St. Louis Zoo To Open Animal-Themed Hotel

St Louis zoo hotel penguins
Flickr, Jorge Rodrigo Gonzalez

The St. Louis Zoo has some major expansion plans in store for the next several decades, including an open savannah, a gondola crossing the park, a formal restaurant and a boutique hotel. The Missouri zoo will be making big changes to their existing park and developing a new site, bringing the total campus to over 100 acres, and creating new animal habitats and attractions. Don’t get ready to book yet, the full strategic plan is not due until the end of 2014, and construction could still be well into the future.

Where else can you overnight with animals, even if you don’t have kids?
Cincinnati Zoo has several after-hours options for families and kids, such as family camping outside the giraffe exhibit or inside the manatees building. You can even travel with the zoo on an African safari to Kenya.

Cleveland Zoo has a variety of fun overnight programs for children, but the adults have the option of a cash bar and make-your-own s’mores in the summer months. Costs are $90 to $300, depending on tent size.

The Houston Zoo Wild Winks program is primarily for children, but private events can be arranged. Want to sleep without the fishes? On November 1, adults can attend the annual Feast with the Beasts fundraiser event with 80 local restaurants providing food and drinks, animal appearances, and a performance by Smash Mouth. The zoo also hosts trips to Yellowstone, Alaska and Kenya.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park regularly offers “roar and snore” overnight camping excursions for children and families, and an “adults-only” option where you can learn animal facts for mature audiences only. Tickets range from $140-$264 per person, depending on age, membership, and tent size.

The Washington National Zoo hosts adults only for summer snore & roars including wine and cheese and an after-hours tour. Families and kids can choose their favorite animal or regional tour, from Amazonia to chimpanzees, but eat before you arrive, dinner is not on the menu.

Photo Of The Day: Howard Johnson Neon Signage

There’s something so mundane yet fascinating about neon road signage. The services advertised are simple: a clean bed, a comforting meal or a quirky roadside attraction. Yet visually, these neon wonders never fail to grab drivers’ (or photographers’) attention. Today’s photo by Flickr user JasonBechtel is case in point. The brilliant pinks, blues and greens combined with the unique typeface are both eye-catching a familiar: like an old friend from the road welcoming you back into town.

Taken any great photos of neon signs during your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Ark Encounter theme park plans unveiled

Ark Encounter theme park

The “Creationist” theme park long-rumored to be built in Kentucky is one step closer to reality.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the plans for the new theme park on Wednesday, along with tax incentives the state of Kentucky will provide to the tune of $37 million.

Ark Encounter’s centerpiece will be a 500-foot long wooden ark, modeled after the Biblical Noah’s ark. The park’s organizers – the same folks behind the Creation Museum – say that Noah’s Ark is the source of much fascination to the general public, and the plans for Ark Encounter should answer many people’s questions about the building of the ark.

They point to a 2009 CBS News survey in which 43 percent of people responding said that Noah’s Ark is the archeological discovery they would most like to see made next.

The park will also include sections based on other Bible stories, such as:

  • The Walled City, a shopping and food complex
  • Noah’s Animals, with a petting zoo and live animal shows
  • The Tower of Babel, a 100-foot tall building with exhibits and a theater
  • Journey Through History, a “trip through the events of the Bible”
  • First-Century Village, a model of a First-Century town in the Middle East

Ark Encounter is planned for an 800-acre site off Interstate 75 in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnatti, Ohio. The park is being built by a private, for-profit company. A fundraising campaign is underway to build the ark itself.

The plan is not without controversy. Groups that advocate for the separation of church and state are protesting the state of Kentucky’s plan for tax incentives. Beshear says the motivation behind the incentives is jobs, not Jesus.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “They elected me governor to create jobs.

Ark Encounter is expected to create 900 full- and part-time jobs and draw 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation. The theme park is expected to open in 2014.

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Relief: Four airport perks coming soon

There’s nothing fun about going to the airport, and the regulatory climate isn’t likely to change that anytime soon. Security will still be a nightmare, and you won’t be able to bring your own water with you (at least not for a while). Fortunately, there are companies out there looking for ways to make your airport experience better.

