Phoenix Zoo's Cruise the Zoo Drive Thru Event

June 4, 2020By Amy

The world as we know it is a much different place from the one we knew when we started vlogging and documenting locations around us. Never ever would we have imagined that a global pandemic would shut down museums, parks, roadside attraction or heck, even stores. As travel enthusiasts and adventurers of the American Southwest, not being able to get out and explore our home state has been a challenge. And a bummer if I’m being honest. Our adventures have quickly become our escapes and stress relief from jobs and the usual humdrum of everyday life. Unfortunately, plans we had quickly got shelved and put on the back burner.

With little else to do, we hunkered down much like the rest of the world did and turned to TV and the internet. It was here that I discovered something the Phoenix Zoo created to keep social distancing in mind while still generating income to help provide meals and upkeep for the animals - the Cruise the Zoo event.

Hailing from the city of Phoenix, the Phoenix Zoo is a place that we’ve to been in the past. I couldn’t quite fathom what driving through familiar territory would be like… in a car. How would this work out? Where do we enter? What animals would I drive past? How well can you see them? How long can you spend in front of each exhibit? To find out we purchased tickets for the last remaining day available at the time - Memorial Day of 2020.

Cars in line in parking lot

It turns out that you arrive at the Phoenix Zoo through the usual entrance and drive into the parking lot. Here employees will guide you into a line through the parking lot aisles where you will wait for some time. Through the lot there are plenty of signs providing details about the procedure and information to prepare you. We ended up slowly crawling through the lot to the front where the digital ticket on our phone was scanned. All in all it took about 40 minutes from start to finish before we were into the zoo and on our way to the exhibits.

During our wait we made use of the time and pulled up the Zoo’s Cruise the Zoo page to check out the audio tour. We unfortunately did not make use of this feature during our visit since we were filming a video, but it’s a nice touch and provides some information about the animals you will see and where to look. It isn’t location based so be sure to have someone designated to play the files in your vehicle if possible.

The route through the zoo takes you in through a back entrance located to the right of the zoo’s front. You will wind your way through the zoo around the Tropics Trail, through the Uco area, around the back, then around the Africa Trail and back out the same entrance you entered. Due to the layout of the zoo there are a couple times traffic has to be halted for others to pass through coming from the opposite direction. These moments can slow things down but the speed through the event is a leisurely 4 mph anyway.

Signboard and station designating lunch pick up spot

Now back to those questions I had. How did it work out? I found the process to be pretty darn streamlined to be honest. We didn’t choose either of the two food packages, a hot dog meal or kettle corn, so I can’t speak to that personally, however, as we approached the area that food is provided there was little to no slow down. The vehicle in front of us was delivered a giant bag of kettle corn at lightning speed so it seems as though the staff are on the ball and keeping track of which cars ordered and which didn’t.

What animals did we pass? Well, as you can expect, the route through the zoo does limit the amount of exhibits one can see. The event’s map will give you an idea of animals you will pass by. The audio tour will also give you an idea of what animals you will pass. Exhibits we noticed were the elephants, camels, jaguar, cheetah, flamingos, tortoise, hyena, lion, giraffes, zebras, orangutan and tiger.

How well can you see the animals? Okay, so here’s where I imagine the experience can vary the most. Let’s be frank. The zoo was not built and designed with automotive traffic in mind. Depending on what vehicle you are driving, you may find that the guardrails obscure your vision into the exhibits. I drive a VW Golf and found this often to be the case. Should you be driving a higher clearance vehicle, you might have a better view.

Elephant walking in zoo enclosure

As with any zoo or wildlife park experience, the animals aren’t always up front and center in their exhibits. With the Phoenix heat rising as the day progresses, I imagine a lot of the animals seek shade and are not going to be immediately visible (or visible at all) as you pass by. We entered into the zoo drive through around noon and this was our experience. Visibility of animals was hit or miss. In addition, some exhibits have brief windows to peer into the enclosure due to the landscaping of plants. However, seeing the animals we spotted in the comfort of our car was quite a thing. This isn’t an experience you have every day.

My advice to those wanting to check out this event is to be patient and keep what you’ve read in mind. As the price of a ticket is per car, make use of your vehicle’s space and invite the family along. At $65 per car for general admission, this was actually $15 more expensive for the two of us than it would be for regular admission tickets when the zoo is open. If you want to get the most value, the more the merrier applies here.

Another recommendation I could make is if your vehicle has a sunroof that opens and you have kids, make use of it. The speed limit through the park is 4 mph and no one is rushing through. I imagine kids will have a great view and enjoy the experience. A number of families were taking advantage of this around us and I even noted this being shown in the zoo’s advertisement.

Flock of flamingos

We felt good upon leaving knowing that we helped out the Phoenix Zoo during the strange times we find ourselves in. Should you want to check out Cruise the Zoo, dates will continue the first Thursday through Monday during the months of June, July, and August. Tickets must be purchased in advance online and are good for the purchased date only. It’s a unique event and creative way to keep the zoo afloat that one really can’t experience on any given day. I imagine with some popcorn and a souvenir photo, families with children would love this.

Interested in learning more about Cruise the Zoo at the Phoenix Zoo? Consider checking out our video, or get directions, pricing info, hours of operation and much more on our information page. Links below.