Fort Worth Zoo 2021 Visit

              I’ve set off on my first true RV trip. Since it’s January, I wanted to find someplace warmer so I headed to Texas. I’ve never been to the southwest before. I’m currently in Fort Worth so I visited the Fort Worth Zoo. Apparently, it is the #1 zoo in the country.

              First of all, who visits a zoo in January, right? I had the same thought, but I hoped it’d still be warm enough to see the animals. Second, the zoo is going through a major renovation. What better time to do that than with so many public places being closed or reduced, but I think they had this in the works already. Unfortunately, this means most of the savannah animals were off display. So sad because that included some of my favorites included tigers, lions, and the elephants. Technically, you could still see the elephants, but not clearly since they were in their smaller enclosures without good sightlines.

              When I first arrived, it was nearly half an hour before I saw any animals. I walked around the World of Primates and didn’t see anything. It was cold so it makes sense they weren’t in the outdoor enclosures, but they didn’t seem to be in the indoor enclosures either.  It was pretty disappointing because they had some very large and intricate enclosures. I heard some other patrons express their disappointment throughout the day too.  Luckily, I circled back at the end of the day before I left, and saw a couple apes, but it didn’t seem like nearly enough for the enclosures available. Plus, they were all in the same small area that seemed to connect to a back room that they all eventually retreated into. Obviously, they need a place to take care of the animals, but keeping them there the whole time seems a bit fruitless. If I had been with my mom, she would have been extremely disappointed because the monkeys and apes are her favorites.

              There was a small part of the savannah still open, the giraffe enclosure. I walked around the whole thing, but couldn’t find anything besides birds. Like I said, it was a cold 50 degrees so I can’t say I  was too surprised. There was a funny ostrich poppin’ his head around. And then I ran into a large vulture just chillin on one of the walkway fences. He definitely was not supposed to be there. It was kind of funny. Luckily, vultures are carrion birds and don’t attack live prey so we weren’t in danger and walked past without an issue, However, this one guy, I thought he was part of the construction crew but he may have been a visitor, walked up to him and was like talking to him. The bird didn’t like that since he got much closer than anyone else. The vulture did kind of hissed at him and raised his feathers at that, but the guy just wanted to get between the bird and the walkway so the parents with small kids could feel safe passing.

              I did get to see the hippos pretty close. They have an aquatic enclosure and spent most of their time pretty close to the glass. In the morning, they were cuddled up sleeping. Hippos normally freak me out a bit since they are one of the most dangerous land animals on the planet, but these were so cute. The one was snuggled up on the other and looked like he was smiling. I saw these guys again later when I circled back, and they were trotting about the bottom of the pool. Definitely, a well set up area since the areas kept the animals wanting to be very visible.

              I had to circle back at the end of the day to see the other animals in this area. I saw a black rhino, and he also was fairly close to the pathway. I was also happy to see the giraffes were out when I came back. The tallest ones were on the far end of the enclosure away from the guests, but two of them came right up to the gate even so far as to duck under the wire to keep them back. They had to so people could feed them! I really like how the Fort Worth Zoo does their giraffe feeding. Other zoos I’ve been to have an area where only people who have paid for the feeding experience get to enter. This results in the giraffes only coming close to that area so everyone who didn’t pay doesn’t really get to see them. But not so at the Fort Worth Zoo. People buy the bundles of leaves and then line up wherever they can to feed the giraffes. This resulted in those who didn’t pay (like me) to still get to see the giraffes up close. I was next to several people who fed the giraffes, without taking away from their experience since it wasn’t crowded, and got to see the giraffes with them. I even helped out a mom by taking pictures of her kids while they fed the giraffes. The two smaller giraffes who came up to the fence even came up to me to check me out and see if I had anything for them. I really liked this set up because I’ve never been able to see them so close before. There was a staff member monitoring to yell at people not to touch the giraffes. They really were that close, and it was so difficult to keep myself from petting them. I wanted to so bad, but yeah don’t get any ideas. If you want to feed the giraffes, it is $6 for a bundle. “A bundle” is three leaves. They look like romaine lettuce leaves. $2 per leaf seems like kind of a rip off to me, but if you have your heart set on feeding the giraffes, go at it! I’ll stand by and watch.

