(Pseudo) Trip Report: Jungle Jack's Landing (at the Columbus Zoo,) 5-30-08 (LONG)

Associated parks:

I call it pseudo because it was more of a viewing day than a riding day... it was my first chance to get in since they'd opened the new ride area and I wanted to check it out. We didn't go into the waterpark; our first trip there should be at the end of next week.

For those who don't know, we're lucky enough here in Columbus to have an extremely nice zoo -- I know it's considered one of the best in the nation, and I've always found it a pleasure to visit. Admission prices are a tad steep in my book (I swear they were $12 adult/$7 child recently, but on this trip they were $10/$6... so not as bad,) but the memberships are around $60-80 for a family, which I feel is very reasonable. I have a small daycare out of my home, and they've always allowed me to purchase a family pass and include the daycare kids. Generally a very welcoming, accomodating place.

Two years ago, the zoo purchased the adjacent Wyandot Lake waterpark, and began a massive renovation. They begun by redoing the parking lots (they were already merged, but they've been expanded/repaved, with an area added up the middle through which they can operate trams on busy days.) They tore out almost the entire old waterpark, expanded it a bit, and remained closed last season so that they could do a complete overhaul. They've also created a redone entrance gate, which includes ticket booths that serve zoo, waterpark and ride areas together, and a more '21st century' admissions system, complete with scanners and turnstiles.

(Forgive me if any of this background isn't correct to the 't' -- wanted the gist to be out there for anyone who might read who's not from the area.)

Personally, I'd always been very pleased with the zoo, its staff, etc, so when I heard that they were buying Wyandot Lake, I was really excited. I expected to see the same attention to theming, care, etc, taken in the new section as they have been in the zoo. That said, I've been feeling less than positively about it lately, as I've vented/whined (on more than one occasion) on the main board.

Fast forward to yesterday. One of the boys I watch had a class fieldtrip to the zoo, and since we've been stuck at home for the last nine months due to school schedules etc, I jumped at the chance to throw all of the kids in the van and head on east to the zoo. I had a couple of kids not in attendance for various reasons, so it was myself, a six year old girl, a six year old boy, two four year old boys -- one of whom was from the class in question, and the "baby" (who's sixteen months.)

I promised the kids that so long as they listened, stayed with me, etc, after J's class left we would go check out the ride section and I'd let them ride "one or two" rides. (I was figuring on spending about ten bucks... so figured I'd base it on whether they were a dollar or two.) Our day at the zoo ended up being more exhausting than normal (it was hot, the crowds were the largest I've ever seen them outside of a warm Friday night during Wildlights, and his class covered the WHOLE zoo in under four hours... we usually do half in our whole day,) but I believe in following through on my word with the kids (good or bad... ha ha!), so over we went. This was early/mid afternoon, around 2 o'clock. I figured it would take us half an hour to look at the rides, pop the kids on a couple, and head on home. Despite my misgivings, I went into the park with a pretty decent attitude.

I had read the newspaper insert, but honestly couldn't remember height restrictions etc, so I started by walking the kids around to each ride. I would have liked to follow the 'watch in operation' rule, but many of the rides weren't operating due to rotating ride operators. But at least they could observe them, I could explain them, etc.

OVERVIEW: There are fourteen rides. Adult rides consist of the coaster, a flume, the scrambler, tilt a whirl, flyers, bumper cars, pirate ship, matterhorn and swings. Kids' rides are a frog hopper (seven-seater, with the large seat in the middle,) mini tea cups, elephants, train, and jeep/safari ride. They're laid out not on top of each other, but in a fairly compact area... enough room for people, but not so far you have to walk a ton once you get in the area.

Despite the craziness of crowds at the zoo, the dry park is pretty much deserted. There was a small group of teenage boys, a little boy of about 8 and her dad, a couple of moms and a toddler, maybe a couple others, and us... I think that was about it. They had 3-4 ride ops rotating through the various rides, which worked just fine due to the light (non-existant) crowd... you could go up to a line and wait, and a ride op would be over in just a couple of minutes. There also seemed to be a few rides with 'permanant' ops, where there was always someone, on the flyers, scrambler, and bumper cars.

