks blow us away.
The Space exhibit included a space exploration program where visitors can drive a Mars rover and land the Space Shuttle Discovery. At COSI’s Ocean exhibit, kids can climb into an actual submarine and learn about sonar technology, and shoot off streams of water on an interactive playground.
“Tell you what,” I say. “Let’s do all of the above.”
COSI was as much an educational experience, as it was just plain old fun. The stunning visuals of Yosemite, the Everglades and other natural wonders in National Parks (the movie at the theater) blew us away. After diving headfirst into the Ocean and Space exhibits, we went outside to Big Science Park. In this designer and maker mini mecca, Bryan learned that with the use of a lever, he could lift an entire car. The POD—a 100% sustainable, 125-square-foot, model home that served as a lesson in environmentally friendly architecture and design, and resembled the vacation homes of future generations—blew Jane away.
My favorite was the Progress exhibit. We learned how everyday appliances, such as the television and microwave oven, have actually had a huge impact on modern society. Here, viewing this curated collection of Americana, I thought back to Megan using Twitter to discover more about COSI this morning—my, how times have changed.
Spent, but fulfilled, we grabbed dinner at a local favorite that was recommended to us from a museum concierge. We shared our favorite activities from the afternoon, from 10,000 leagues under the sea to beyond the ozone. Jane suggested we retire to get some rest before another fun-filled day, and nobody disagreed.
We loaded up on a fresh breakfast at the hotel before venturing to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which—according to Megan—is regularly among the top-ranked zoos in the country. And, as home to more than 577 species and 10,000 different animals, creatures and living organisms, as well as famous wildlife conservationist and animal expert, Jack Hanna, it’s no surprise why.
“Oh look, the zoo just tweeted a picture of their new baby polar bear, Nora,” Megan said, eagerly holding up her smartphone for us to see. The tweet said that Nora is on display for visitors, and we were all excited to see her. We made it our very first stop and it was the perfect way to start the day—she looked like an adorable white puff of cotton candy, happily running around her habitat, even jumping into the water for a swim.
“What a cutie,” Jane laughed.
We decided to check out the Heart of Africa exhibit at the zoo next. Upon entering, it felt as though we’d been transported into the exhibit’s namesake, since it spanned a massive 43 acres and offered insight into the lives and habitats of 150 different animals. Lions roamed a recreated savanna. I rode a camel and Bryan even got to feed a baby giraffe up close.
“Get a picture, Meg,” he whispered as he held out his hand to the giraffe.
We made our way through the zoo’s different regions. We even met Hank—the largest elephant in any North American zoo, weighing in at seven tons—in the zoo’s Asia Quest region.
Then, at Pirate Island, we followed a less-than-treacherous crew of eco-friendly pirates as they sailed past a cast of swash-buckling, singing, animatronic animal friends. In our time on the high seas (the exhibit was more like a ride, with motions and characters being activated at different points in the plotline), the pirates and animals let us know how we could all work to keep the world a beautiful place.
But the Columbus Zoo is more than just animals and an aquarium. To really glean the full experience, we would need another day. Singing yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirates life for me, we headed to the hotel.
The next morning, we became fishes of our own when we traded our shorts for swimsuits and went to Zoombezi Bay, a 22-acre waterpark located on the same property as the zoo.
The park offered more than 15 water slides, a wave pool and even a lazy river.
A gigantic, blue-and-yellow striped funnel immediately caught my eye. It was the Cyclone, and our whole family could climb in a raft to shoot down it. Faster, faster, our raft raced until it shot into the funnel and down to the water.
The highlight of the afternoon was Python Plunge, which was an uphill waterslide of sorts—we were blasted uphill with water jets and then shot into a 70-foot landing pool. Bryan and Megan might have been younger than Jane and me, but those rides made me feel like a kid alongside them.
Still damp as we walked to the car, the mood was slightly somber. A few days of action-packed fun had been amazing, and we were all feeling a little reluctant to go back to our usual routine. Thinking fast, I posed a question sure to bring a smile back to everyone’s faces.
“Hey guys, do you think we had more fun than Baxter?” I said.
“My apologies to Grandma,” Megan said. “But, absolutely.”