Trip Coach: June 3, 2008
Margaret Lyons:Hi, this is Margaret Lyons, and I'm excited to talk to everyone about Chicago! Let's get started, shall we?
Denver, Colo.:Hi, Margaret. I'm coming to Chicago June 24 for the first time. What exactly is Chicago-style pizza and where are some places to get the "authentic" stuff?
Margaret Lyons: Ooooh, boy, that's a good one. Chicago-style pizza typically means deep dish, with a very doughy crust and unlike East Coast pizza, the sauce is on the top (crust // cheese // sauce // toppings, instead of crust // sauce // cheese // toppings). As far as best places to get it, I'm partial to Pequod's and Gino's East. But places like Giordano's and Lou Malnati's, which have spots all over the city, are pretty good, too.
Savannah, Ga.:I am planning a trip to Chicago during the Food Festival that the city has every year, but I am still not sure if I will drive or fly with the gas prices being so high. My son wants to fly because he has never been on a plane. But on the other hand I wanted to have a nice road trip to show him the different states on the way there. What should I do?
Margaret Lyons:If you're worried about needing a car to get around Chicago, don't be. I don't even have a drivers license! Chicago is very pedestrian-friendly, and the public transit system is pretty easy to navigate. (And if either of you like bikes, there are bike rentals available, too, which is a great way to get around town.) As someone who's road-tripped around the Chicago area a lot, I'll admit there's not a whole lot to see.
Washington, D.C.:Hi, Margaret. I will be taking a trip to Chicago from July 4-7 with my husband and another couple. We'd love to spend a few hours relaxing at a spa—can you recommend a good one that won't break the bank?
Margaret Lyons: My favorite spa is Continuum. It's relatively affordable, and to me a really quintessential Chicago business: small, neighborhood-oriented, and unfailingly kind. I also got the best massage and facial ever there. :) It's pretty far off the beaten path—way on the North Side—so it's also a good see-the-city trip.
Murfreesboro, Tenn.:My partner and I are going for our very first time in July for a conference, and we have a few days to spend with off-and-on free time. We have tickets to see "Wicked" at the Ford Center on a Sunday afternoon, but other than that, we're not sure what to do. We'd like to eat "up high" (if that makes sense) with a view of the city, and besides going to see the Crate&Barrel flagship store on Michigan Avenue, what other "must-see" stores are there? Thanks!
Margaret Lyons: Go see some live comedy! I'm a fan of Second City's etc stage which tends to be a bit more edgy and adventurous than the main stage show. If you like improv, you can see shows at iO pretty much any night of the week, and the later you go, the cheaper it gets. As far as must-see stores go, the Mag Mile has the real mega overwhelming giganto places, but don't skip the State Street drag further south. The old Marshall Fields, which is now a Macy's, is worth visiting for the architecture alone.
San Francisco, Calif.:Hi, Margaret. My boyfriend and I are traveling to Chicago next week (6/11-14), and one of the things we're looking forward to seeing is the architecture of Chicago. We're huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, and we'd love to see the Prairie Avenue House District. Also, we're adding other things to our itinerary such as visiting the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and Millenium Park, so we don't have too much time. What's the best way to see Chicago's well-known architecture? A tour?
Margaret Lyons: I sometimes worry that tours sound corny, but the Chicago Architecture Foundation is really the way to go. They run all kinds of great tours (including a FLW one), and their website is also a solid resource for planning a trip. I'm partial to the Robie House in Hyde Park.
San Francisco, Calif.:Heading to Chicago for a few days next weekend, June 10-13. Are there any local events, exhibitions or festivals I should not miss? Thanks.
Margaret Lyons: If you want the most culture for your buck—who doesn't?—I'd say Grant Park Music Festival is the way to go: fantastic classical music in a gorgeous park, and it's free! The Pritzker Pavilion is also its own kind of architectural marvel.
Highland, Calif.:What are the "Don't Miss", and sometimes overlooked, local restaurants for the best breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Not the popular tourist places, but places where the locals eat when they want a bargain with lots of quality food. Not just downtown, but around the Chicago area, too.
Margaret Lyons: I'm nuts about Lula Cafe in Logan Square. The menu changes every week, and I've never been anything less than thrilled with the food there. If you like burgers or beer, Kuma's Corner is fabulous. When I quit being a vegetarian after 10 years, that's the first place I had a burger.
