Last week my mom, friends and I went to Southwick Zoo located in Mendon, MA and were somewhat disappointed with the wheelchair accessibility of this zoo because of the difficulty of navigating this zoo in a wheelchair. Southwick Zoo, a privately owned zoo is set on 200 acres of land and is considered to be the largest zoo in New England. We did enjoy seeing all the wild and exotic animals yet my friends and I prefer Franklin Park Zoo in Boston because it is a more wheelchair friendly and accessible zoo.
Parking is FREE. There are a few handicap parking spaces in front of the main entrance. Entering is easy for the doors are kept wide open. The cashier counter where you purchase your admission ticket is NOT wheelchair accessible for it is too high for me too reach.
The cost of General Admission is: Adult $18.75; Child (3 – 12 yrs) $12.75; Seniors (62yrs +) $12.75; Children 2yrs and Under are Free. There is NO DISABILIY DISCOUNT as many of the other zoos in New England offer. AAA Members receive a $2.00 discount on admission. Combo tickets which include rides is $24.00 per person (adult and child). It is an expensive place to take a family.
I brought my Permobil C350 Power Chair because their website states that the zoo is handicap accessible but due to natural terrain, hills and inclines it is best to bring an Electric Wheelchair. If you don’t have an Electric Wheelchair, the zoo offers rentals of Electric wheelchairs / scooters at a cost of $25.00 for 3 hours. They also rent Manual Wheelchairs at a cost of $10.00 per hour after 3 hours.
The main two rides are the SkyFari Sky Ride and the Woodland Express train ride. The SkyFari is ONLY accessible if you are able to transfer from your chair; I could have done this yet the bench-seat only holds two people and I would need a person on either side of me to help support me like I had when I rode the Gunstock Mountain ski lift which you can see by clicking on my review of Gunstock Mountain.
I was really DISSAPOINTED that the wheelchair lift to the train of the Woodland Express was broken. My mom paid for our train tickets and I was so excited to get on the train; yet the zoo keeper discovered it was not working; at first he thought my Power Chair was too heavy but then tried to operate the lift without my chair and discovered it is broken! We suggested they use a permanent ramp like the ramp on my wheelchair accessible van. It is much more reliable vs. a battery powered ramp.
The terrain throughout the zoo is very hilly with steep hills which are even difficult to drive my electric wheelchair on; my chair worked so hard that my battery began to lose power. Much of the terrain is not even paved; it consists of sand or wood chips which is difficult to wheel on.
A large map of the entire grounds is posted near the entrance. All exhibits are clearly marked with a description of the animals you are observing. One animal I had never seen before is a “Capy” which is the largest Rodent in the world who found in South America! I’m glad we don’t have giant rats like this in New England. Douglas my friend from Brazil told me these are gigantic rats you would not want to meet in person.
You are allowed to bring your own food yet there are places within the zoo where you can purchase food such as the Zebra Café, The Pizza & Snack Shack, Scoops & Dough, Jungle Hut and Clarice’s Cupboard. We bought our lunch at the Zebra Café which is fully wheelchair accessible; the cashier counters where you place and pay for your meal is of a good accessible height. There are NO wheelchair accessible picnic tables in the zoo! I had to sit sideways at end of a table to eat my lunch. Other places do have accessible picnic tables in which a bench is removable or the end of the table extends so a person in a wheelchair can comfortably fit.
The main restroom is loca ted near the entrance next to the Zebra café. This restroom is wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant. The other restrooms I saw deeper into the zoo are NOT wheelchair accessible; one of these restrooms did have a ramp for mothers pushing baby strollers yet there is no wheelchair accessible stall.
We came upon a Children’s Play Park and were disappointed to find it is not wheelchair accessible; the terrain is of wood chips and there are no accessible play structures for children in wheelchairs. The most wheelchair accessible playground for children I’ve seen is the Mission Hill Playground in Boston. The children rides are NOT wheelchair accessible either because the terrain consists of wood chips and none of the rides are wheelchair accessible.
We did enjoy shopping at the Marangu Trail Outpost which is located close to the lions, tigers and elephant exhibit; they sell all kinds of African gifts, light snacks and beverages. We all tried on an animal mask and thought ‘who let these animals out of their cages:-)
My favorite animals were the three Giraffes. They were eating their natural food of leaves off tree branches; we saw a sign which states “Do Not Feed the Animals” yet thought it was ok to feed them their natural food of tree leaves. The giraffes were really friendly and enjoyed our leaves; yet we were told by an employee to stop:-( Not sure why because Giraffes don’t bite.
I also enjoyed petting the deer in the petting zoo section of the park; you can purchase deer food and the deer come and eat it right out of your hands. The zoo has many kinds of exotic birds, monkeys, rhinoceros, tigers, lions, guerillas, giraffes, hippopotamus, pink flamingos, deer and other animals you normally see at a zoo.
The Southwick Zoo only deserves TWO STARS for wheelchair accessibility. In order to earn the other Three Stars they would need to: lower the cashier counter at the main entrance; replace the areas of wood chips and sandy roads with pavement; place some wheelchair accessible picnic tables throughout the park; fix the broken wheelchair lift of the train; place an accessible restroom deeper into the park; make the children’s playground wheelchair accessible; make some of the children rides wheelchair accessible; and offer a disability discount for visitors in wheelchairs especially because of the difficult time a visitor in a wheelchair has navigating this park.