              Walking through the rest of the zoo, I found myself constantly feeling like I had missed something or having to backtrack. There are so many little break always that lead to other animals. So pay attention so you don’t miss anything. When I walked into the Texas area, I got all the way through and back to the beginning before realizing I had totally missed the wolves, otters, and crocodiles. I had to go back and do the whole thing again. What happened was there was a fork and I needed to go right to see those animals, some of my favorites, but I went left thinking that right was the main path and I didn’t want to miss anything. Turned out, going right was actually a dead end and where the animals were. I couldn’t see the crocodile anywhere, I’m not sure it was there. I did get to see the cougar and jaguar. They were pretty active and easy to see. If I didn’t get to see the tiger, which I knew was off exhibit when I bought my tickets, then I’m glad I got to see these other large cats.

              This zoo has a lot of birds. There was the vulture I mentioned earlier, many different flamingos, parrots, and lots of other birds. The ostrich I mentioned earlier was funny to watch again later when I saw the giraffes. He was messing with them. I literally saw this bird sneak up behind the smallest giraffe and then hiss at him to scare him into running away. I saw no purpose to this except just to mess with the giraffe. It was funny. I also saw an enclosure with hummingbirds and a red tail hawk together. The smallest bird with such a large bird of prey. The hawk actually started tracking me as I walked around the glass, and then it came at me! It didn’t come off its perch and hit the glass, but it lunged and got to the end of the branch coming at me. Glad there was glass in between and he wasn’t just chillin on the side like that vulture.

              They also a had a pretty nice looking petting zoo in this area. There’s actually a branch off children’s area that includes the petting zoo. I didn’t go in there, but it looked like a lot of fun for little kids. There’s also a train that goes through the center of the zoo. There’s a station near the World of Primates, and another by the Texas Country area. You can also buy tickets to ride the carousel at the Texas station. The Hall of Wonders and Texas Nature Traders were closed when I visited so I’m not sure what those are all about. I bet they’re worth visiting if they are open when you visit.

              They also have a small Australian Outback section with sharks, kangaroos, and penguins. There were no kangaroos out when I went by, and I didn’t see any sharks either. Kangaroos obviously need warm climates, but I don’t think that should have affected the sharks. Honestly, I don’t even remember seeing a place that sharks could have been so I’m not sure what happened or if I missed it. It’s a pretty small section with a simple path so I’m not sure how I could have skipped by the shark enclosure.

              Overall, it is a nice zoo. I would very much like to come back in the spring or fall when it’s a little bit warmer, but not super hot. My visit would have been perfect for large cats I think. The new area they are building looks really cool!  I’ll have to come back sometime after 2023 when it is finished and all those cool animals go into their new habitats.

              A couple small tips from my brief visit. There are several places to get food. Many of them were closed because of covid and reduced admission, but the main ones were open. The Crocodile Café’s prices were slightly better than the prices at The Bluebonnet Café. Plus, at the Crocodile, if you get a good seat you can sit and watch the crocodiles outside the reptile exhibit while you eat. When I was there, they were on land sunning themselves right close up by the windows to the café. I didn’t end up eating at the zoo, but this is where I would have. The Bluebonnet has a western styling, but the setup seemed crowded to me (even though it was completely empty). It just had that feeling that it’d be a bit less relaxed when people are actually there. But it is really convenient to the Texas area of the zoo (it’s right inside the faux main street), plus it has Pizza Hut and Barbecue if that’s what you’re in the mood for. There are also a lot of smaller places and snack stops that weren’t open when I visited, but I bet more will be open in the height of their season.

              My other tip would be to download the app. They had a sign at the entrance with a QR code to a map, but I didn’t realize they had an app until halfway through. The map in the app is a little outdated, but they’ll have to update when the expansion is finished. It didn’t seem to have anything incorrect though, just a “coming in 2019” over the petting farm.

              They have half-priced Wednesdays. I took advantage of this, and it made the admission very reasonable. If you can go during the weekday, I’d definitely recommend considering this. It wasn’t busy at all while I was there, but I can’t speak for warmer days. I’d expect a lot more moms with young children on a Wednesday than on the weekend.