Jupiter, Fla/:After visiting family in Decatur, Ill., my 16-year-old daughter and I are spending July 11-16 in Chicago. Looking for best transportation from Decatur, Ill. to Chicago & back. Also, any insider scoop on SAFELY experiencing the essence of Chicago in a short period of time is appreciated! Have been researching like crazy and the myriad of options is positively mind boggling. Considering seeing "Wicked", staying at Hotel Indigo, thrift stores are a passion, getting around the town is an unknown challenge to conquer, daughter loves affordable fashions and is considering interior or architectural design as a career. Discounts and bargains are going to be a big help. Is exquisite food in small portions at reasonable prices just a dream? Thanks, I know that's a lot!
Margaret Lyons: Chicago is a very safe city, so please don't worry about being able to enjoy yourself. The CTA can seem daunting, but get yourself a five-day CTA pass for $18 and a map and you'll do fine. Shopping-wise, in terms of sheer density of stores (and stores that'll appeal to a 16-year-old), I'd say Wicker Park is a good bet. Lots of boutique-y places, a recent influx of used-clothing stores, plus a smattering of higher-end shops, too, make for a very solid day of shopping and wandering around, plus there are dozens of great restaurants right in the area.
Atlanta, Ga.:I realize this is very generic, but another girlfriend and I are planning to meet in Chicago to visit a 3rd friend (sometime this summer—date undetermined) and would like recommendation for a decent budget hotel in the city. Is airfare from ATL cheaper certain times? Thanks.
Margaret Lyons: I had friends in town a few weeks ago and they stayed at the Wicker Park Inn, which is a B&B but isn't like...all up in your business/too cozy. :) If you're planning some quality girls' nights out, it might be worth it to stay more in a night-life zone rather than downtown, where nightlife is pretty limited. Wicker Park (again!) has a ton of bars/restaurants/shopping and tends to be pretty popular. I'm not sure about airfares, but I use kayak and farecast when I'm planning a trip. Also, consider flying into Midway rather than O'Hare—often times flights are cheaper there, and the airport is much, much nicer. There's no real difference in terms of convenience getting into the city, either.
Detroit, Mich.:We are from metro Detroit and would like to visit Chicago (we plan to drive) to celebrate 15 years of marriage the third weekend in June. We have been to Chicago before but we never seem to do anything exciting or interesting. We pretty much have been to the major attractions in Chicago (at least I think). He is an architecture buff and I love gardens. We are not into the club or mall scene. We do not want to spend a fortune but we do recognize prices have risen. Any suggestions?
Margaret Lyons:First off, congratulations. Second off, I'm not into the club or mall scene either. I hear ya. If you've already hit the major attractions, I'd say go out for a fabulous fancy dinner (Blackbird maybe?) and hit the Green Mill for live music. It's a very relaxed, non-sceney place; think romance, not pulsing club beats or anything.
Newtown, Conn.:Hello, going to Chicago for a long weekend/business trip solo and I have time for 1-2 tours either on Monday June 9th or Thurs June 12—everyone raves about the architectural river tour but which company offers the best version? Should I do one that goes out over Lake Michigan and views the skyline as well as the river tour or just stick with the river tour? Any other "must-dos" or good tours to take (asking because I have a very limited time). I'm staying at the Palmer House Hilton. Thanks for your advice!
Margaret Lyons: I'd stick with just the river tour and use the rest of your time for a museum trip. I'd go with Chicago Architecture Foundation tour and skip the Lake Michigan part—I've done it once, and it's cool, kinda', but not at all essential. I like the Museum of Contemporary Art, but my must-see museum in the city has always been the Museum of Science and Industry.
Margaret Lyons:Thanks, everybody! Chicago's home to some of the best restaurants, theaters, museums and stores in the country—and some of the kindest, most interesting people I know.
