If this is your first time at the zoo or seventh, these secrets will make it more enjoyable! (This is well researched and road tested information from a mom of 3 little kids who visit this zoo monthly, and have been visiting this zoo monthly for the past 6 years.)
Basically you are going to go through the zoo experience backwards - this allows you to see the animals without tons of other people/crowds moving slowly from one area to another. It is helpful to be at the zoo @ 9:00AM, but these tips should apply throughout the day as well.
(Side Note - There is only one ATM in the park, and it is near the giraffes. You can't get money for the carousel, pony rides, chicken feeding, etc. by buying something from the Grizzly Grill or gift shops. So either have a couple of dollar bills on hand or let that be your excuse for your kids when the asking begins.)
1. Pick up a map.
2. Skip Quarters for Conservation - save your quarters for later.
3. Go left heading north on the Road to the Shrine of the Sun. (Everyone else will take up time putting in their quarters, stopping by 2 gift shops, and visiting the giraffes.)
4. Visit the hippos and primate world first.
5. Then visit Rocky Mountain Wild. By the way, you will pass many of the exciting money spending options from the carousel to pony rides on the way to Rocky Mountain Wild. BUT, because you will be passing these before 10AM, they will not be open yet. (And all of the parents say, "Thank you!")
6. Next come back down the mountain, literally. If you have little kids, have them take a bathroom break at The Grizzly Grill and get some energy out at the playground next to Old Gnarly. Have a brown bag lunch to save money, and get ice cream from the Grizzly Grill.
7. Visit the monkey pavilion, bears, and lions.
8. (When open in Fall of 2012) - visit the new Elephant Exhibit.
9. Finish by visiting the giraffes, and putting your quarters in the Quarters for Conservation. (I use the Road to the Shrine of the Sun to exit. This avoids the big gift shop at the end. I tell my kids that we need to "put in our quarters" and they forget all about the gift shop.)
If you have babies or toddlers - I recommend the following: hat, sunglasses, sunblock, water, diaper bag, STROLLER AND BABY CARRIER, dressing your child in layers (the weather is colder on the mountain and in the shade,) and wearing shoes that are comfortable to HIKE in, not just walk in. Seriously - sandals, flip flops, and cute shoes do not apply here. In fact, you will lose them if you wear them on the Mountaineer Sky Ride.