              Finally, currently (Jan. 2021) you MUST make reservations to enter the zoo. They have staggered entry times, and not many people were in the zoo while I was there. It is off season, and the virus is still on the mind so I’m not entirely surprised. I didn’t make my reservations until the night before with no problem. I wouldn’t count on that though, and definitely make sure you have your reservations made before you leave home. You can keep it on your phone and scan at the entrance.

But hey there are no real rules to visiting a zoo, these are more like guidelines. Have fun!

RV Life Travel

Coast to Coast Tour & Sales Pitch Review

              As I mentioned in another post, I recently purchased a new travel trailer.  When I came by to pick it up and do my walk through, the dealer had a folder with a voucher for free camping from Outdoor Adventures. Free camping??!!! Right? Um yes, please! He told me that the rep who gave it to him said it’s just a 90 minute tour the first time you come and then they validate your certificate for 21 days of free camping. Kind of like a timeshare meeting, but he promised it wasn’t super pushySounds pretty good to me! So I thought I’d write out what my experience was like.

              First of all, the folder says to call in order to to activate your 21 day voucher. Lies! Well, not completely. It’s the first step, but it won’t activate your voucher. They will then try to schedule a time for you to come take your tour. They won’t validate without the tour, even though the paperwork and indicate it just takes a call. I’m not mad though, I suspected as much. They want you to take the tour so they can make the pitch for their membership. That’s fine.  She said when you confirm a tour reservation, they will send you the voucher for 21 days of free camping, your parking pass, activity wristbands, and a $50 Walmart gift card! Sweet. She also said if you were just coming for tour and not staying to camp, they’ll give your lunch and ice cream.

It just wasn’t convenient to me because most of their resorts are in Michigan with 2 in New York and 2 in Ohio. I don’t live in any of those states so popping over for a tour isn’t exactly easy. I hoped to do it when I was ready to use my first campsite, but my camper was stuck in the shop for awhile. Then it was winter so I wanted to make use of my passes when it’s warmer, and I can use all the amenities. However, while I can use the passes 21 times anytime for up to a year, they said I needed to activate the pass as soon as possible. I was in the area around Thanksgiving so I just did the tour then with no overnight stay.

I visited the Arrowhead Lake campground for my tour. Ok so I’m going to clarify something now that was a little confusing to me. So I was given information, and was in contact with someone from Outdoor Adventure Resorts, but when I arrived the company name everywhere was Venture Out Resorts, and then they started talking about Coast to Coast which I’ll talk about later. So basically these are all their own individual companies that like partnered up as one thing? I know that Venture Out is an affiliate of Outdoor Adventures and you can get all the same benefits. Coast to Coast isn’t a name I heard until I met the sales guy. Yeah so that came out of nowhere. Here’s what I learned.

Apparently, Coast to Coast is a travel company owned by Good Sam. They have campgrounds all over the country, hence the name. They also have some in Canada and Mexico. So with the membership you can camp at the campgrounds in your home network for free, in this case Outdoor Adventures and their affiliates. Then you can use all those other campgrounds for $10/night.

              The tour was mostly just a sales spiel. We did take a drive around the campground. The one I visited was a new addition and had a lot of upgrades planned to make it as fancy as the others. You can see a couple pictures I took below. The cabin-trailer was really cute. It was more like a tiny home. After the long explanation of everything they do and then breaking it down to show me “how it would work for me” they offered me lunch. It was just a cold turkey sandwich with a store bought cookie, chips, and string cheese so don’t get too excited. They didn’t offer me any ice cream, but it was a bit cold out. They did give me the $50 Walmart gift card first thing when I arrived, and at the end they gave me the 21 day punch card for the free days of camping.

All of the highlights they push are as follows:

  • Camping & Cabins Free or $10/night
  • Discounts on vacations including condos around the world as low as $100/wk
  • Bring friends/family to use with you. 3 campsites or a campsite and cabin. Up to 10 people per spot.
  • RV Storage – I never heard a price. They implied free.
    • They’ll move it to a spot for you the night before you arrive.
  • 24 hour security
  • Open yearly (not all campgrounds)

Ok not gonna lie. That sounds pretty good. Of course, the sales guy starts doing the math. The national average (according to him) is $45/night. That seems to be about what I’ve found. So it sounds like you’d be saving money, but of course this all cost money. They have 3 plan tiers. They’ll only tell you about the top one at first, then they’ll bring the other ones out to hook you on. You’ll think that sounds great, but too expensive. Then they’ll say you can have it all for this much cheaper and it suddenly seems like a no brainer, but it’s still a lot of money. The tiers they showed me were as follows:

  • Top tier: $17,000 You get all the things I mentioned before and it’s a lifetime membership and it’s transferrable to your children if you so choose along the line.
  • Middle tier: $13,000 You get all the benefits except it’s a lifetime membership that is not transferrable.
  • Bottom tier: $8,000 All the benefits for 10 years and it’s not transferrable.