Luxe in the Afternoon
Want an Upgrade? Enter here. The upgradee "My sister, my mother, and I are going to Amsterdam to see the tulips in bloom. The trip is in honor of my sister's birthday, but the three of us love to travel together and do so whenever we can. We always have such a blast." –Angela Lootens, Houston, Tex. Using our powers for the good of the people Since tulips are the favorite flower of Houstonians Angela Lootens; her mother, Virginia Lootens; and her sister, Alison Putman, a spring trip to the Netherlands was an ideal way to celebrate Alison's birthday. After a stroll through the Keukenhof gardens, next on the women's agenda was a canal tour through Amsterdam—so we chartered them an antique boat for a private sunset cruise. "It was so nice to sit back, relax, and chat with Captain Joost about what it's like to live in Amsterdam," says Angela. ("And what a good-looking guy!" adds Virginia.) As an extra treat, we arranged for a private tour of Gassan Diamonds, where the women got to try on exquisite jewelry from the company's collection. "I went straight for the biggest rock on the tray," says Angela. "It was a diamond ring worth fifty thousand euros!" The tour ended with champagne, and at the bottom of each flute was what appeared to be a diamond. An expert was called in to examine the stones: Two were cubic zirconias, but the third was real. "I was the lucky one!" says Angela. "And it wasn't just a speck of a diamond, either!" Many thanks to... The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (holland.com), Classic Canal Charters (classiccanalcharters.com), and Gassan Diamonds (gassandiamonds.com).
What's your best travel tip? Send us your tips, and if we publish one, you'll get a one-year subscription (or a renewal) to Budget Travel. You can e-mail them to us at Tips@BudgetTravel.com. Best Tips Ever The cleverest tips we've ever run are in The Smart Traveler's Passport, a handy book available at Amazon.com and select bookstores. Send us a tip: If yours is one that we illustrate, we'll send you a free book (and a year's subscription to the magazine). 1. Dog trick My Chihuahua, Maq, hates getting into his dog carrier, but he loves peanut butter. So I smear a little peanut butter on the back wall of the carrier, and when Maq goes halfway in to lick it, I nudge his bottom in and quickly close the door. Sandra Traub, Tamarac, Fla. 2. Scents sensibly Fragrance beads are a safe alternative to incense or scented candles when you want to cover up odors in hotel rooms or cruise-ship cabins. Just pack them in a sealed container and open the lid when you get to your room. Julie Nyhus, Eugene, Ore. 3. Suit yourself Scuba divers know how difficult putting on a wet suit can be. My wife and I figured out a solution: Place a Ziploc bag on your hand or foot before you slide it into the suit's sleeve or leg. The smooth surface of the bag helps you slip the wet suit on easily. Eugene L. Dubay, Pigeon Forge, Tenn. 4. Neighborhood watch When my wife and I did a house swap, we asked for lots of photos—not just of the interior and exterior of the place, but also of the area around the house and the front and back yards. We even used Google Earth to check out the neighborhood. Russ Phillips, Ottawa, Ont. 5. Pay as you go Anytime I travel to a country that has an exit tax, I put the cash in an envelope labeled "exit money" and keep it in my carry-on bag. This saves me from having to go to an ATM at the last minute, and it ensures that I have the exact amount necessary to leave. Jason M. Evans, Washington, D.C. 6. Don't fly without wings For lumbar support on a long flight, use a pair of kids' inflatable water wings. They're only $1 per pair at Wal-Mart, and they don't take up much room in your carry-on. Colleen Rule, Wrenshall, Minn. 7. Charge car If you'll be driving in Europe, you don't have to bring a converter to charge your cell phone and camera batteries. Before you leave the States, buy an inexpensive inverter that you can plug into the rental car's power outlet. It'll convert the 12-volt DC car power into the 120-volt AC you need for charging. Jeff Keller, Bend, Ore. 8. Pass the power I've discovered that battery-powered devices can vary greatly in their need for fully charged batteries. For example, even though my camera identifies a pair of AA batteries as dead, they still have enough power for my