The Philadelphia Zoo unveiled their new dinosaur exhibit “BIG TIME: Life in an Endangerous Age” on Thursday, March 25. I was able to get tickets to a Media/VIP Preview of the event, which was originally supposed to be Wednesday but got pushed back to Thursday because of weather. Changing the date was definitely the right move because, like just about anything you can currently do at the zoo right now, the dino exhibit is entirely outside.
The kids and I headed to the Philadelphia Zoo with my dad (great to have his help!) on Thursday morning for a few speeches from Zoo officials and Philly representatives. The overall message was two-fold. 1) There was a huge focus on the opening of the new exhibit being a sign of HOPE. This exhibit had been planned for a 2020 opening, but was delayed because of the pandemic. Big Time’s opening marked the first big (ha) event in over a year, and there was a lot of talk about everyone being excited to welcome guests back to the zoo. 2) There are animals in existence today that are facing the same threat of extinction as the animals in the exhibit. There are things we can all do in our everyday lives to make a difference.
At the conclusion of the presentations, they invited guests to come to the front for the ribbon cutting. When we attended the opening of the LEGO event at the Philly Zoo in April 2019, Henry was picked to help with the ribbon cutting, and we’d been looking at those pictures this week. So, Henry and Charlotte ran right to the front without hesitation. Afterwards, Henry complained that THIS time he didn’t get to actually hold the scissors (I’m assuming a Covid precaution), but he was THRILLED tonight when I showed him that the two of them actually made the local news! At this point, I think he considers himself a ribbon cutting pro.
The Big Time exhibit is essentially a big curvy loop with a walking path. On both sides of the path you can view giant animatronic creatures – mostly dinosaurs until you get toward the end where see animals like the saber-toothed cats and gorilla-sized lemurs. I’m sure crowds could affect this, but I’d say you could walk through the whole thing in 5 minutes if you’re just quickly looking and walking. If you’re stopping to take pictures, read the signs (and practice saying the names!), and listening to the animal facts, it probably takes 15-20 minutes.
Leading up to the event, I kept saying that I really didn’t know how my kids would react. They’ve been really excited about going, but they can be a bit unpredictable with what scares them. (They’re both obsessed with the Ghostbuster movies BUT I also had to recently ask a local restaurant if they could take down a print that depicted Cookie Monster as an actual monster. Seriously. So … you never know!)
I didn’t need to worry though because they did great! Yes, the animatronics move, but none of them are in your face or really have the “surprise” element that might startle young children. And while a few of the dinosaurs make noise, nothing was very loud. Besides Charlotte asking Grandpop to carry her at one point, I didn’t see any hesitance from either of them. No crying or running for the exit, which I thought would be a possibility!
A Few Tips:
The BIG TIME exhibit is in the back of the Philadelphia Zoo, near the beer garden. If the South entrance is open, and you want to get right to the dinos first, that’s where you want to go in. (There are also parking lots that are closer to this.) On the flip side, if you’re looking to save the dinosaurs for the finale before heading home, you could easily do the other animals without the kids seeing the dinosaurs first.
Like most big attractions, the exit takes you right to a gift shop area. If that’s not your thing (raises hand!), be prepared to distract the kids. There’s a walk-up food kiosk right across from the exhibit called Dino Bites with a bunch of tables to sit for a meal or snack. I was able to guide my kids away the gift shop with the promise of popcorn. I DID see several kids later at the zoo with some cool dinosaur toys though, so if you did want to treat the kids (this could even be a fun family birthday outing!), you might want to keep that in mind when you’re thinking of how much the day will cost.
On that note, you could also stash some new dinosaur toys/treats you’ve bought elsewhere in your bag and then reveal them to the kids as you come out of the exhibit! (Dollar Tree typically has a bunch of dinosaur items.)
And here are a few other cool things I found on Amazon:
Smithsonian Kids: Digging for Dinosaurs
Dinosaur Toy Painting Kit with 10 Figurines, paint and brushes
Plus Plus Mini Maker Tube – Spinosaurus
Pack of 12 Mini Plastic Dinosaur Figures
(Amazon Affiliate Links*.)
At least when we went, there were very limited food options open. So you might want to bring food/snacks. There are plenty of tables and benches were you can stop to eat.
If you have a Zoo Key, bring it! Zoo Keys came back in April 2019, then stopped because of the pandemic, and now they’re back again! You can use your old Zoo Key throughout the dino section and the entire zoo. OR, they’re also selling limited edition dinosaur shaped keys in honor of Big Time. This makes for a cool souvenir of the event, and it’s how you activate all of the boxes in Big Time to listen to facts about the animals you’re looking at. (FYI: All of the boxes have an option for both English and Spanish!)
Make sure you purchase your Big Time tickets in advance! While many of the zoo exhibits (like the one with LEGO in 2019) are spread throughout the Philadelphia Zoo and included with admission, Big Time is an addition charge. There is a kiosk near the entrance where you can purchase tickets, but with them limiting crowds as much as they can, it’s possible they could sell out.
Wear sneakers/shoes that can get messy – especially if it’s rained recently!
I’m a big fan of themed days! Make the most out of your Big Time visit by starting/continuing the dino fun at home. Take a look at my previous post HERE for some ideas!
Big Time wasn’t as immersive of an experience as I was picturing before going. I think this is mainly because it’s completely outside and there are limitations that come with that. (But if you’re being very Covid-cautious, then you’ll love that! PLUS, if you have more timid kids, I think this helped with it not being scary.) My kids, especially my 3 year old, have already asked at least 5 times to go back the very next day. So overall, Big Time provided big time safe outdoor fun! If you’re already going to the Zoo (and spring is a perfect time for it!), it’s a fun add-on for dinosaur lovers. But it wouldn’t be worth the ticket price to go JUST for Big Time since you need to also purchase zoo tickets for your visit.
Especially after the past year we’ve had, it’s exciting to get outside to do something new!
BIG TIME: Life in an Endangerous Age is open to Philadelphia Zoo Members from March 25 through March 28. It is open to the public starting March 29.
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