The Guppy Gala, which I had never heard of and did minimal research on, turned out to be WELL WORTH the $10 (discounted) tickets. Even at the full price of $20/person, it was a great deal. Each ticket includes free parking and dinner.
The gala is one of the zoo's annual fundraisers, and it's a great family event. I took my three kids and was accompanied by my neighbor and her little one. Despite the crowds, double stroller and single stroller manipulation wasn't bad, and we were able to stay together pretty well.
First off, let's talk swag. Subway provided veggie, cold cut, and turkey 6" sandwiches, Utz chips, and Coca-Cola drinks for each paid customer (though my two 2 y/o and under scored sandwiches as well). The dining area was a little field with picnic benches set up. Free tip #1: If you get there early, take one of the benches as far away from the drinks area as possible. It allows for a quick get-away and faster access to the (very clean) Port-a-Johns. As we walked through the gala, we received food of every sort: hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Minute Maid juice boxes, Honest Tea drink pouches, soft pretzels, funnel cakes, brownies, and doughnuts. The was also a HUGE Stoneyfield yogurt area that had all sorts of samples and coupons (super score!). I saw lots of people walking around with foods that we didn't see, so free tip #2 is come with an appetite and/or after a good, hard workout.
Second, let's talk activities. My kids learned a few zookeeper duties, like how to scoop poop, catch snakes, and train animals in receiving touch. They also totally dug the ginormous inflatable slides. The walking animals (Po the Kung Fu Panda, Mrs. Elephant, Mr. Wolf, and someone else that I didn't photograph so I can't remember) were a little suspect at first, but they eventually started giving them lots of love.
There was an Arcade Alley sort of space that would have been great for kids older than mine (my oldest is 4). Another play area had a bike course, climbing wall, and a couple of other really good energy burning activities that were just a little too advanced for us.
Third, let's talk shows. There were cheerleaders (but we didn't watch them because no child that young should be wearing shorts that short in public) doing their fly through the air routines and clappers tapping their hearts out. Roaming jugglers and stilt walkers fascinated my kids over and over again. My two elder kids got a kick out of the dancing animal characters, especially the tree frog. It was nice to have a break from the walking.
Finally, let's talk animals. Surprisingly, we didn't really get to see very many. My neighbor and I commented that the gala seemed like a giant advertisement (although the only items for sale were wine, beer, and ice gelati). The animals we did get to see were pretty cool. The lion cubs were out and playing a few of the lionesses. The barn was open, and the kids got to get one-on-one with a few cows, alpacas, donkeys, and goats. My little 1 y/o was terrified after the cows started lowing at her, but the older two and our friend's little one had fun. There was a zookeeper on hand to talk about the animals and another to distribute fish food for the koi. That was a huge highlight of the evening.
Overall, the Guppy Gala was a really great event. On the way out, the sponsors were giving away their wares rather liberally, and I got enough healthy snack food for preschool snack bags for the next three weeks! Free tip #3: Bring a recyclable grocery bag with you for all the goodies you score. There were some being given away this year, and we each scored one, but bring one in case there aren't any next year. Free tip #4: If you plan on staying 'til the bitter end, bring an extra of those bags to put all the extra goodies in. This way, you can have a "dry" bag for the coloring pages, pencils, crayons, posters, etc. and a "wet" bag for all the food and juices. Makes it a lot easier! I am already looking forward to next year's gala! Kudos to the National Zoo for putting on such a great event.
-Close to the Metro if the thought of driving in DC stresses you out
-LOTS of free food
-TONS of activities for kids of all ages
-Pushing tired kids uphill in a stroller
-Just a smidgen too many things to do; I felt like we had to keep go, go, going so we wouldn't miss out on anything. As it was, our kids didn't do even a fraction of the activities, yet we barely managed to cover the whole festival.
-The $20/person over 2 y/o might be a turn off for some folks. We can only hope there's another BuyWithMe (or like company) special next year! I really do think everyone got their full money's worth at the event, though.
-For all ages
-If you've got small kids or kids who aren't used to walking much, then you MUST bring a stroller (or rent one).
Find a fabulous deal on a social coupon site and enjoy it with your family.
-Domestic Goddess out.