flashlight. Then, when the flashlight gets too dim, my travel clock will run on the batteries for months. David Johnson, Kingston Springs, Tenn. 9. BT for everyone! Most people know by now that you can keep your frequent-flier account active by ordering a magazine subscription through the airline's program. If you don't need any more magazines, you might consider sending a subscription to someone in the military who's based overseas. Soldiers are always thrilled to get current reading material from home. Michelle Buchecker, Chicago, Ill. 10. DIY room service My mom and I were exhausted after a long day of sightseeing in New York City. Our hotel offered free Wi-Fi and I had my laptop with me, so instead of trekking out again for dinner, I went to menupages.com and looked up the menus of nearby restaurants. You can search the site by neighborhood and sort by the restaurants that will deliver. Jessica Bishop, Tuscaloosa, Ala. 11. Alarming situation If you want to use your cell phone as an alarm clock on vacation but don't plan to make calls, turn off the wireless capabilities. I had to pay roaming fees in Spain because my phone was accessing the net­work. Bonnie Schuenemann, Brookfield, Ill. 12. Island style When vacationing in Maui, save money on aloha shirts and dresses by shopping at Ross Dress for Less near the airport (200 E. Kamehameha Ave., Kahului, 808/877-5483). We got a shirt for $12 and a dress for $15. Marc Smith, Austin, Tex. 13. Go your own way We were going to take Royal Caribbean up on the offer to transport our family of four from Houston to the Port of Galves­ton in Texas before our cruise, but the fee it quoted us was expensive. I searched car-rental company websites and booked a car for a reasonable rate. I then found prepaid parking at the Port of Galves­ton. Even after paying for a car rental and a week of parking, we saved more than $120. Jeanette Boyd, Richland, Mo. 14. Sippy pup When you're traveling with your dog and you don't have a bowl with you, fill a quart-size Ziploc bag with water and hold it open on the ground to make the water easy to drink. Anabel Nogueiras, Miramar, Fla. 15. Lost at sea? Every time we go on a cruise, my wife blows up a red balloon and tapes it to the door of our stateroom. That way we never have any trouble finding our room in the ship's long hallways. Eli Rose, Tampa, Fla. 16. Top tip While I was on vacation in the Caribbean, the plastic hook on the back of my bandeau bikini top broke. Most of my friends throw their bathing suits away when this happens, but I didn't want to give up so quickly. Instead, I threaded a key ring through the loops to hold the top together. It turned out to be a great quick fix, and I was able to mend the top as soon as I returned home. Kaye Powell, Washington, D.C. 17. The money tree My husband and I decorate our Christmas tree with foreign currency. We select the most colorful bills from our trips abroad, date and laminate each one, punch a hole at one end, and loop a ribbon through to hang it on a branch. The notes always bring back memories while we're trimming the tree, and they're easier to pack away than regular ornaments. Joyce Vognild, East Wenatchee, Wash. 18. Stuck with a bill Be sure to ask about any extra charges before you book a service on a cruise. I decided to try acupuncture when I was on a Caribbean cruise, and I saw on my receipt that I had been charged a 15 percent gratuity. Since when do acupuncturists get tips? Gary Hines, Louisville, Ky. 19. Greatest hits When my wife and I travel overseas, we always keep our hotel television on MTV or another music station so we can listen to the local favorites. We make a list of the songs we like throughout the trip and buy them from iTunes when we get home. We use the songs as a soundtrack for our travel photos or burn them onto a CD as a reminder of our trip. Creating our own collection of music is much more personal—and cheaper—than most souvenirs. Charles Price, Edmond, Okla. 20. Valuable advice My boyfriend recently bought a GPS navigator. He doesn't like to leave it exposed while his car is parked, but he doesn't want to carry it around everywhere, either. Now he hides the navigator in the first-aid kit that he always keeps in his car. The kit is a great hiding spot, since no one would ever suspect there's anything more valuable than Band-Aids in there! Lucy Wojnicki, Schaumburg, Ill.
