My “Free” Marriott Bonvoy night – Philadelphia Zoo Review

As an owner of the the Chase Marriott Bonvoy card, I am entitled to a free hotel stay once per year. This perk is usually deposited into my account on the anniversary of my account opening and expires after one year. I noticed that my night’s expiration day was approaching and rather than letting it go to waste, I decided to look for destinations that are a reasonable drive. I landed on the great city of Philadelphia.

After asking friends, colleagues and acquaintances for suggestions on family-friendly things to do in Philadelphia, we decided on the following itinerary. We would start with a visit to the Zoo, make time for nearby family, hit the pool at the hotel, get some quality sleep and then get up and visit the Smith Playground. Sounds like a simply plan. I thought we’d spend a maximum of $100 bucks for a great weekend, especially since our hotel stay would be covered. Truth is, we ended up spending almost $300 on this trip (3x my original estimate). In the grand scheme of things, it was well worth it. At the end of the day, I sat down with my wife and we ultimately decided that this type of expense is far more valuable for our baby than some new toy would be.

The Philadelphia Zoo


We arrived at the Zoo ~10am, which is their opening time. The first lot was already full. We got a decent spot at the next lot, which was just a short walk from the southern entrance. We prepaid for parking for $16. I didn’t get a sense that prepaying gave us any type of advantage.

While in the Zoo:

The zoo was pretty easy to navigate. Be sure to grab a map upon entering. The displays are nice. We parked our stroller several times without incident. There are plenty of extra curricular activities. We participated in the kid’s train ride. This line is ridiculously slow. I wouldn’t waste my time and money on this ride. But if your kid insists and you can’t resist, the purchase of one ticket allows a parent to accompany the kid if they are under a certain height. Do not buy an extra ticket for a second parent. The second parent should just remain outside the small track to take pictures. We also did the Swan boat. The line for this ride was much more efficient. There were also plenty of concession stands for ice cream, toys, etc, all of which we managed to avoid. Overall we spent $26 on extra curricular activities.


The concession stand got rather crowded right around 12pm (shocker) and it was very disorganized. If you order anything outside of the traditional food fare (chicken fingers and fries), be prepared to have to ask for the status of your food. I would try to beat the crowds by going just slightly earlier than the traditional lunch time. The menu is limited so be sure to bring snacks for your little one, especially if you have any dietary restrictions. But the best way to save is to bring your own food. Our bags were searched upon entering the zoo, but I believe you are allowed to bring your own outside food. We ended up spending $30 on some basic food.

Total Zoo Costs:

The hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Philadelphia City Avenue

The courtyard on City avenue was very centrally located for the things we were trying to accomplish during our time in Philly. It took us no time to get there from the zoo, even in the middle of heavy traffic. North Philly and downtown Philly were just a skip away. We used the pool briefly the following morning, which luckily opened at 6am. We had the place to ourselves. The room was clean and provided all the essentials. I would definitely stay at this location again. And the best part, my stay was free thanks to my Chase card.

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