Thousands spend their spring break at the Fort Worth Zoo

FORT WORTH -- Spring break, gorgeous weather and half-price tickets made Wednesday a perfect day to go to the Fort Worth Zoo.

Or at least people thought so. Final attendance figures aren't in yet, but zoo officials expect to set a record for single-day attendance.

Amber and James Molina were among those who helped the zoo's ticket sales on Wednesday. The couple took their six children, two nieces and brother-in-law to see and learn about the animals.

“We’re just trying to keep the kids busy,” said Amber Molina, of Fort Worth. “It’s half-price zoo day. We figured we would be crazy and join the crowd.”

For much of the day, traffic was backed up for miles near the zoo, and the line for tickets was also long. Inside, adults hoisted children onto their shoulders so youngsters could see past all the people to get a glimpse of the penguins or meerkats or kangaroos.

The children didn’t seem to mind the mob.

“Oh man, there’s two of them!” shouted Justin Hammons, 10, as he watched lizards swimming in a tank inside the Museum of Living Art, the zoo’s newest exhibit.

When asked what the best part of the zoo was, Justin smiled widely and shrugged.

“Everything!” he said.

Justin's grandmother, Linda Nunes, said they visited the zoo on Monday but left because parking was difficult and it was too crowded. After some better planning, the family returned Wednesday morning, arriving before the zoo opened.

Nunes, of Fort Worth, said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that tickets were half-price, as they are every Wednesday during the year.

“That made the day,” Nunes said. “We got here early and got a half-price discount.”

Remekca Owens, a zoo spokeswoman, said zoo officials plan all year for the week of spring break. In January, they held a job fair and hired more than 100 seasonal employees to help with the crush, she said.

The zoo also coordinates with Fort Worth police and the city’s parks department, which help direct and reroute traffic and put up signs warning motorists about delays in the area, she said.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine,” she said. “And the more we do it, the better we get.”

And while many people are off this week, Owens said with certainty that zoo employees are not.

“It’s all hands on deck,” she said.

For many visitors, a trip to the zoo is an all-day adventure.

Tish Ayala said her children, Skyler, 6, and Jayden, 3, had been wanted to visit the zoo and planned to stay all day — or as long as Jayden could last.

“He still takes naps,” she explained, matter-of-factly. “So we’ll stay as long as he is not acting winey and acting up.”

Likewise, Yvonne Hunter said her 2-year-old grandson, Kenneth Lee, would also probably dictate how long they would stay. He is the youngest of the five children she took with her. The oldest is 13.

“I just grabbed them all,” she said.

Hunter said she woke the children -- three grandchildren, one nephew and a friend -- about 7 a.m. to make the trek from Garland to Fort Worth.

When she got to the zoo’s ticket counter and was told it would cost $25 for all of them, she was shocked.

“I said, ‘Is it half price or something?’ ” Hunter said. “I got a real good treat.”

Hunter said traffic wasn’t too bad because they were rerouted and said they stood in line about 15 minutes before getting into the zoo. As far as the crowd, she said, she has endured much worse.

“It’s not as bad as Six Flags,” she said. “It’s been a pleasant day.”