Here’s Why Winter Is the Perfect Time to Visit the Cincinnati Zoo

January at the Cincinnati Zoo means penguin parades, discounted admission, and #TeamFiona’s birthday celebration!

The Cincinnati Zoo may have fallen off your radar after the Festival of Lights—but it shouldn’t. Going to the zoo when it’s cold is magical: You’ll see lots of animals that you wouldn’t normally get to see. Bears! Big cats! And penguins. Lots of penguins.

Photograph by Sarah McCosham

In fact, these naturally tuxedo-clad creatures are the stars of the show during the zoo’s eponymous Penguin Days. Starting January 18, Penguin Days features a variety of seasonal activities you won’t get any other time of the year. You’ll enjoy penguin encounters with Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins on weekdays at 11 a.m., plus lots of special winter-weather animal encounters.

Photograph by Sarah McCosham

The main event, however, is the Penguin Parade, which happens every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holiday Mondays at 11 a.m. as long as temps are below 50 degrees. You’ll delight as the zoo’s colony of King Penguins waddles in perfect formation between the Wings of Wonder and Children’s Zoo. The Penguin Parade is easily the most delightful thing you’ll see all winter. As an added incentive to bundle up and visit the zoo, all guests get discounted admission every day during Penguin Days—rates vary by day, and can be found on the zoo’s website.

But the cold-weather creatures aren’t the only stars of the show this time of year: Cincinnati’s beloved #TeamFiona turns 4 on January 24! In honor of the little-hippo-who-could, the Zoo is hosting Float4Fiona, a slow-paced race wherein hundreds of numbered apples will bobble through Hippo Cove to the finish line (think: the Rubber Duck Regatta, but with apples). For $5, you can purchase an apple for the race (or get four for $16); the owner of the winning apple will get to bring three guests for a personal meet-and-greet with the birthday girl herself. All Float4Fiona proceeds go to the zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund, which was established in 2020 to keep the zoo afloat in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photograph by Sarah McCosham

“Since we can’t invite people to a big old party for Fiona this year, we will hold the race before the Zoo opens on her birthday […] and share it live on Facebook so people everywhere can watch and hope their apple finishes first,” says Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard. “If you win and are not able to travel to meet Fiona in person, you can opt for a private video chat and custom-made hippo kiss painting,” he adds. Float4Fiona apples can be purchased now through January 24.

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