Summer Vacation Series: Our Family Trip to the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens

Hi Friends!
This post is going to be the first in my series of summer vacation blogs. As I mentioned in a previous post, our family is going to be having some major fun together this summer – and I couldn’t be happier than to share it all with you, my amazing followers and readers. I am also very happy to answer any questions you might have in regard to any of the locations we visit, as well as help point you in the right direction if I can’t be of help to you.

Without further ado, let’s jump right into this first of many family trip blogs: our family trip to the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens.

Disclaimer: By FTC regulations, I have to mention that this is a sponsored blog post. I received free admission into this location with my family in exchange for a review. In no way have my opinions within this blog post been influenced by any third parties, and all opinions are my own.

When I was contacted by Courtney of the Naples Zoo and offered to bring the family out for a complimentary visit, I was ecstatic. The Naples Zoo was definitely on my list of places to go and enjoy some time with my family this summer. On Saturday, June 17th, we made our way on the hour long trip to visit the exotic animals and botanical gardens that only the Naples Zoo has to offer.

If you’ve never been to the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens, or have never heard of it, here is a brief history and overview:

The Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens, located in Naples, Florida – also located within Collier County – got it’s beginning in 1919 by German botanist Dr. Henry Nehrling. He originally bought this specific piece of land because he did not want his crops to face another freeze as they had done in central Florida years prior. He thought planting further south would be a wise option, and he was right. The actual zoo portion was officially opened in 1969. Now, 95 years after its true beginning,  there are many different species of plants which make up the botanical walk, and there are now many exotic, endangered, and beautiful animals to accompany these beautiful plants. There are over 70 different species of animals which can be found at the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens, however; they may not all be on display at once for many different reasons. Some of these animals can only be seen during live shows, so be sure to indulge in some of those while there to get the best experience possible.

The Naples Zoo is a 501(c) 3 Non Profit Organization, and is maintained by well trained staff who specialize in the animals in which they care for. The caretakers take pride in what they do, and they ensure each and every animal is cared for as it should be. The Zoo sits on many acres acres of well preserved land. It is known as ‘The People’s Zoo’. Every year, the zoo offers Collier County residents free admission on one particular day as a way to say thank you and give back to the community in which it resides.

Okay, with all of that interesting and helpful information being said – back to my review.

We arrived at the zoo around 1 PM, and entered through the gift shop as everyone has to do. There were plenty of beautiful gifts available for purchase – some affordable, some on the pricey end – but then again, this is Naples, and it is a zoo/attraction. When we made our way inside the zoo from the gift shop, we noticed the wagons which were available for rent — and it brought me back. Way back. About 11 years ago, I took my then little boys for a visit to the zoo, and used one of those very wagons to pull them along the trails. They were 2 and 3 years old then. Now, they’re 13 and 14. How time flies!

You know I had to recapture this moment.

Although they couldn’t ever fit into the wagon now, I had them kneel down next to it. Here’s the re-created image!

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Here is the original picture of them in the wagon so long ago:

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I love it!

Okay, so after making our way through the entrance portion, and already beginning to sweat in the 90 degree heat (South West Florida is no joke when it comes to heat and humidity in the month of June) (and let’s be honest, I was sweating and dewy the minute we got out of the truck because of the humidity) we passed by a woman offering face painting services to the right and Alligator Bay to the left. The alligators are always enjoyable to see and encompass everything Florida. I got a couple of great pictures to share of our viewing. We didn’t get to participate in the live alligator feeding, but that’s okay. Next time!

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From there, we visited the primate expedition cruise (by the way, I’m happy to report that this boat ride is included in the ticket price and is one of our favorite parts of visiting The Naples Zoo) which is a lovely pontoon boat ride around man-made islands filled with exotic apes, lemurs and monkeys. None of the primates are able to swim and are bred in captivity, and therefore they don’t make attempts to climb into the water and swim from island to island. They sort of just enjoy their own terrain and are also very territorial, as we learned on our trip. For example, one of the islands, home to one of the world’s loudest monkeys, had some of the loudest territorial calls I had ever heard. Those monkeys sure put on an amazing show for all of us on that boat! The ‘tour guide’ even let us sit there for a few minutes and just watch them and listen. If you closed your eyes, and I did, just for a minute – it felt like I was in an exotic jungle. So cool! 

