What’s new at the Denver Zoo

With 3 kids who love animals, we’ve spent more time at zoos in the past decade than most people spend in their lifetime. Currently our oldest daughter is even a docent- volunteer at our local zoo in Utah. So when we got the chance to visit the Denver Zoo, we couldn’t pass it up. Yes, most zoos house just about the same varieties of animals, but we soon discovered Denver has some unique elements that are pushing the boundaries and setting new standards for zoos across the nation. Stimulating, naturalistic environments and eco-friendly operations are just a few of the advances the Denver Zoo is committed to mastering this year. This level of dedication isn’t new to the zoo, in fact, it began over a 100 yrs. ago when the zoo was initially created.

It all began with a special gift to the mayor of Denver back in 1896, a black bear, named Billy Bryan. That was the humble beginnings of  what is today one of the most popular zoos in the United States, the Denver Zoo.

What makes this  80-acre facility located in the center of City Park of Denver so unique is the how cutting edge and forward thinking it’s been since its inception. It was the first American zoo to use naturalistic habitats, that was over 100 years ago. Now, it’s utilizing trash and animal waste to power portions of the zoo and create one of the greenest zoo environments in the world. This zoo has consistently been a trailblazer in advancing education and advocacy for  animals, and it was a pleasure to see it up close during our visit.

Did you know that when you visit the bear exhibit you are seeing a national historic landmark?

Bear Mountain made history by becoming the first naturalistic habitat of its kind in North America. Its construction was based on giant plaster casts of rock outcroppings from an area near Morrison, Colorado, and was designed to simulate the animals’ natural habitat. It was built over 100 years ago, and still houses animals today.


The award winning Predators Ridge

Another example of advances the Denver Zoo is making in the zoo industry is Predator Ridge. Predators Ridge is an example of what accredited zoos nationwide are trying to achieve – larger, more naturalistic and educational exhibits. This exhibit features 10-foot tall mounds for lions to survey their surroundings, electric hot rocks for warmth and a separate maternity den for mothers and future cubs to enjoy. Other native animals like hyenas are rotated through the enclosure to give the lions a more enriching environment. Because of it’s realistic nature this exhibit received awards from the AZA, and remains one of the highlights not to be missed when you visit.


The brand new Toyota Elephant Passage

By far, the biggest and most impressive exhibit is the new Toyota Elephant Passage that opened June 2012. It houses 3 elephants and many other Asian species on the 10 acre property. It’s set up in a manner that allows the elephants to rotate through 3 different spaces, giving them a change of scenery and stimulation and freedom to roam that is unprecedented.

Besides the positive impact this new exhibit has on the animals, it’s having a positive effect on the environment as well. The new Toyota Elephant Passage turns human trash and animal waste into energy. The innovative gasification system will convert more than 90 percent of the zoo’s waste into usable energy to power the exhibit, eliminating 1.5 million pounds of trash currently going to landfills annually. Hopefully their example of how to create the best possible environment for the elephants, and save energy doing it will be an example other zoos will follow.

Quick Tips for your visit:

  1. Go early-  The animals are usually more active in the early morning and early evening, so if you want to see them moving around, get there as soon as it opens.
  2. Map out the live shows firstSome of the animal shows, feedings or live demonstrations are held only once per day, so arrange a plan that ensures you get to see them, and fill in the time between shows with exhibits that are open all day long.
  3. Feeding Lorikeets-  If you’d like to experience the fun of feeding lorikeets from your hand, and have them land on various parts of your body, do this early in the day. They are hungry in the morning, but after eating from the hands of numerous visitors, they are full by the afternoon. My kids loved this when they were little, and it makes for a great photo opportunity as well.
  4. Stay cool & hydrated- While there are some shady areas to rest and eat a picnic lunch, the majority of the paths are not shaded. Likewise, the sea lion show is in direct sunlight, and there’s no seating- you stand while watching it. Be prepared with hats, sunglasses, perhaps even an umbrella if you are senstive to the sun. Water bottles are $2.50 a piece in the zoo, and you’ll probably need to drink several during the day so plan that into your budget, or bring your own water bottles and refill them as needed.
  5. Be kind to your feet- As in most zoos, there’s several hills to walk throughout the zoo, and it’s a fairly big distance from one side of the park to the other. Be kind to your feet and wear proper walking shoes. It pains me to see women walking from one exhibit to the next, clearly  uncomfortable in their high heels. Forgo making a fashion statement and enjoy your time with the animals.
  6. Take advantage of the Education availableThe zoo’s website has an abundant amount of information available to prepare you for your trip. There’s guides to animal conservation, educational programs for teachers and students, and a teen program for those interested in more in depth knowledge of animals.

So as you can see, if you are in the Denver area, the Zoo is worth the day trip to explore it. It has a lot to offer both young and old, animal lover and environmentalist alike.

