Giant Panda Exhibit at the Smithsonian Zoo, May 2017

Giant Panda Exhibit at the Smithsonian Zoo, May 2017

The day we almost didn't get to see the giant pandas at the Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Zoo. They closed the exhibit and almost ruined our whole trip to see the pandas after visiting New York.

Let’s back up a bit. Andi (my husband) had gotten a Christmas bonus, so we had a couple thousand dollars we hadn’t already allotted to bills and regular living expenses. We decided to go on vacation for the first time since our honeymoon in 2015. We had narrowed it down to a couple things either of us wanted to do; places we both wanted to go. My choice was an Alaskan cruise because I’ve never been to Alaska nor been on a cruise. As the daughter of an over the road trucker (I spent two years traveling with him), I’d already seen all 48 contiguous states. I wanted to check another off my list. Andi wanted to see New York City. I was talked into going to NYC; bribed with a weekend excursion to Washington DC where the Smithsonian zoo is so I could see the pandas. I’ve been “Amanda Panda” or “Mandy Pandy” my whole life. Giant pandas have been my mascot/spirit animal/favorite as long as I can remember. My first stuffed animal was a giant (3 foot tall and nearly as wide) panda that was given to my mom when she was 8 months pregnant with me. I feel like this was the way it was intended to be from birth.

Anyway, Andi talks me into doing NYC with the weekend in DC to see the pandas and do a tour. We plan out the whole trip for May thinking maybe there will be some cherry blossoms to photograph (we were a week late on that). I love architecture, so that was another plus to going to New York. We stayed with his Great Aunt and Uncle in Connecticut and commuted to the city each day. It was a true New York experience. We toured the city. We saw the Intrepid museum (and it was fleet week so lots of military in uniform). I spent the whole week loving walking everywhere we could get to in Manhattan. We saw a show off broadway, but we were excited for the experience. Overall, it was a ton of fun. 

We took a train from Grand Central Station to Washington DC. Side note: we’re both Floridians born and raised. I’d never really been on a train or subway before this trip, so that was very exciting…the fact that it was a four hour ride and I was a cigarette smoker at the time was NOT fun, but we made it. First thing we did when we got there was check into the hotel (I got the “panda package” which included a water bottle, coloring pages, stickers, a pen with pandas on it and was DEFINITELY designed with children in mind rather than adults). I’m a huge fan of pandas so I was over the moon excited for the little bag of panda swag I got. The hotel staff seemed confused that I didn’t have a child with me. We had a few hours of daylight left so we walked to the zoo to see the pandas. We had a tour scheduled for the next day so we knew we’d only have the one day, that one opportunity to see them. 

When we got to the zoo I was ELATED that we’d finally made it! We wandered the zoo for about an hour before we finally found the panda exhibit…closed. WHAT!?!?!“What do you mean it’s closed?” The zookeepers told me the pandas weren’t on display today and “might” be out tomorrow, but I wasn’t allowed to see them today, sorry. I began crying. I was distraught. I began acting like a child and I was throwing a tantrum. Looking back it’s super embarrassing, but in the moment it felt like my whole trip had been ruined. I found another woman outside the exhibit crying on the phone with her partner about how awful it was they had the exhibit closed. We bonded over our disappointment and tears. Grown adults having meltdowns outside our favorite animal’s space at the zoo. Several of us comparing our panda tattoos because obsession knows no bounds. Thankfully, my husband had the ability to think clearly and checked the zoo website for answers. That was the day I learned that giant pandas are only fertile for 36-40 HOURS per YEAR (during the spring) and they were trying to make baby pandas. Had they told us this when we found the exhibit closed we would have probably avoided let’s of drama and tears. We found out that the exhibit had been closed the day prior as well and would likely be open the following day…the day of our tour we’d already booked and paid for.

The day of our tour around Washington DC we explain to the tour guide the way the afternoon had gone the day before and told her that while we wanted to be on the tour we also were going to find a way to see the pandas before going back to our family in Connecticut and then home. She was WONDERFUL! The tour was a half day type thing and when we got near the end she told us basically that we’d be seeing two or three things more, but that we were as close to the zoo as we’d be and she recommended we get an Uber and go see the pandas. So we abandoned the tour with a few stops the guide deemed insignificant and got ourselves to the panda exhibit ASAP! We got to the zoo and made our way to the panda exhibit as they were removing the barricades. The timing was impeccable. I rushed in among other families, tourists, obsessed adults, and about 40 small kids (think class field trip). I took myself straight to the front of the glass and began snapping away, happy tears blurring my vision and hoping I got decent pictures. Andi took a few pictures of me and my excitement. After 15-20 mins I decided I had gotten enough photos and I could let some children into my spot. So I slowly backed up and found the shortest kids that looked the most excited and helped them get front and center to see my favorite animals ever! I stacked the kids in ascending height and still managed a few more photos between and over little heads. Parents and kids all seemed appreciative that I gave up my spot to the next generation to be obsessed with the beautiful creatures.  

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