Enjoy a day at the Virginia Zoo

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The end of a successful school year is indeed something to celebrate!

My husband and I decided to mark the beginning of summer in early June with a day trip to Virginia Zoo with our granddaughter, Sora.

Sora loves animals — really loves animals and can recite animal trivia the same way sports fans can rattle off Super Bowl facts or home run records.

For the past few months, the three of us have enjoyed watching the Animal Planet reality show “The Zoo” — a behind-the-scenes look at the Bronx Zoo. A trip to New York would have been fantastic, but we were looking for one-day trip to a new destination when I learned about the Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk.

We left home just after 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and in just under three hours, we were in the parking lot and putting on sunscreen!

The zoo’s main entrance opens onto a water plaza. The fountains had not been turned on for the season when we were there, but Sora had fun playing with other children at the 22,000-pound floating granite globe. That was the first thing she headed for when we arrived and the last thing she did before heading to the gift shop on our way out. She told us later she would have loved playing at that water-covered globe all day!

We decided to take a ride on the Norfolk Southern Express before setting out to see the 500 animals that call the zoo home. The train is a 1/3 scale model of a C.P. Huntington steam engine. The shiny red and black train takes passengers on a 3/4-mile track where they get at brief overview of the exhibits. We liked taking the train ride first so we could get a good idea what we wanted to do at the zoo.

The Virginia Zoo is very pretty, and I enjoyed looking at the artwork as well as the plants and flowers as we made our way from exhibit to exhibit viewing animals from Africa, Asia, Australia and North America.

We saw tapirs, a sleeping orangutan wrapped up in burlap, sun bears, a kangaroo, cheetahs, zebras, snakes, bongos and a meerkat.

We lingered in the African exhibit and enjoyed watching the rhinoceroses and giraffes — my favorite. Their habitat is arranged so you can stop and look from several vantage points. Our favorite place to stop was a large, covered pavilion with plenty of benches. We visited on a very hot day and were thankful for the many shady resting points along the way.

We kept an eye on two resting tigers, one of which eventually roused up and walked around. The white-cheeked gibbon kept us entertained with its antics on a rope that extended across its enclosure.

And we stopped many times to see a variety of birds from a bleeding heart dove to a rhinoceros hornbill. At the hornbill’s habitat, we watched as a keeper fed them and gave them commands to move them to the right location. A volunteer at that exhibit and many others spoke up and told us about the large birds and answered our questions about the food they were being served: fruit and a jelly-like bird feed.

We ended our tour of the zoo at the new reptile house and Zoo Farm. Sora played for a long time with many dwarf goats that live there. The zoo provides lots of soft brushes the kids can use to groom the grateful goats.

On our way out, we got up and personal with a peacock that was hanging out near a picnic area. Sora followed him, taking photos and hoping one of its tail feathers would fall off!

The three of us thoroughly enjoyed our day at the zoo. We have all been to the N.C. Zoo, and we love that as well. But it was nice to go somewhere new and see something different. The footprint of the Virginia Zoo isn’t as gigantic as the N.C. Zoo, so it seemed more management on a sweltering day.

Virginia Zoo

Location: 3500 Granby St., Norfolk

Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except major holidays.

Tickets: $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors 62 and older, and $11.95 for children ages 2-11. Children under 2 are admitted free. Train tickets are $2.

More info: Visit virginiazoo.org.