Editorial: ‘xZOOberance’ celebration kicks off spring at the Indianapolis Zoo

Towering flower models, various shaped topiaries and brightly colored pinwheels decorate the entire Bicentennial Pavilion to welcome spring and all who enjoy it to the Indianapolis Zoo. From March 21 to April 7, the Indianapolis Zoo is hosting xZOOberance, a celebration that is designed to welcome spring to Indiana. Various events will take place Thursday through Sunday with activities starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m.  

I arrived with my family around 9:30 a.m., which gave us about half an hour before any of the activities for the event were meant to start. xZOOberance offers plenty of activities that are enjoyable for all ages, from live music to new animal chats throughout the entire zoo. While I have heard friends of mine say that zoo events are geared more towards children, zookeepers and educational team help include all members of the family and don’t solely focus on making sure just the children in a group enjoy their experience. I attended the event with members of my family, which included four adults and two young children, and I had a wonderful time. I even noticed others at the event who were around my age having fun at the event as well.

The Hilbert Conservatory was decorated by large butterflies as a part of the seasonal return of butterflies to the indoor garden enclosure at the Indianapolis Zoo. Photo by Kiara Conley

One of the highlights of the day were the animal chats. The zoo has been hosting animal chats over the past few years every few hours in different areas of the zoo. These chats typically take place when animals are fed or given enrichment opportunities, such as having the brown bears forage for the fish that a zookeeper will toss in different areas for them to sniff out. A member of the education team will accompany the zookeeper and provide facts about the animal, how the zoo takes care of them and how they came to the Indianapolis Zoo. Animal chats are not new at the zoo, but xZOOberance kicked off chats with different animal species and in different areas of the zoo than usual. The cheetah chat was exciting because we were able to see the animals interact with their keepers, and the cheetahs were more active and, ironically, talkative during this time.

A new dolphin show also debuted when I went with what appears to be a newly designed background to accompany the show. A screen showed the efforts of families throughout the Indianapolis area trying to keep oceans and waterways free of plastics and other trash, and each video gave suggestions on how the audience can help with preserving the oceans by limiting of single-use plastics. After each clip, the dolphins presented different tricks and amazed the audience with aerial flips and games. This has become a common theme for the dolphin show recently, but just new elements added and trying to localize the cause. It’s a wonderful message and shows how people can help with cleaning the world’s oceans, but it became more about the message and less about the animals in the show and the ones the cause is meant to help.

Back at the Bicentennial Pavilion, there were craft stations, musical instruments, food and two animal interactions. One of the craft stations allowed guests to make pinwheels, and another was designated for animal-themed kite decorating. It was a great atmosphere and I loved seeing my little sister and cousin both running around, spinning their pinwheels and enjoying the weather that thankfully became warmer as the day went on.

Right across from the craft stations was the Cheer Garden, which had snacks varying from kettle chips and kettle corn to Bavarian pretzels and bratwurst. Bottle water and soda were available here, as well as several craft beers for adult guests. The kettle corn was my favorite, and was a great combination of sweet and salty. Unfortunately, the kettle chips were oddly cold in the bag, but you had the option of being able to add flavoring to them, like cheddar cheese or dill pickle powder located at the booth.

To finish off the trip, my family and I headed to the Hilbert Conservatory to view the return of the butterflies for the spring and summer months. The butterflies are housed within the indoor facility of the conservatory and fly freely throughout the enclosure. Surrounded by foliage and numerous butterflies, it creates such a euphoric atmosphere and is also an exceptional location for photos. This had to be my favorite part of my trip because I loved how beautiful the foliage looked in the windowed enclosure and watching the butterflies flutter around added so much color to the overly green areas of the conservatory.

The Indianapolis Zoo’s xZOOberance event was a great way to kick off spring and see plants come back to life after an arguable bitter winter. The animals are incredibly active in the warmer temperatures, and a full day can be made at this event just watching them and enjoying the atmosphere. I had a truly enjoyable experience and it was a great way to catch up with some of my family members. I will say, since the event only runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and many of the events are going on simultaneously, it forced us to pick and choose which activities and performances we wanted to go to. While xZOOberance is suited to families, the event isn’t age specific and can be enjoyable for large groups or even individuals to to decompress on the weekend and welcome the spring.