Rise ‘N Shine, Pandas: An Early Morning Tour

Make for the San Diego Zoo and admire the bamboo-gnawing superstars.

A DIFFERENT LOOK: You might hear "San Diego Zoo" in a sentence without hearing "pandas" a few seconds later, but it is quite rare to hear or read a whole paragraph about the zoo without both place and panda coming into play. For while the well-known animal park is famed for beasties of every stripe/purr/bark/claw/roar, the resident pandas have the whole superstardom thing tight in their grasp (as tightly as they might clutch a tasty shoot of bamboo). Visitors to the park very often are seen making for the giant pandas as soon as walking in the gate, and Panda Cam? People from around the planet peek in on it daily, the better to see the beloved bears trundling, gnawing, and roly-poly-ing (the most apt word for what younger cubs do). But what if you could spend a bit more time at the viewing area, before the critter-lovin' crowds stream through the main entrance, the better to get your bear knowledge on? And what if you were something of a morning person, or at least could be, for a day, much in the way that many animals of the San Diego Zoo are up with the first rays of the sun? Then you're in luck. Unhand the screen with the Panda Cam on it and make for the real thing, because...

EARLY MORNING WITH THE PANDAS... is a yawn-and-smile way to take in the giant panda viewing area in a fresh, dewy light. The "new, small-group tour starts before the Zoo opens," which gives panda fans a chance to peek in on Xiao Liwu -- remember when he was just a little tyke a couple of years back? -- and Bai Yun and the other bears in a before-hours setting. A shuttle tour through the zoo provides a look at other denizens of the animal park. And as for the "early morning" hour? Gosh, it is isn't all that early: It starts at 8:30 a.m. and wraps by 10:30 a.m. Figure if you're that person who always beelines -- bearlines? -- for the pandas at opening, this is a fine way to nudge that time just a hair earlier, the better for a little more focused panda-directed admiring. The cost? It's $89, plus admission. You waking up at the crack of dawn? Well, you could, to be like many of the zoo beasties, but with an 8:30 start, you're probably okay rising/shining closer to 7 or 7:30, depending on how much time you need to get ready and how long you need to eat your breakfast bamboo. Er, cereal.

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