So, what can you expect to see in your local airport in the near future? Here are four amenities to whet your appetite for something to counteract the airport security gauntlet:

1. Catch some comfy shut-eye: sleeping on a plane sucks. There’s just no way to get comfortable. And, if you slip your leg alongside the seat in front of you, you do run the risk that it will get slammed by the beverage cart. Well, you’ll be able to use your layovers to rest, soon. Napping nooks, already available at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, are expected to come to San Francisco in the near future. Seven airports are in the early stages.2. Light up a cigar: okay, this one is particularly meaningful to me. A few airports still have smoking areas (I just lit up in Denver last month), but they tend to be unfortunate spaces, not designed to appeal. This is where a company like Graycliff can make a difference. The Bahamas-based cigar and hospitality company has an idea for well-ventilated lounges, featuring cigar rollers (and nothing beats a stick fresh off the bench, at least, not for me). With Graycliff involved, you can expect a stylish, upscale experience. The first is already open at the airports in Nashville and Nassau.

3. Better shopping and eating: the challenge of finding a bite or buying a tie during weird hours could become a thing of the past. From the chance to dine at a Food Network Kitchen to broader shopping options, airports are scoping out ways to enhance the experience of being trapped within their walls. If all the doomsday predictions by the airline industry about the implications of the three-hour delay rule are true, you might need to buy several changes of clothes and meals … because they believe this rule means you will never get home again.

4. Get picked up more easily: no, this has nothing to do with wearing something hot or having that extra cocktail. Rather, airports are opening their minds to parking where your ride can wait for you. You call; they drive around to get you. But, it’s not always that easy. Nature calls, and there’s always a shortage of space. So, look for larger parking lots with bathrooms flight information boards and maybe even dining options? Newark’s already headed down this road, with plans in the works for JFK airport, Cincinnati, Fort Myers and St. George (in Utah).

For more on this topic, head on over to USA Today where airport expert Harriet Baskas explores more upcoming airport amenities.

[photo by msspider66 via Flickr]

Need summer year-round? Check-in to one of these indoor water parks in Ohio

What do you do in Ohio when you’re hot and bored? Good news summer lovers: Ohio has some of the best indoor water parks in the country! Grab your suit, gas up the car and head to one of these hot spots to cool off any time of year:

Kalahari Resort boasts Ohio’s largest indoor water park as well as a new, thrilling safari outdoor adventure park. This African themed resort offers private indoor cabanas, private outdoor bungalows, spa services, indoor surfing, and a variety of water rides for all ages. There are several dining and/or food shopping areas in the resort, giving guests no reason to leave the resort once they have unpacked their bags. For details, check out the Kalahari website.

Coco Key water resort has two Ohio locations, one in Columbus and one in Cincinnati. For young children there is a zero-depth entry pool; for older kids there are four exciting water rides, a Coral Reef Cavern play area and the Parrot’s Perch. Adults can relax at the indoor/outdoor spa. Click here for more details.

Castaway Bay is Cedar Point’s indoor water park resort. Aside from having an amazing amusement park like Cedar Point and its adjoining outdoor water park Soak City, Castaway Bay offers indoor fun for all ages. The resort offers indoor shopping, dining, arcade games, spa services, and of course a great water park. Fort Rapids, “where the wild west meets wet and wild.” This resort offers 60,000 feet of water play and activities, a 5,000 foot arcade, indoor dining and more. A 30 person hot tub, reserved for guests 18 and older, allows parents the opportunity to relax while the kids are off playing. The website has all of the details.

Great Wolf Lodge is another great mini-vacation destination. The water park consists of Fort Mackenzie, a four-story interactive tree house water fort; Caribou Creek Lazy River; Big Foot Pass, an agility challenge full of slippery, splashing fun; Chinook Cove Activity Pool; Whooping Hollow Kiddie Slides; Totem Towers; Alberta Falls and much more. There are nine slides and five pools at Great Wolf Lodge, which means enough fun for everyone.

Splash Harbor, located inside the Comfort Inn in Bellville, has a 6,000 square foot retractable roof. This mini water play land offers a more budget friendly escape. Buckets, sprayers, pools and a 49 foot slide offer the whole family a weekend of fun. Check out the website for more information.

Splash Bay at Holiday Inn Resort is another affordable indoor water park. The play area offers Walleye River Run, a lazy river; two activity pools (Little Maumee and Shark Attack); Fort Meigs, a kiddie area; a basketball hoop area; Lily Pad Crossing; three water slides and a spa.

Natasha Wright is a Seed.com writer.