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After exiting the boat, we were incredibly thirsty and were hoping the vending machines right off the dock accepted debit or credit cards, but to our dismay, there wasn’t an option. Cash only. And a bottle of water cost $3, which was very upsetting. For all of us to have gotten a bottle of water, it would have cost $15; I could buy 5 6 packs of bottled water at our local grocery store for that price. We also didn’t see any water fountains around anywhere, and we weren’t incredibly far from the entrance where they sold  water at the small store, but it was an inconvenience, nonetheless. I really wish they would make it so there are water fountains, or at least vending machines which would accept cards, along the paths and near the exhibits.

So, we decided to wait and hoped we wound run into a cart selling drinks or more vending machines or maybe even a fountain.

At this point, there was a storm not too far off in the distance even though the weather man had said there would only be passing showers that day. We got to see the giraffes and had only one minute left for feeding them; we opted not to because it would have been a rushed experience and we didn’t want that. But it was so cool to see them and really look at how tall and majestic they are. They really are beautiful creatures.

 

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After I snapped a few pictures, the wind was really picking up and we headed away down the botanical trail once again. Here I am enjoying the view of the Cichlids in the water and the gorgeous plants and trees around me. (Props to my amazing husband for these pics, I actually like them – and I never like pics he takes of me; I swear, he finds the worst angles! LOL Sorry, babe, it’s true)

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I tried nursing Richi on a bench by this beautiful patch of woods, but I don’t really know what I was thinking. There were a lot of mosquitoes, and of course I forgot to bring bug repellent. Ugh. It was so beautiful, though!

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When I got up, Richi and the boys were sitting under a gazebo entertaining a little duck who was super friendly and hung around no doubt waiting for food. He walked up to Baby Richi, and he thought it was the funniest thing!

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At this point, we still hadn’t found a drink cart or vending machine, so Richi ran back to the front with Marcus. There was a little stand near the Giraffe exhibit that sold items, however it was closed. Alex stayed with me. Baby Richi wanted to nurse while Alex explored and looked around. It was peaceful and quiet, and it was nice to sit down and relax for a few minutes. We sat on a bench next to a gorgeous, large Banyon tree. I snapped some pictures here as well.

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After I fed Richi, Alex wanted to grab some pictures of me and the baby so I let him use my camera. He had fun, and I always love getting new pictures of me and my sweet tiny boy. He’s getting too big for my liking. *Sigh*

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After that, we headed back towards the entrance because it had started sprinkling and Richi and Marcus still weren’t back. On our way back, we saw that the two honey badgers (there could have been more hiding that we didn’t see, we weren’t sure) were running around and playing. That was super exciting because on our way down the trail initially, they had been sleeping and so we weren’t able to see them. Honestly, out of the 3 times we have ever been to the Naples Zoo, we had never had the opportunity to see them; they were always sleeping or hiding. I guess that’s because “Honey Badger don’t care. He does whatever he wants! Honey Badger doesn’t give a ______!” (You know I had to) – so this was awesome! Richi and Marcus caught up to us and we watched them together for a little while. Apparently, The Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens is one of the only zoo’s in the country to have Honey Badgers.

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We continued down the mile and a half long trail back into the direction I had just come from even though it was now sprinkling pretty hard. We figured a little rain never hurt anyone, plus – we wanted to get the most out of our time at the zoo. We saw the famous Caribbean Gardens Toucan and some beautiful, exotic plants, trees, and birds, and the trail just felt so magical.

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Eventually, we came to a place where there were red lemurs, fossas (which, by the way, are endangered) and some other really amazing animals we can’t remember the names of – and then the monsoon hit.

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Yep, weather man straight up lied.