New prize! August's prize is an eight-night road trip across Tasmania, Australia, including airfare, courtesy of Tourism Tasmania and Goway Travel. How to enter E-mail us at TrueStories@BudgetTravel.com or mail us at True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10018. For a complete rundown of the contest guidelines, please see BudgetTravel.com/truestories. The winner of April's contest is Lyn Simonton of Cody, Wyo. Her prize is a seven-night trip to Greenland, courtesy of Air Greenland. After a long winter, my husband, my best friend, and I warmed up in Key West, Fla. Our B&B, a beautiful old mansion, hosted nightly cocktails by the pool. The first evening, we were shocked to be the only people wearing clothes. (I had never even heard the term "clothing optional" before.) We did our best to make friendly conversation with the other guests. But we were even more shocked when, the night we returned home to Wyoming, we switched on C-Span and saw the gentleman whom we'd nicknamed Naked Bill addressing Congress. He was a U.S. congressman! May's winner is Cindi Noyes (pictured third from left) of Millbury, Mass. Her prize: a five-night trip to Panama from Tara Tours. My grandfather was from Italy, so when I saw a town with my maiden name, Tricarico, while researching a trip, I e-mailed the town's website asking for help locating lost relatives. A woman offered assistance, so I gave her my grandfather's name. She replied with a list of five family members still living in Italy, including some in Prato, near Florence. A few days later, I got a call from the daughter of my father's second cousin. When my husband and I got to our hotel near Prato, the family met us and took us over to their home. My father's cousin brought out a stack of old photographs. As soon as I looked at the first one, I started to cry: It was of my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, and me on Christmas, 34 years earlier, with my grandmother's writing (in Italian) on the back. We'll return to Italy soon to spend more time with our new family. So that's where Yahoo Serious has been hiding My family, my best friend Katie, and I wanted to see flowing lava on a visit to Hawaii's Big Island. But when we got to Volcanoes National Park, we learned that we'd have to hike several miles. Instead, we drove around Kilauea caldera, hoping to snap a photo of a "real" volcano to show Katie's 10-year-old son back home. Braving the gusts of wind and rain, Katie ran over to the caldera's edge. The volcano didn't do much, but we did get an eruption of another kind. Kim Stickler, Reno, Nev. World's cutest zombies Our group was under strict orders not to come within 15 feet of any wildlife while at a penguin rookery in Antarctica. I was looking at the birds through a tele­scope when a little Adélie penguin came up out of the water and started waddling his way toward me. I lay down on the ground and took out my camera. Before I knew it, five more birds were scampering in my direction. "Scott, you're all right!" the expedition leader called out. "Everyone else, step back!" A moment later, I found myself surrounded by six penguins, flapping their little wings to keep balance. I just clicked away. Scott D. Churchill, Irving, Tex. Speaking of Swift: He would have found this amusing I was totally enchanted with Ireland while hitchhiking around the country for two months. All the wonderful things I'd heard about it were true. As I bent to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, however, I was struck by how stained and odorous it was. Not being able to resist the gift of gab, I kissed it anyway. Later, back at the youth hostel, I picked up a book of short stories someone had left behind. One of the stories describes the local tradition of peeing on the stone after the tourists have left for the day. The application of soap to my lips was swift. Jeff Drake, Galveston, Tex. Or maybe he has a brain the size of a macadamia nut The chickens of Oviedo, Fla., have been roaming freely around the downtown area for years. Returning from breakfast one morning, I spotted this guy hanging out at a Popeyes fried-chicken restaurant. He had nestled into the dirt just under the drive-through menu. He was either very brave or a very fast runner. Liz Cummins, Terrytown, La. Now you know why God invented Photoshop While on a trip in Aruba, I was excited to start taking pictures of all the flowers, birds, and iguanas with my new digital camera. I was amazed at how the colorful iguanas were everywhere and would come right up to people. So when I saw this rather colorful, large iguana on a pole, I inched as close as I could without getting too scared and snapped away. Later, as I was bragging to my husband about the photo shoot, I was surprised to see the iguana hadn't moved an inch. My husband began laughing hysterically. The iguana was fake! I was even more embarrassed when I printed the photograph and saw that the screw in its foot was clearly visible. Cindy Sturtevant, Woodstock, Ga. And yours is Blushing Bride I thought I had dreamed up pretty good outfits for my