I was a little nervous when I headed to the N.C. Zoo a couple of weeks ago to check out its new Dinosaurs exhibit.
Of course, I wasn't afraid the dinosaurs would come to life because that's just silly (though they are incredibly life like). I was afraid that my sometimes timid two-year-old daughter would be absolutely terrified of them.
I had no need to fear. Even though they were giant, even though they moved in a way that it feels like they're actually watching you, even though they roar and groan and shriek sometimes, she fell in love with them.
"Dinosaurs again?" she asked the rest of the day.
Dinosaurs opened in April and features 15 animatronic dinosaurs sitting in a forested area among ancient plants that you might have seen when the creatures actually lived. There's the tall Brachiosaurus; a T-Rex guarding her nest filled with babies; and even a Dilophosarus that spits "poison" (really water) at passers-by. (Heads up: The Dilophosarus and its baby are at the end of the exhibit).
I've seen giant dinosaurs before (think the Dinosaur Trial at the Museum of Life and Science). But these are truly remarkable. Heads turn. Hands move. Eyeballs seem to follow you. It's really uncanny. And then there are the noises - roars, shrieks and more.
The N.C. Zoo started looking at bringing in the special exhibit about two years ago. Last year, the polar bear exhibit, one of the zoo's most popular, closed for two years for some major renovations and expansions as the zoo embarks on plans to start a polar bear breeding program. Leaders hoped Dinosaurs would help make up for the loss of the polar bears.
"It's been, to put it mildly, a smashing success," said Rod Hackney with the N.C. Zoo.
The zoo saw record attendance Easter weekend, just after the exhibit opened. In one day, 14,000 visitors walked through the gates. And the month of April drew a record 161,726 visitors. The previous monthly mark of 159,268 was set in April 2010, according to a zoo press release.
Good weather surely helped, but zoo officials say the Dinosaur exhibit was a big draw too. The exhibit is located near the Forest Aviary in the Africa region.
"The reaction of kids has been phenomenal," Hackney said (as a group of kids ran from one dinosaur to the next shouting with excitement as if on cue).
The state-of-the-art creations are the product of Billings Production, a leading maker of dinosaurs for zoos, amusement parks and other venues. Each dinosaur is built around a skeleton that includes electric motors that move the head, arms and neck. A rubber substance covers the skeleton. Computer programs control each of the dinosaurs. And while there are no motion sensors that might trigger them to move or make a sound when you walk in front of them, it can sure feel like it as you're walking through.
The exhibit also includes a fossil pit and a yellow jeep at the end for a photo opportunity. The zoo has staff on hand to answer your questions about dinosaurs and more.
I highly recommend a trip to see this exhibit and would definitely put it on your to-do list for summer break or track-outs. Admission to the Dinosaur exhibit is not included in zoo admission. You'll need to either pay another $4 or purchase a Combo Pass, which will get you into the exhibit, the carousel, Dinosaurs 3D movie and the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck.
Combo Passes are $14 for kids; $16 for seniors; and $18 for adults. Regular admission is $8 for kids; $10 for seniors; and $12 for adults.
Dinosaurs will be open through October. Hackney says there's a chance it could return.
"We're going to see how it does this year," he tells me.