Dear Stupid Parents,
Last Friday, Toddler Boy turned two. The day itself was a pretty low key affair but the following day, we went to Whipsnade Zoo in Hertfordshire and it was AMAZING!
Lots of people have concerns about zoos, but rest assured that ZSL (Zoological Society of London) do a hell of a lot of amazing work on animal conservation here and across the globe and are making waves in managing sustainability and eco-friendly practices at their sites in Whipsnade and at London Zoo. (You can find out more about that here.)
Now, you’re likely to be reading this thinking ‘I’ve been to a zoo, I know the deal, what’s so spesh about this one?’ Fair point, that’s pretty much what I thought too but we decided to go ’cause it’s nice to do new things and it’s way out in the countryside so we thought the drive would be nice. And boy, am I glad we did. In many respects, I suppose it is like any other zoo in that there are animals and an overpriced gift shop but where it excels over any other zoo I’ve ever been to is in the sheer size of it; it’s huge! So expansive in fact, that you can actually buy a special ticket that allows you the drive-through experience, which would still take you all day, I reckon. Set on 600 acres, is the UK’s largest zoo; my pal Kate was wearing a step counter and it calculated that we’d done just under 11,000 in the space of about 5 hours – and that’s a lot! Don’t let that put you off though. Walking may not be your thing but neither, I imagine, is queuing – the enormity of the place works in everyone’s favour in that regard.
Despite going on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend, we didn’t have to queue for anything (apart from the cafe – more on that later) and we got to the very front of all the railings/fences and saw all the animals up close. I’ve never been to a zoo before that made actually seeing the animals so easy and stress-free; even with a double pram in tow, I never felt that it was cramped or we were in anyone’s way.
Speaking of space, another huge plus is the landscaping. It’s pretty much all flat and has big wide paths so Toddler Boy and his friend, Toddler Girl could scoot the length and breadth of the place, definitely a bonus. Do note though, that bikes, skate boards and roller skates aren’t allowed.
In terms of what there is to see, you’ve got all the usual suspects of a zoo – the giraffes and sea lions were our favourites by far and it was brilliant to see that they’re left more or less to their own devices to wander and swim in sizeable quarters. But the highlight of the day, had to be the chain of elephants that plodded trunk to tail along the road, past the wide-eyed patrons. We were so close, we could have touched them.
They also have plenty of unidentified birds and animals (sorry, we didn’t try hard enough to find out!) wandering the grounds, making it feel more ‘real’ in its wildness and getting the little ones verrrrry excited!
On top of that, they have daily (in some cases, hourly) shows/displays of various animals where you can go to a designated outdoor arena and watch the animals get fed/help feed them yourself, watch bird shows and find out more about the individual animals in residence. (We never actually made it to one of these – that requires an extra level of organisation and we kind of out-organised ourselves just by leaving the house.)
If you happen to get to the point of being sick of animal watching, there’s a half hourly steam train ride throughout the grounds that’s pretty amazing and if you have little ones with you, there are two incredible play areas – one indoors and one outdoors – that kept my little monkey entertained for well over an hour at the tail-end of an exhausting day. Even as we were leaving and the eyes were closing in his head, he was objecting, saying “no, mummy! More fun!”
But if you’re not just about the fun and would like to make your visit more of an educational experience, there are a number of great activities to get involved in from photography workshops to being a zoo keeper for the day – click here for more.
All in all, this place is a truly wonderful day out and definitely not just for families. If a day trip isn’t enough for you and you’ve got a fair bit of moolah hanging around, you can stay overnight in chalets on site – more here.
What I thought was just going to be a ‘been there, done that, tick it off the list’ kind of day, has ended up being my most cherished day as a family so far – we will certainly be back again by the end of the summer.
The size – so huge, it never feels busy or annoyingly cramped
The animals – beautiful, majestic, well looked after
Plenty of activities for all ages, and not just about looking at the animals
Interactive – for those of you brave enough to get up close and personal with the beasts of the wild, this is your place
The setting – in the midst of the stunning countryside of middle-England, it’s a sight for sore eyes
Location – easily accessible by car, train or bus. See more here. If driving from South London on a weekend, ignore your sat nav by avoiding Hammersmith and take the Blackwall Tunnel.
The gift shop – yep it’s expensive, as they all are, but they sell gorgeous books and activity sets for children as well as toys and some clothes
The cafe – there is more than one onsite but the main one is pretty small, very expensive and the queue for lunch was horrendous. One plus though, is that the food was actually really good. There are plenty of picnic tables and open grassy parts dotted throughout so I’ll bring a picnic next time.
Hmmmm… that’s it for the downsides. No really, it’s that good!