March 2015

Our family recently headed out for a delicious meal, immediately followed by a trek through the rainforest… all without leaving Calgary! How’d you manage that, you ask? Hint: it was a Sunday morning. We attended the Safari Brunch at the Calgary Zoo, followed by one of their new add-on guided tours. And we had a great time!

The Safari Brunch is held on Sundays through the winter in the Safari Lodge, a beautiful venue located within the heart of Destination Africa. We made a point of having just a light snack when we woke up, because we expected there’d be a lot of food on offer. We were right.

Safari Brunch at Safari Lodge at Calgary Zoo.

The Safari Lodge is a beautiful space.

For breakfast, we chose from custom-cooked omelettes and other hot breakfast standards including scrambled eggs, pancakes, eggs benedict, bacon, sausages and country potatoes. The kids’ favourite breakfast offering was the waffle bar: fresh belgian waffles with self-serve toppings including strawberries, syrup, whipped cream and caramel sauce. This mama drew the line at rainbow sprinkles – sorry kids! Friendly servers made the rounds with tea and coffee, and there was a self-serve bar with several juices and water on offer.

Salad bar at Safari Brunch, Calgary Zoo.

Delicious salad bar!

Once we’d had breakfast, we moved on to lunch. That’s why they call it brunch, right?? Lunch consisted of a beautiful salad bar, deviled eggs, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, beef stew, and pirogies with all the fixings (hot entrées change weekly). All the food was fresh, beautifully presented, plentiful, and tasty.

It’s not every day that lunch ends with a chocolate fountain!

By this time, the whole family was feeling pretty stuffed, but we bravely soldiered on. After all, how often do you get to finish breakfast or lunch with a dessert buffet, including a chocolate fountain? The kids were most impressed by the fountain and they appreciated the little bowls of Jello too. Lucky for me, they didn’t spot the marshmallows, or the sugar high might have been of Everest proportions. And the Himalayas weren’t on our itinerary.

Transalta Rainforest building, Calgary Zoo.

Off to the tropics we go!

Nope, we were off to the rainforest. Our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Cassia, met us in the lobby of Safari Lodge and escorted us over to the Transalta Rainforest, home to a myriad of tropical plants and animals. She asked us if we had any topics we particularly wanted to discuss and then proceeded to show us the highlights of this fascinating ecosystem.

From fruit bats, to tropical birds, to Sheldon the rescued Tortoise, we saw lots of interesting sights and learned some interesting rainforest facts. The python skull that Cassia brought along taught us a few new things about snakes too.

Sheldon, the resident rescued tortoise likes to go for walks in the rainforest too.

Python skull, Calgary Zoo.

Learning about the very cool python skull.

But the highlight for everyone was getting a closer than usual look at the gorillas. While the tour didn’t include access to the gorilla enclosure (for many very good reasons, I’m sure!), the gorillas are very attached to the staff, both because they know them and because they anticipate that anyone in a staff uniform might deliver a meal. So by being with Cassia, we had some extra attention from the gorillas, and from one in particular. Dossi is a teenager and quite playful. Cassia explained to us that, while humans find a toothy smile and direct eye contact to be friendly, those same gestures seem aggressive to a gorilla. She showed us how to sit with our backs to the glass and look over our shoulders, teeth hidden behind our lips, to play with Dossi. Dossi likes to startle her human playmates by smacking the glass and if we put our hands up on the glass, she would too. It was a fascinating experience. We also learned some more things about gorillas: because they are apes, they don’t have tails (unlike monkeys – cool fact!) and they eat their own poop (blech!). Although we had visited the zoo’s rainforest before, the tour really added to the experience and expanded our rainforest knowledge.

Interacting with a gorilla, Calgary Zoo.

Learning the right way to play with a gorilla.

Once the tour wrapped up, we were free to explore the rest of the zoo. Unfortunately, we had a prior commitment elsewhere, but did find time for a quick visit to Penguin Plunge on our way back to the car. The penguins are always delightful to watch and we had to reluctantly pull ourselves away to stay on schedule. On the way out, we had one last look at the King penguins, who had recently returned from their morning stroll around the zoo grounds and were catching some rays in the sunny but chilly weather. As you can see in the photo below, a few of them were tuckered out by their exercise.

King penguins at the Calgary Zoo.

The king penguins don’t mind the sun if it’s not too hot!

While the Safari Brunch happens each Sunday, add-on guided tours are only available on select dates and some are reserved for adults only. For the 2015 season, three family tour dates remain: March 8 (Enmax Conservatory) and March 22 & 29 (Canadian Wilds). Tours happen 10:45 – 11:45 am and tour tickets must be purchased in advance. The zoo does not accept brunch reservations, so whether you plan to take in a tour or not, we recommend arriving at brunch before 10 am to avoid line ups. For more details, including links to brunch and tour pricing, check out our Safari Sunday Brunch post.

Thank you, Calgary Zoo, for a delicious and educational morning!