This was a surprising little gem. Until now, the only thing I ever did that was child-centric in Staten Island was the Staten Island Children’s Museum (which we frequented during their pre-school, early elementary school years). That place was a lot of fun (with all these rooms were they could play at being a fireman or an artic explorer) but have not been back there in years. But I digress….
Zoos are always fun for everyone and this one was no exception. When we first drove up, we thought this zoo was going to be something we would finish in an hour tops. The zoo was in a pleasant park like setting and has a nice selection of animals. We actually spent several hours there. They had one of the best collection of snakes I had ever seen and there was a lot of excitement when it came time to feed them. As much as I love zoos trying to keep animals in a total habitat…it is also cool for kids to see something like a rattlesnake devouring a mouse whole. It was sort of funny watching the snakes expectantly waiting for their meal and a little bit exciting when one of the rattlesnakes actually lunge and try to bite the zoo keeper who was adept at having a long pole to keep him away.
The girls also loved the peacocks which seemed to rule the zoo. It seemed everywhere we turned there was a peacock waving his feathers for the adoring photographers. We also got to see Staten Island Chuck, the groundhog that competes with the other one, Puxatony Phil in Philadelphia. They may have the more renowned groundhog, but ours bit a billionaire named Mayor Bloomberg!
There was also a petting zoo. One thing that was especially nice was the food you purchased for the animals was not a few nuggets of Purina but a whole pack of something that looked like Wasa bread for only a $1.00. The animals were so overfed that they were not even that interested. The nice thing for the kids was that many of the animals, like the alpaca, were not behind fences and they tolerated the kids petting their woolly heads.
The zoo was very well staffed as teenagers are able to participate in a volunteer program. They were very friendly and gave us their choices for their favorite pizza joints. All in all, especially if you have elementary school kids, though my middle schoolers enjoyed it also, it was a nice side trip. The bad news is that it is not a part of the NY Zoological Society so your zoo pass won’t work there. The entrance was $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for children. The basic family membership is $85.00 but they participate in a program that have reciprocal agreements with 100 other zoos, something to think about if you are going on a many city vacation (something our science center memberships have saved us a small fortune with). Can’t comment on concessions as we were obviously full on pizza.
When the children were little I used to take the ferry to Snug Harbor and go the Staten Island Children’s Museum. Out of the corner of my eye, I would spot the entrance to the Chinese Scholar Garden, which I did not dare to enter, fearing my rowdy children would bring stares. During its construction I had read tales of the Chinese artisans and the cooks that were brought over to feed them with fascination that something that unusual had found its home in Staten Island. It was one of those things I had on my NYC bucket list, and though Serge thought we had already packed too much into the day, I pushed to go. I am glad that I waited. It is not a place for toddlers, and I suggest that anyone with kids wait until they are school age.
You enter through a small cottage and after paying a small fee - I think the whole family cost $22 - you get to enter Shangri-La. The entire garden is designed to be like a Chinese landscape painted being unrolled, and that is exactly what it felt like. The person behind the register told us that gardens were closing at 5, it was about 4 at the time, but since it was drizzling and late there were only about ten other people on the grounds. With an admonishment to keep on the path, we left the little cottage armed only with some water bottles.
The path quickly became surrounded by walls of bamboo, which sort of served as a gateway into the mystical world that awaited. On the ground were stones telling the passer-by that the Chinese Scholar Gardens were re-invigorated after the cultural revolution and went back to the Chin Dynasty. The path led you into a gorgeous courtyard that had beautiful rock formations and carefully tiled rock patios overlooking a gorgeous koi pond. The weather, which contributed to the fog and mist, added to the whole atmosphere. Any minute, you expected for a Chinese sage, with a long beard and silk robes to approach you an give a cryptic message that when revealed would answer your questions about the meaning of life.
There were removable plaques that you could carry with you and read about the various design and plant choices. Usually, I am into that sort of thing, but for once I just stepped back and took in the quiet simplicity of the place. The children explored all the nooks and crannies and I was amazed that one of them did not fall in the pond as they ventured a little too deep into the rock formations that surrounded the pond. Finally, we got them rounded up and the path brings you back to the cottage. There is a gift shop in another room which we did not venture into. We spent about an hour there, which I think was about the right time for my patience lacking kids, but I could have easily spent two. I think it would be a lovely place to have a special event.
Sam, who was not thrilled at going to a garden, actually said it was a very cool place to visit. It was quite beautiful…so if you like the uniqueness of something like the High Line, which he also loves, than I suggest you give this hidden New York gem a go. Snug Harbor is easily accessible by public transportation being a short bus ride after a trip on the ferry.