Location: Cambridge, ON
Highlights: Up close butterflies, honey bee observation hive, gift shop, cafe
Children Friendly (10): The butterfly conservatory is great for little ones. First, it is small. They’re not going to be tired and not being able to walk the whole day. Since the butterflies are free flight kids are able to see them well and truly appreciate them in flight.
Animal Diversity (2): It says it right in the name – butterfly conservatory. This isn’t meant to be a large scale zoo showing the big name animals. That being said they do have a large variety of butterfly species as well as bird and insect collections.
Animal Viewing (10): With the butterflies being free flight and there being a lot of them you can see many up close. Without barriers between you and the butterflies you get an awesome view. Also, being free flight you are able to see them not only perching on trees and rocks but in flight as well.
Animals Happiness (10): No offence but butterflies don’t need a whole lot to be happy. They have a greenhouse style roof so plenty of natural sunlight streams in. A working waterfall and river allow plenty of water and humidity for these tropical butterflies. There are tropical flowers and vegetation for the nectar feeders as well as dishes out with fruit. It seems as though all their needs are met.
Photography (10): You know the photography must be good if this is the place photographers go to practice their skills! Whether you are an amateur just starting out or a professional trying out new lenses this is the place for you. Free flight butterflies are abundant – no trying to take pictures through fencing or glass. Also, if you call ahead they will open early for photographers which is AMAZING. Since it can be crowded they don’t allow tripods which could be a nuisance for some photographers, but they do allow them during the early viewing which is why I didn’t deduct points.
Layout/Map (10): Seeing as it is indoors and fairly small it would be very hard for you to get lost in the conservatory. The butterfly area itself is a couple pathways through the gardens. I do not recall a map but with plenty of signage and the small stature one is definitely not needed. Online they do provide a butterfly guide to show which butterflies are housed within. Their other exhibits are rooms off the main hallway which again are easy to find.
Hours (8): During the spring and summer the conservatory is open 7 days a week 10-5. These hours are pretty standard, I would like to see it open a little later BUT it is understandable considering it is greenhouse style so lighting would be an issue open late. During the fall and winter it is closed Mondays and during the week of Christmas it looks like. Overall, pretty good hours.
Price (7): The prices for admission are decent. The do have discounted rates for seniors, youth, and children. Ages 2 and under are free. If you’re bringing the family it could end up being pricey, especially since it isn’t a place that you would spend the whole day. The memberships are a good deal if you’re planning on going multiple times (~3x to start saving money), and guests of people with memberships get a discount as well which is nice.
Food (10): Right away you notice the freshness of their ingredients – you can SEE them growing outside! That is a huge bonus with their café. This isn’t your typical fast food style menu that you normally see at zoos; it is a legitimate café, with soups, salads, wraps, and pizzas. The food is delicious and reasonably priced.
Website (10): A wonderful website! Well laid out and easy to navigate. There’s all the information you would need to know about the conservatory and it seems to be always up to date. I do also love that it’s not overly busy…there are some great photos and media but not overdone.
Gift Shop (10): Outstanding gift shop! Anyone looking for awesome gifts for any occasion I encourage you to stop by the conservatory just for the gift shop. Since the butterflies have short life spans they have definitely used this in a great way – framed butterflies or jewellery made from wings are truly stunning. There are also some great educational toys and books for kids and adults alike.
Quiet Areas (8): Does anything sound more calm and relaxing than a butterfly garden? There are benches placed throughout the butterfly conservatory for guests to stop and sit. Granted it isn’t a very busy day you should be able to find a spot by yourself to admire the butterflies. They are also in the process of installing outdoor gardens – a butterfly garden, native grasses, etc which will be a huge asset for this category.
Safety/Cleanliness (9): It is indoors which allows for shelter from the elements for both guests and their displays alike. Safety wise I didn’t come across any issues. In terms of cleanliness everything was also very clean – when working with free flight birds in the conservatory guests may come across droppings on the pathways.
Extras (8): They have great educational activities and camps for kids to go to throughout the summer. Also, with it being indoors with a number of entertaining rooms, they host quite a few events throughout the year (ex. Mothers day tea, valentine’s dinner, Fathers day BBQ brunch, etc). It is also a great venue for weddings and/or special occasion photography. They do have a couple rooms which rotate out with exhibits. This keeps each visit new and exciting, a bonus for members!
Overall (8.7): I would highly recommend the conservatory for butterfly lovers (or gardeners, or birders, or anyone…). It was a great place to spend the afternoon with plenty of butterflies to make it worthwhile. The gift shop and café alone I would send anyone to for any occasion!