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Ohio Tips for Columbus & Cincinnati Zoos

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Just returned yesterday for a three night 'Zoo Tour ' weekend vacation. We love to visit zoos, so here are some tips to save you $$$:
1. Find cheap airfare first. Be willing to stay over an extra night to save on airfare if the extra costs do not outweigh it. We found a $99 RT fare from Kansas City to Columbus, departing Friday evening and returning very early Monday morning. Nonstop.
2. Use Priceline to book hotels where you do not care what part of town you are placed. Downtown areas are often great buys on the weekend. Our first night we got the Columbus Hyatt Capital Square for a STEAL. Our second night we slept in Florence, KY, because we used Priceline again, and specified most areas near Cincinnati, since we were going to the zoo. Again, we got a STEAL at a Marriott Courtyard.
3. To save on rental car costs (while the 'base rate' may look good, the 'extra fees and taxes' can be deal killers), we picked up a car when we arrived Friday evening, and returned it Sunday evening. We paid less than $40 inclusive for 48 hours thru a major car rental, but we did NOT get the deal through Priceline--we got it through Costco. Be willing to shop around on line and with multiple 'offers', i.e. AAA, Costco AARP, Entertainment Books, etc.
4. Four our final night in Columbus, we went thru Priceline and specified 'near airport' only. We had viewed the available hotels near the airport, and found that most had free airport shuttles. So, we got a STEAL at an airport hotel. We returned our rental car to the airport after checking in and going to dinner, then just caught the hotel shuttle back from the airport. Monday morning we again shuttled to the airport.
5. Saving on meals was easy. We knew our early evening flight would get us in to Columbus too late for dinner, so we brought wraps from home and had the free drinks on the plane, plus MMMMMM chocolate chip cookies--can you guess our airline?
Saturday and Sunday mornings we 'drove thru' a fast food breakfast place, and arrived as the zoos were opening--got good parking and no crowds. We were spent by about 2:30 each day, and only had drinks or light snacks inside the zoos--no expensive meals. For dinners, In Cincinnati we had to go to Skyline Chili and Graeters for ice cream, but we decided to save even more $$ by visiting a grocery store and buying a pint of Graeters rather than going to a 'by the scoop' location, which probably saved us a bunch. In Columbus we drove to the German Village area, and stopped a few locals to ask where they liked to eat. That took us to The Mohawk Grill, and we had a great dinner with killer atmosphere for less than $30 for the both of us (we do not drink, so it would be more for drinkers). Breakfast at the last hotel was free--not wonderful, but those waffles and even omelets plus fruit and pastry and coffee and juices.
6. We saved on Cincinnati Zoo tix by looking on line--paid $9.50 rather than the normal $14.00 per person. Nothing discounted at the Columbus Zoo, unless you wanted to do the waterpark and other extras, which we didn't.
7. We made the most of our Zoo visits by finding out when the keepers were giving talks and demos, and learned a bunch of interesting stuff--price: FREE!
8. Where did we spend? We always tip $5 per night at a hotel, plus tip our shuttle drivers a few bucks each time. We also bought fresh fruit from a grocery store to snack on after the Zoo and before dinner.
9. Parking at the Downton Hyatt the first night was offered at $23 plus tip to the Valet. Right across the street was parking under the Statehouse--we paid $3 and felt very safe. Do your homework to find affordable parking--Fodorites suggested this to us and they were right!!
10. What would we do differently? We found out about an annex to the Columbus Zoo called The Wilds, where they house their 'excess' animals on a 10k acre unused mining park. Unfortunately we did not leave either zoo in time to drive out to The Wilds, which is about an hour east of Columbus. Next time!

Be glad to answer any zoo questions--just ask. We've done these two, plus St Louis, Omaha, and Kansas City, with many more on our 'to do' list!

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