At least one of the rides is not yet finished; the 'Safari Stampede' (matterhorn) is all assembled except that it has no cars on its axles. Not sure what's up with that. Additionally, neither the log flume nor the coaster was operating, though I had seen people on the coaster when we arrived at the zoo around 9:30. Yet, they were still selling ride wristbands for $15, no discount despite the fact that not all of the rides were open. Nice...

Also, not only do you have to walk past the dry ride area to get to the waterpark, you have to wind through the various rides to get there. I pity every parent who shells out their $30 a head to let their kids play in the water, then has to deal with them asking, "Can I ride that?" all the way there.

It's obvious that the park is new/a work in progress, because there is still a lot of dirt, etc around. There were landscapers there, though, so they get a pass on that one. The rides all looked great; my complaints would be a) lack of theming on the flume... it really needs something, and b) the cars on the flyers are just solid blue... really? You couldn't have just painted a design on their sails? I hope both of those things are coming. The rest of the rides looked great, nice artwork, etc.

All of that said... I had a pretty frustrating time, largely due to crappy signage. I've been measuring the kids on the wall, and know that my six year olds are just over and just under the 48" line (I would say 47 & 49,) and my 4 year olds are about 44" and 40", all barefoot. (In one of life's ironies, I have a kid who's 4 3/4 years old and a daredevil -- he'd ride anything they make. But of course, he's teeny, and has just cleared that 40" line due to a growth spurt in the last six weeks, which means a lot of 'no's greet him at parks.) I walked the kids up to the first ride that you come upon, the flyers -- which the sign says is a 42" height restriction (48" unaccompanied.) Great, no problem, I can ride with the kids... let me see if I've been measuring correctly. Stand the kids up to the 'you must be taller than this' line one at a time... check, check, check, check. Wait a second. Did my teeny tiny barely-40" four year old just clear that line? Indeed he did, in the yellow block with room to spare. They must have mis-hung that sign... let's move along and check again on another ride.

Next we walked to the bumper cards, 44" this time... and yet again, all four kids cleared.

At this point, I'm more mystified than anything; was my home measuring that far off? We happen upon the scrambler where the ride host kindly offers to 'officially' measure all of the kids. The verdicts... 49", 47.5, 44, and 39.5. So, yup, my measurements are just about right. But why on earth are those signs off by that much?

We completed our tour, and were ready to ride. So now to get our Z card. I decided I wanted to put $20 on a card and figured that would last me the next visit or two. But apparently, in order to get the stupid card, we had to walk back down to the front gate, exit, and wait in the admissions line again. Supposedly they were selling the cards over in the rides area somewhere, but I couldn't find it, and the staff sent us to the gate. The exit gate guy said it was at "a booth away from everything else" -- huh? By then it made more sense to exit and re-enter than it did to go back to the park and try to find the mystery booth.

When we finally got through the line (I tried to talk the kids into leaving; they weren't having it and I didn't really expect them to,) I got up to the window and told the staff member I'd like to put $20 on a Z Card. "Oh, we can't do that here. You'll have to go back to the carousel. We only have the $10 card." Um... ok I was NOT walking back to the carousel -- at the back of the zoo -- so I just bought two $10 cards. But what's the good of having a RELOADABLE ride card if you can't ride it?!

So, back we went to the rides area. I finally ended up telling the kids that they could each pick one ride, and then we'd all ride the Tilt A Whirl together. My boys all wanted to ride the bumper cars... no problem for the oldest. The taller four year old they allowed to ride (although I don't think he would have cleared at most parks; it was really his hair hitting the bar and not his head, but in a common-sense way he was just fine.) The little one -- who, remember now, had been above the line on the sign -- of course didn't clear; I had to send him into the ride op to measure him because he needed someone more official than me to tell him. The ride op looked at me like I was insane. So the older boys rode, the little one cried, and we headed over to the choice of C, my lone girl, the frog hopper.

We got there and she changed her mind, but since the ride had a 36" requirement, it worked for my little guy and on he went. Let me amend that, though... what the sign said was, "36" or accompanied by an adult." So, I read it as this: you must be 36" tall to ride, and if you are not 36", you must have an adult. So I asked if I could ride with my little one; ride op said no, you have to be 36". No problem; I've never understood what good an accompanying adult can do on a frog hopper anyways. (Anyone have a clue?)