Have you been to the Denver Zoo? What was your experience like? What’s your favorite animal exhibit? Leave your thoughts in the comments below~ we’d love to hear from you!

We are grateful to the Denver Zoo staff for their hospitality, and to Visit Denver for arranging the opportunity.

Our 5 Days in Denver!

http://www.wattsintheworld.com/ Dino and Shannon Watt. We traveled to Denver, Co for some family fun, education and meeting new people. We were there for the annual Tbex conference in Keystone, Co and Visit Denver supplied us with a ton of amazing things to do before the actual conference.

This is just a quick recap of the places we went, the people we met and the things we learned. It’s a short reel of  how much fun we can pack into a 5 day trip~ we had a blast! From the History Colorado museum, Water World water park, Country Boy Gold Mine, The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary and so much more, we had a great time together and travel blogging as a family.

Water World: How to Beat the Heat in Denver, Colorado

Our family LOVES water parks! Since Water World was named one of the Top 10 Water Parks by the Travel Channel, we were anxious to experience it. A few weeks ago we were in Denver, Colorado for the Travel Bloggers Exchange conference, and we jumped at the chance to check it out. Having the opportunity to cool off at one of America’s largest family water parks, just as summer is starting to heat up, was perfect. With over  64 attractions and slides to choose from, we knew we were in for a day of fun.

There is a great section for small children in the Wally World and Big Top play areas that I would’ve loved when my kids were little. Since they are teens now, we headed straight over the thrill rides. Dino enjoyed racing Hannah and Hayden down the Turbo Racer, and being swished around like a toilet bowl in the Spacebowl. The Skyline Speed Slide is probably the biggest thrill, a 6 story plunge straight down. You can see the slide in the background here.

The newest thrill ride, The Mile High Flyer, opened just this month. Unfortunately it wasn’t open yet when we visited, but it sure appears to be the most cutting edge water ride to date. It’s the first hydromagnetic water coaster in the Rockies, which means the ride can ascend, not just descend with gravity, like regular water rides. I am excited to go back and try this one out!

I think Dino ad Hayden’s favorite attraction was Riding the Wave. It’s a wave simulator that you try to ride on a boogie board. It looks easier than it is, and rarely could a person stay on for more than a few seconds. The boys attempted at least a dozen times, and had some spectacular wipe outs each time. Ladies, be careful, many bathing suit pieces came off or down during a wipe out.


Sore and cold, but not defeated, Hayden decided to take a break and move on to the lazy river for a little bit.

Other highlights: The Wave Pool is usually a family favorite, along with the Lazy River.  I could spend the whole day just floating in a tube and staying cool.

A unique ride I’ve never seen before was the Zoomerang. It looks like a skateboard pipeline with a trickle of water flowing down the surface to create a hyrdoplane experience as your tube sails back and forth. Now that’s an intense thrill.

There are many positive features about Water World, but here are some of my top picks.

Features worth mentioning:

  • Free, Tasty Water- The water fountains are equipped with filtered water that you can refill your own water bottles with, which eliminates the expense and waste created by buying bottled water.
  • Parking is free. While many parks and events charge enormous fees for parking, you are spared the extra expense at Water World.
  • Bring your own food. Picnics are welcome, so you are not held hostage to buying snacks, beverages and lunch inside the park. However, if you do eat at one of the food stands, the prices seemed within reason of what you’d pay at an amusement park. There are shaded picnic pavilions where you can eat your lunch
  • The All-You-Can-Eat buffet and soda fountain option that starts at $11.99 for kids, and $13.99 for adults. If you plan on being there for a full day this would most likely pay for itself.
  • Tube Rentals- During the busy season renting a personal tube is a timesaving option. It’s $5 for 1 or $8 for 2. There’s also a Valet service available to take your family tube (seats 4) to the top of the ride so you don’t have to carry it yourself. It’s $30 for the day. We didn’t use it, but worth looking into depending on your circumstances. If it’s not busy, personal tune rentals aren’t worth the extra expense, you can obtain them easily from the patrons exiting the ride.
  • Cabana rentals- If your budget allows, another option would be a private cabana with free wi-fi and a cooler or refrigerator for your drinks. Sounds like a  heavenly way to stay out of the sun and recoup between thrill rides.

Overall, the rides proved thrilling, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the facility and pools were clean. There was a great blend of families, and teen groups, and I felt safe and relaxed enough to let my kids wander around on their own for awhile. It’s open between Memorial and Labor Day, and if I lived closer, it would be worth getting a season pass for my kids to come with their friends.

I would recommend anyone wanting to beat the heat in Colorado to visit Water World in Denver and try out one of the best water parks in America!


For more information about Water World, go to: www.WaterWorldColorado.com




Disclosure: We were not paid for this review, however we were given free admission as part of Visit Denver’s promotion of the TBEX conference. The opinions expressed are our own, and not influenced by the park or it’s affiliates. 