You do have the option to upgrade one of the lower tiers to a higher tier and the money you’ve already paid will count towards that higher tier.

              They only broke down the lowest tier for me because they acknowledged that the others didn’t make sense (and that I wasn’t going to even consider spending almost $20,000!) so those are the numbers I’m going to use now.

              The way it broke down according to the sales guy, it would break down to $96/mth. Assuming $50/night, you’d only have to stay 2 nights to save money. Well, he conveniently forgot to factor in that extra $10/night because I won’t be staying exclusively in Michigan. Still seems like a good deal, maybe.

So….what’s the kicker. That’s what I’m trying to figure out the whole time. The first thing that is a red flag is that they want you to buy right there and then. They told me that the offer is only good that day. I asked multiple times if I could think about it, maybe wait and try out after I use those free camping days they’re giving me (why give it to me if I don’t have a chance to try it out, right??) They said that they couldn’t because they tell everyone they have to buy that day so if they didn’t make me, other people would get mad. I don’t see why they wouldn’t let everyone think about it if there isn’t some kind of catch I’m not seeing right then and there.

              Then you have to notice that the $94/mth is only the first year. Why? Because there’s a yearly maintenance fee of $492 at the time of writing. That’s on top of the $8,000+ and it doesn’t go away even after you pay off the membership fee. There was no guarantee that price would stay consistent either. He said that in the past current members haven’t been required to pay the additional fee when the prices increase. He said there are current members who signed up the first year who are still paying under $200 for their yearly fees. But like I said, there’s not guarantee that’ll be true for you.

              Finally, they really bury the lead on this one. It’s not so much a yearly membership subscription as it’s a purchase. Meaning those numbers are financing numbers! It’s a loan. I only figured this out because I asked what the cancellation policy was. He told me you cancel up to 3 days after. When I pushed for the long term cancellation, then he said that the bank isn’t going to just forgive the note. So it’s a loan. So all those numbers aren’t taking the interest price into consideration. They kept talking about the numbers for good vs bad credit ($94/mth is the good credit price). They told me that for bad credit the interest is 15%. 15%!!! That’s a really high interest rate. Of course, I asked what the lowest rate for good credit was because I do have good credit, and it was 14%! That’s basically no difference! That’s it, that’s the catch. My uncle said “so they’re loan sharks” when I told him about it. He’s not wrong. They are definitely making money off the poor financial decision to open a loan at that rate. The salesman said if it were him, he’d take the 6 months of no interest and then refinance with a personal loan from his credit union. While that sounds like a smart plan, certainly smarter than sticking with 15% interest, I don’t feel comfortable with all the uncertainties in that plan. I’d want to do my research and I’d probably just open a loan from the get go to get a rate I’m comfortable with, but honestly I’m not comfortable with any interest rate for this kind of purchase.

              As you can guess, I walked out without making a purchase. I’m not upset that I went. They were really nice, and I got a gift card and free camping out of it. They never did send me the package in the mail with the passes and everything.

              I tried to look up reviews online. They are definitely mixed. I saw one lady comment that she was excited to mostly use the international condos and vacation discounts, but later comment that after a year they never were able to use it because Coast to Coast’s prices were always higher than the other local options. I’ve also read reviews that said when they booked campsites in network that were supposed to be $10/night, the campgrounds blindsided them with additional fees that ended up costing them more than if they had just booked it normally without going through Coast to Coast. I find these quite concerning on top of everything else I already felt uncomfortable with. Makes me happy I didn’t get pulled into their sales pitch.

              This was just my experience with one sales staff and your experience and pricing may vary. If anyone has used Coast to Coast, I’d love to hear your feedback!