My C was still being indecisive about her ride, so I headed the kids over to the Tilt. I read the sign like three times; the height restriction read, "Must be 46" tall or accompanied by an adult." Based on what I know about Tilts -- I've been on a few, ha ha -- I knew I could ride with three kids, so I figured I could put my older two in a car and ride with the little ones. I also read all of the little bullet points on the sign, which included, "Children must be able to sit unassisted. No infants." Well, although we call him the baby, my "baby" can certainly sit (walk... run... etc) and I wouldn't consider him an infant any more. So, we ask the ride op if we can ride -- and are told that as long as the baby is 36", he can ride ("although he probably won't like it.") We measured him (not that I expected him to be that,) and he was almost 33". Taller than I thought, ha ha. Bless his poor heart, I was so frustrated by this point that as we exited the line, he got an earful from me. I wasn't mean, I wasn't yelling -- or anyone near -- I just vented about the signs, about the unclear rules, and about how I was frustrated. I did apologize to him, and told him I knew it wasn't his fault, and that I was sorry to dump on him. He was very apologetic, and said that the opening has been as frustrating for the staff as it has been for the guests. Poor kid. He also told me the baby could ride the train.

At this point, my poor little guy just wanted to ride something... he's used to keeping up with the big kids and wants to do what they do. We went over to the little kids' section and he asked to ride the tea cups, which, after waiting for a ride op, we were allowed to ride "as long as he sits right with you." (Did they think I was going to put him in his own cup?!) He loved it, especially the spinning... and was content. C decided to take her second ride on the bumper cars, and we finally headed out. I decided to stop at guest relations, since I figured they were the folks who should be vented to, rather than the poor ride op. Silly me, I figured they would, you know... relate to me?

Fat chance. I walked up to the window, and asked if this was the proper question to bring a question/concern. The lady looked at me like I had two heads. I reiterated my question, and she didn't say it was NOT the place, so I continued and asked if there were any plans to fix the signs in the dry park. She continued to just look at me, so I went on and explained about how they were hung at the wrong height, by a lot. Since she still didn't respond, I continued by explaining how frustrating it was for me -- and would be for other parents -- to stand your kid up, measure them, then have them be told they couldn't ride. Finally, she scooted her chair back, stood up from the window, and walked over to the side of the building... came back with two comment cards and told me to take them with me and fill them out. Her entire response amounted to, "They're still trying to get the kinks worked out."

My 30 minute quick ride? Took over an hour and a half, because we couldn't figure out what they could and could not ride, because we had to hike all over eternity to get a card, and because every ride op had a new set of rules for us.

But my biggest beef is still the signage. On the frustration, it's threefold:

1) No prices... anywhere. They just say 'takes the Z card!' Well, how much is it going to deduct from my card? I STILL don't know which are the $2 rides; I'd guess flume & coaster but I don't really know. Everything we rode was a dollar a person.

2) If you're going to have 'you must be this tall to ride,' THEY SHOULD BE CORRECT. I could have dealt if they were off by half an inch, or someone had appeared to just barely clear and then didn't... but we're talking 4-6 inches off, on more than one sign. It's REALLY fun to hold a crying child who -- because kids aren't stupid -- can see that he's well above the line, but is still being told he's not tall enough...

3) I want my kids to be safe. I don't have a problem if parks decide to enforce rules that are more restrictive than the manufacturer's suggestions. But please post ACCURATE rules that you're going to enforce... so that you don't get up to the operator and get told your child can't ride.

To end... does anyone happen to know the manufacturer's specs, off the top of your head, for a) the Frog Hopper, and b) a Sellner Tilt A Whirl? I'm going to write the zoo a complaint letter, but I'd like to know what the manfacturer says before I write it. Especially on the Tilt.

Sorry for the long whine... I'm really hoping this will turn around, because otherwise it's going to be a LONG summer, LOL. (We're going to be up there about once a week.) I'll report -- hopefully with a lot less whine -- next week, after we've visited the waterpark portion of the complex.

Oh... and bravo to anyone who read this whole thing.


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