At first I was like, “Aww, come on!” being that I had on a white shirt which suddenly became sheer in the rain. And then I stopped worrying about that fact and saw how happy and amazed Baby Richi was by the rain. He calls it, ‘ain’. He was smiling and laughing in his daddy’s arms and saying, ‘ain! ain!’ over and over again. I smiled just looking at him and in that moment, I felt so peaceful and happy. It’s amazing how something so simple and unexpected as a little rain can really invoke such happy, wondrous, special feelings and promote happy memories.

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Alex was also loving it and running back and forth all over the place. It was awesome to see him enjoying nature and being unplugged from technology.

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We took cover underneath a tiki hut and waited for the storm to pass.

As we waited, Richi got hungry and wanted to nurse. We did, right there while standing. Not the easiest thing to do with a very tall 16 month old but it worked – and I was proud of myself for just doing it wherever, whenever he wanted to.

Alex found a beautiful flower on the ground and gave it to me. I took a picture of him with said flower because I never wanted to forget that moment. He has always been such a sweet boy. Anytime he can, he always picks or finds flowers for me and hands them to me. I see innocence still lives in his eyes, despite how the world tries to steal that innocence away from our children nowadays. It made me so happy and sad all at once.

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After about 30 minutes of torrential rain and thunder, the storm began to pass. We made our way to see the bears, coyotes, hyenas, and Uno, the famous panther who survived being shot in the face, although he is blind in both eyes – but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. We stopped and had a snack under the covered pavilion and then we were on our way home.

Here are some final pictures of our time together at the zoo:

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All in all, we had a really great time at the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens – and honestly, I didn’t mind the rain storm at all. It just made the zoo’s flora seem more authentic. It almost felt like we were in the middle of a jungle somewhere by ourselves as there were no other people to be seen. I really loved the rain aspect, actually. It was very special.

My kids’ favorite part was the primate cruise. That seemed to be my husband’s favorite as well. However, we enjoyed everything we saw. For me, I really liked the cruise as well because it provided an amazing breeze – and boy, was it hot! I also really liked the beautiful plants, and trees – and I enjoyed seeing the different animals from all around the world – especially the endangered ones.

Here are some pros and cons I’ve put together, and some helpful tips as well while traveling with children to the Naples Zoo.

PROS

  • Fabulous place to bring the family; lots of amazing animals and creatures to watch, look at, and learn about
  • A great way to spend quality time with family in nature
  • Nice walk through the plants and trees
  • A great learning experience
  • Many animals you may never see anywhere else or ever again; lots of endangered species
  • Primate excursion is included in ticket price
  • Purchasing a family membership for a few dollars more than the regular ticket price seems so worth it. That way, you can go to the zoo anytime you like for no additional charge.

 

CONS

  • Very, very hot outside during the summer months – be sure to bring loads of water bottles or plenty of cash to purchase them along the way. Stay hydrated, it’s so important. Heat stroke is very real.
  • Outside vending machines don’t take cards; again, be sure to bring cash. NOTE: waters are expensive at the zoo – $3 per bottle. I encourage you to bring your own; otherwise, whatever water you purchase will directly support the zoo, so that really is always a plus
  • Many of the animals were hiding/sleeping/not visible during our visit

 

Helpful tips devised by yours truly:

  1. Bring and use sun screen and bug repellent. Trust me on this. I recommend 50+ for children and babies, and 30+ for adults.
  2. Try to head to the zoo in the morning hours. I’ve heard from others that the animals appear to be more active in the mornings, and in the afternoon due to the heat and just being plain worn out, they like to sleep.
  3. Bring plenty of snacks for the little ones.
  4. Take breaks if you need to to sit down and relax.
  5. Read the signs! Apparently most people don’t read them; they offer a better experience all the way around the board.
  6. Plan and pack ahead so you don’t forget any important items.
  7. Be sure to enjoy some of the live shows and the alligator feeding.
  8. ENJOY yourselves and leave stress at home!

I really hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope that you will consider taking your families on a little road trip this summer for a visit to the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens – and I can promise, the time you spend together while in nature will be so worth it.

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