Dinosaurs come alive when prehistoric meets present at Lowry Park Zoo's DinoQuest

The Tyrannosaurus rex is scary, the Dilophosaurus is annoying, and the Brachiosaurus, well, it's just huge. The prehistoric past meets the present in DinoQuest, a new dinosaur exhibit at Lowry Park Zoo. The outdoor exhibit opened last week and runs through May 1. It stars 20 animated dinosaurs that look, move and roar like their Jurassic counterparts. Here is what to expect.

Susan Thurston, Times staff writer

>> What is it about?

DinoQuest centers around the story that dinosaurs — for unexplained reasons — have returned to a futuristic city, terrorizing the citizens and causing everyone to flee. Visitors enter the city through a dark and smoke-filled portal like something out of a Hollywood movie set. The city is eerily calm except for the paleontological museum, where dinosaurs have busted through the front door, leaving chards of glass and enraging a large T. rex skeleton. Visitors escape through a second portal, stepping back in time when dinosaurs roamed the forests.

>> What are the highlights?

The 20 animatronic dinosaurs look and sound real, with moving eyes, mouths and bodies. The Brachiosaurus stretches 18 feet tall. The Dilophosaurus sprays water on unsuspecting visitors. The zoo created the outdoor exhibit area from scratch using mostly unused space near the Garden of Love. The dinosaurs were leased from Billings Productions of Texas, which provides life-sized dinosaurs to zoos, museums and theme parks. After the exhibit ends, the space will be transformed into Zoo Boo and Wild Wonderland.

>> What's particularly noteworthy?

Though Disney-like in appearance, DinoQuest also seeks to educate. Signs by each dinosaur give the name, dimensions, characteristics and pronunciation. (Try saying Massospondylus fast three times.) Each dinosaur is compared to a modern-day equivalent at the zoo. For example, the Elaphrosaurus is like an emu, a bipedal runner, in Wallaroo Station. Visitors wanting more information about the dinosaurs can also text or scan a QR code with their iPhone.

. Is DinoQuest scary?

For the littles ones, yes. The dinosaurs are big and loud and almost too lifelike for toddlers and preschoolers. Even though your children love watching Dino Dan on TV, they might shriek when one of these dinosaurs roars in their face. On opening day, several kids ages 4 and under covered their ears or eyes. A few even cried. That said, if kids can get through the roaring T. rex skeleton near the entrance, they'll probably do fine through the rest of it. Parents of real timid tots might want to consider avoiding the "meat-eating loop'' of carnivores. The zoo smartly opted to put the scariest dinos in one area obscured behind a wall. Overall, if your child is afraid of the animated dinos at T-Rex Café at Downtown Disney, they will probably shudder at these.

>> Is it worth it?

Yes. Even if you skip the meat-eaters, the $4 per person charge plus regular zoo admission seems reasonable. Beyond the dinosaur forest and Shop-O-Saurus Gift Shop, there's a huge inflatable Velocity Raptor Slide, a small fossil pit, a T. rex robot that kids can control and castings of dinosaur fossils. You can get better fossils digging at Dinosaur World in Plant City but you won't find more lifelike prehistoric creatures. Parents not sure about going can always mull it over while visiting the rest of the zoo. Tickets are available at the exhibit entrance.

>> What else?

DinoQuest is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and during Dino Nites from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays through April 30. Dino Nites are $9.95 per person and include free zoo rides. Zoo members are free. Dino Discovery Club passes are $15 per person for unlimited day and Dino Nites admission. Dinosaur parties and sleepovers are also available.

If you go DinoQuest runs through May 1 at the Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. Admission is $4 per person plus zoo admission or zoo pass membership. Regular zoo admission is $23.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors and $18.95 for children ages 3 to 11. lowryparkzoo.com; (813) 935-8552.

Dinosaurs come alive when prehistoric meets present at Lowry Park Zoo's DinoQuest 02/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 7:57pm]

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