now-fiancé and me to wear to the costume party on our senior singles cruise. (I called his the Reluctant Fiancé.) While the ship's photographer was taking this photo, however, I learned it was a masquerade party, not a costume party. The people throwing the party offered us both masks, but we quickly went back to our rooms to change, giving fits of giggles to the folks we passed on the way. Darla Coyle, Salem, S.C. Mrs. Moneybags, I presume? When I complained about the exchange rate at my hotel in Djibouti, the concierge confided that the best rate is on the street, where women sit with bags of cash waiting for customers. I figured he was messing with me. The next day, en route to Lake Assal, I told the guide I needed to exchange some dollars. "No problem," he said. He drove a couple blocks and stopped by two women on the side of the road, one of whom had a large sack. He signaled, and they came to the window. Not only did I get the best rate yet, but it came with drive-through service. Berti Pozo, Key Biscayne, Fla. It was all a distraction, and your gang is chilling in Amalfi with Clooney and Pitt In Petrópolis, Brazil, my friends and I went to the Museu Imperial to see the crown jewels. We had to put booties over our shoes so as not to scuff the floors. We scooted along until we reached the crown. Wanting a better look, my friend Anita kept getting closer and closer. Then her feet slipped out from under her, and her head banged into the glass. The alarms blared, and a giant cage descended over us. Men with automatic weapons filled the room. I don't speak Portuguese, so I tried to explain by reenacting Anita's fall, but that angered the men more. After a tense half hour, we were escorted off the premises and told never to come back. Kemuel DeMoville, Honolulu, Hawaii There were others? In Baja California, I saw a lot of whales—but I really wanted to stroke one. Our guide suggested singing to the animals, so in my best soprano, I sang, "You are my baby whale, my only baby whale, you make me happy when skies are gray." A mother and her baby loved it! I even got the award for Best Whale Singer. Diane Shneer, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. Well, isn't she cheeky! An older gentleman and I were sitting on a bench in Oslo, waiting for a bus, when an elegant, elderly woman approached. She walked with a limp. After the man and I stood up, the woman said something in beautiful, lilting Norwegian. Neither of us understood the language, though. She promptly switched to perfect English and said, "My bum's not so wide that the three of us can't fit on this bench." Dean Aulick, Silver Spring, Md. Perhaps you can parlay them into a 100 Grand bar We got a luxurious suite when my boyfriend's band performed at Atlantis in the Bahamas. The welcome basket was filled with wine, fruit, and even five $100 casino chips. Later, at the casino, I asked a change girl for some $5 tokens in exchange for the chips. She gave me a funny look and directed me to the main cage. I placed my chips on the counter, asked for change, and got another funny look. The cashier called for her supervisor. I was starting to get annoyed. "Madam," the supervisor replied, "these chips are chocolate." Joanne Pompeo, Escondido, Calif. And something blue... I was at a small beach in Positano, Italy, when a couple showed up, accompanied by a two-man camera crew. The man was slim, trim, and wearing a soccer jersey, so I thought he might be on the national team. When filming began, the couple lay on the sand and tried out several compromising positions, gradually removing their clothing. They worked their way into the water, kissing frantically. I asked the photographer if he was shooting a TV show or a movie. "Oh no," he replied. "They are engaged, and this will be shown at their wedding next month." Janet Kroupa, Santee, Calif. Proving that smoke clouds can have a silver lining, too We were settling in on the beach at our resort in Mozambique when we heard a crackling sound. The resort was in flames! We ran back, rescued our belongings, and joined guests and employees on the side of the road and watched the fire spread. There were no other available rooms in the area, and it was a two-hour drive to the next town. A young South African who'd been watching cricket in the hotel bar offered to let us sleep "in a tent in my yard." The "yard" ended up being a fish camp with tents and trailers. Over plenty of grilled meat and beer, our new friend told us all about life in southern Africa. It was the highlight of our entire trip. Molly Darragh, Oakland, Calif. The top one is a stickler for the union's no-smiling-without-compensation rule My husband and I wanted to have lunch at our favorite Italian place, Venezia, on our final day in New Orleans. By that point, however, our daughters were tired and whiny—at least until the party next to us sat down. It was a group of clowns who had just finished a gig. They posed for pictures and pulled candy and balls from behind my kids' ears. I didn't hear a peep out of the girls for the rest of the meal. Sheri Hammond, Bella Vista, Ark.