TBEX- 7 things I learned at my first travel blogger conference

We have recently returned home from a 8 days in Colorado, and as I’m wading through the mounds of laundry to wash and videos to edit, I thought I’d share some insights on what I learned at my first travel blog conference.

My first impressions were:

1. People in the travel industry are super nice.

Bloggers are a friendly group. Even though 800 people were there, and most were vying for the attention of company sponsors or tourism boards, there wasn’t a feeling of competition or jockeying for position. Everyone I met was genuinely open and approachable. Often people would come over and introduce themselves and be interested in  who I was and what I was up to. The vendors and speakers were just as friendly and social as the attendees, and I feel like I made some real connections and friendships with fellow colleagues. Whether sitting next to Taylor in a session, or eating ribs with Craig and Erin, it would inevitably be a great conversation with an intriguing person.  Perhaps the nature of the biz we are in, traveling the world, makes for a happier people than the general population. Either way, it makes me eager to go to another travel blog exchange.

2. There’s a Wide, Wide World out there-  

Man, there are a whole lot of niche groups under the travel umbrella! By saying that I’m probably revealing my newbie status as a travel blogger, but I didn’t realize the scope of what people wrote about, or how specialized it could get. There were bloggers dedicated to writing just about RV retirees, backpackers, budget, luxury, traveling as a single or a family. I met a woman whose whole business is just creating a paid newsletter about Italy for hard core fans that have traveled there 6 or more times in their life. A travel writer made his living primarily on writing multiple guide books about the small island of Cuba. Those topics have a pretty narrow focus, and it’s great to see that you can create value by addressing a small segment of people.

3. Uniqueness + Creativity = Success

People often quote that “Content is King”, but I’d have to say that “Creativity is king”. You can have amazing content, but not make any money by creating it. I know, I’ve done that before.  In order to capitalize on the opportunities of blogging, sponsorship, press trips, etc. there needs to be creativity in what you are putting together. Some of collaborations I heard about seemed out of the box, and that’s what made it awesome. For example, Intrepid Travel- an Australian travel company, hiring food bloggers- Perennial Plate, to shoot a video of Vietnamese food for their travel site. Sounds weird doesn’t it? There wasn’t a linear connection, yet it yielded an amazing 3 minute video that won awards and got the traffic and exposure that Intrepid was looking for. Which means, I need to think bigger. Out of the box. Use the right side of my brain to create ideas that bring value to me, my audience, and 3rd party participants.

4. Most travel bloggers aren’t making money doing it.

Sadly, most travel bloggers do this as a side project in addition to a full time job. I was shocked when the majority of the room rose their hand and said they make $1,000 or less per month from their blogs. Coming from the seminar/public speaking/information marketing world, that is unacceptable to me. There’s so many ways to monetize the efforts of a world traveler, that it pains me to see this industry lagging behind. My perception is that mosts writers are so focused on getting their blogs to make money that they are missing out on others revenue opportunities.  My hope is to change that within the next 1-2 years.

5. Cross channel marketing & exposure is crucial-  

You can’t copy the leading bloggers and expect the same results. Their ascent to popularity was uncharted territory at the time, and therefore unique. That uniqueness was part of the appeal that lead to their rise. Hundreds have tried to mimic their methods and failed because it’s not new anymore. We’ve got to keep upleveling the game each year, even each blog post. Besides keeping the content and context fresh, I realized the importance of multiple channels for getting my message out. I already knew that a blog post on my website isn’t enough, using Twitter and Facebook helps, but I was astounded (insert: overwhelmed) at the depth of other tools like Viddy, Stumble, Digg It, Redd It, etc. that bloggers use. I have a lot to learn in this area, but it’ll come in layers. Breathe.

6. Video Killed the Radio Star-  

This song makes me wonder if it applies to written blogs vs. video blogs as well. Video is the hot commodity in other areas of information marketing, but I was surprised to see that most of the travel industry hasn’t fully embraced the power of video. Travel writers seem to be reluctant to leave their main  communication channel and branch out. Yet my prediction is that the “Adapt or Die” philosophy applies here as well. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next 18 months, but I’m more eager than ever to use this medium to put Watts in the World on the map.

7. Travel blogging, as a career, is in it’s infancy-

Even the oldest, most established, popular blogs are only 5-6 years. old. So when I looked around the room at 700 other bloggers and  momentarily felt like “I’d missed the boat”, I immediately reminded myself that blogging is in it’s infancy. There’s still opportunity to be an industry leader, just like there’s room for quality people in the personal development world, health & fitness world, MLM world, etc. Travel is a worldwide past time, and had a global audience that’s no where near saturated. As more companies warm up to working with travel bloggers, more opportunities will open up and keep us busy well into the next decade. Overall I feel optimistic that there’s room at the top for those willing to pay their dues.









TBEX was a well done conference, and I look forward to going again next year!