Adorable Babies at the Zoo Atlanta
Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, Ga., 404/624-5600, zooatlanta.org, $18, ages 3-11 $13, children under 3 free. 2008 LEMURS: Born Apr. 16, 2008 Two black-and-white ruffed lemurs were born in nests made high in the Living Treehouse, the zoo's open-air aviary. Apart from zoos, these lemurs are found only on Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa, where they're threatened by deforestation. Who Knew? Lemur moms carry infants in their mouths during their first few weeks, which is rare behavior among primates. Aww... See the photo WARTHOG: Born Apr. 16, 2008 The special warthog habitat, which opened in 2007 in the African Plains section, recently welcomed a piglet that has yet to be named. As the baby grows, she will develop tusks that can be up to six inches long. Who Knew? Warthogs do more than grunt and squeal. They often resort to body language (head angles, tail flicks) to communicate—rather like we do. Aww... See the photo ORANGUTAN: Born Oct. 22, 2006; adopted June 20, 2007 Dumadi, whose mother died shortly after his birth, was reared by humans at Indiana's Fort Wayne Children's Zoo for months until Zoo Atlanta stepped in. Now Dumadi lives with his surrogate mom, Madu, and stepbrother, Bernas, in a habitat that mimics the forests of Indonesia. Who Knew? It was key that Dumadi and Madu bond quickly, as orangutans can only learn natural behaviors by observing and copying their moms. And they stay dependent on their moms up until they're 8 or even 10 years old, the longest childhood of any animal except for humans. Aww... See the photo Last Year's Babies: Where Are They Now? PANDA: Giant panda cub Mei Lan was fully weaned from her mother, Lun Lun, in March and has clearly been eating her bamboo—she's up to 110 pounds. The zoo posts frequent panda updates. Keeper Heather Baker Roberts wrote on May 9: "This morning when I tossed some extra bamboo into the habitat for Mei Lan, she stood up on her 'knees' and reached out her forepaws seemingly to catch the bamboo. She was not tall enough, of course, and could not reach it, but it was still very cute." WATERBUCK: Obi is no longer the littlest waterbuck calling the African Plains exhibit home. He has a younger sister, Binti, who was born in summer 2007. GORILLA TWINS: Kali and Kazi, who will turn 3 on Halloween, are a rare example of twin western lowland gorillas. Mom Kuchi has her hands full trying to keep an eye on the two as they scamper around the exhibit. A tomboy, Kazi often winds up pinning her brother to the ground. GIRAFFE: Abu, now 3, got two new playmates when Glenda and Mona recently arrived from Disney. The 2-year-old girls have helped brighten the mood after the death of Masai giraffe Betunia, 23, in August. 2007 PANDA CUB: September 6, 2006 Mei Lan was the only giant panda born in the U.S. in 2006, and she's one of 11 in the country. (There are fewer than 3,000 giant pandas in existence worldwide.) Mei Lan began life about the size of a human hand; at seven months, she's already weighing in at 30 pounds. Zookeepers post updates about Mei Lan and her mother, Lun Lun, on the website, which also hosts a panda cam. Note that the zoo offers 15-minute Panda Habitat Tours. Tickets are free with admission, but you can bypass the often-lengthy lines by making an online reservation at $5 per person for nonmembers. Who Knew? The zoo studied the development of cubs raised in different ways and concluded that those that were mother reared for at least 12 months were much more active than those mother reared for four to five months and then placed with other cubs of their age. Curator Rebecca Snyder wrote on the zoo's blog that she suspects "one of the reasons for this difference is that mothers initiate and stimulate more play behavior." WATERBUCK: Born August 16, 2006 Obi, whose name means "heart" in Swahili, lives in the mixed-species African Plains exhibit alongside zebras, gazelles, and giraffes. In the wild, waterbuck call the grassland savannahs of Africa home. Who Knew? Waterbuck are dimorphic, meaning that the males and females look different. The males have curved horns, with ridges along the bottom. GORILLA TWINS: Born October 31, 2005 Kali and his sister Kazi are the only pair of Western lowland gorilla twins to be reared entirely by their mother (Kuchi) while in captivity. The two made big news because just six cases of twin gorilla births at North American zoos have been recorded since 1966. You can read posts about the twins' antics—and their older siblings—here. Who Knew? While lowland gorillas can look tough and occasionally beat their chests, they're mild and bright animals who live in social groups led by a dominant male. GIRAFFE: Born September 23, 2005 Abu, a reticulated giraffe whose name means "firstborn son" in Swahili, is already about 10 feet tall; the average adult height is 15 feet. While he was born at the Buffalo Zoo, he now lives with Betunia, a female 23-year-old Masai giraffe, in Zoo Atlanta's African Plains habitat. Who Knew? The reticulated and Masai giraffe subspecies are both from East Africa and are differentiated by the color markings on their fur. EXPECTING KANGAROO: Uluru, a red kangaroo who gave birth to a joey last spring, has another joey currently in her pouch. It has already been spotted sticking its head out.