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This week, the Little Chap and I took our first trip to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (*courtesy of Grannie!). I had been many years ago but not with a three year old in tow. Unlike London Zoo, which really has to be visited on foot, you can ‘drive’ around Whipsnade, parking your car in various spots to look at the animals (perfect with a short legged one)! Also the fences are more open so little ones can see a lot more without being lifted up. London Zoo required lots of lifting and its a long walk from either of the nearest tube stations for little legs/pushing the buggy.
If you don’t fancy driving, just park up and take the Trunk Line which you can take instead of the car if you prefer – its a hop on, hop off service that runs on a continuous loop around the park.
You might be forgiven for thinking the zoo is no place to go for the day in the kind of wet April weather we had this week. Honestly, the rain showers (some quite heavy!) didn’t stop us from seeing anything but the penguins at feeding time. Only then because the deluge was too heavy and we couldn’t park the car close enough to make a dash for it. Otherwise, we saw the elephants (inc a baby!), cheetahs, a lion, a tiger, loads of deer, wallabies, bears, wolverines, wild boar (a couple of busy mums with nine piglets between them!) and camels. We didn’t have time to visit the Discovery Centre (spiders & other creepies) or the owls, the lamas or the giraffes…
When we arrived, we parked up by the bears, from where we could walk to the boars, chimps and wolverines, walking past a field of european bison and a moose on our way back to the car! Just around the corner were some wallabies who live wild on the open grassland and the Little Chap was fascinated to be so close to them. They seemed wary but otherwise unphased. After driving through the deer park (more varieties than I can remember), we also passed rhinos, yaks and camels!
They also have a great playground and a steam train – the Jumbo Express.
We chose to take a picnic (saving pennies!). Luckily, they had a little covered seating area for those of us with our own food. Situated outside the restaurant, it even had patio doors to keep out the wind and rain! From it we saw the ostriches running about in the rain (!) and the steam train pulling in to the nearby ‘station’. There were egrets and cranes, geese and swans and many other birds in the aviary next door. Here are some of the benefits to visiting in spring:
- The animals are less sleepy in the milder temperatures so are easier to see
there are more parking spaces and fewer cars – we just drove straight in as we arrived at about 11.30am
- We had the (large) children’s playground to ourselves – I imagine it could be quite hard to keep an eye on even one small one in a sea of other families in high season!
- We didn’t have to queue for anything or jostle to see the animals (or lift the Little Chap up to see them over others’ heads!)
One thing I would suggest is that mum takes plenty of carb rich snacks – the Little Chap ate so much he didn’t want any tea but the blessing was that he didn’t ask to be carried once (phew!). A major achievement.
We left in the final downpour about four hours later and missed the rush hour on the M1/M25, taking with us one very happy, tired lad.
Here’s a list of essentials to take with you:-
- Tickets – these can be ordered online and printed at home or bought at the gate for a little more. Check their website for latest prices.
- Waterproofs & wellies – an all in one suit works best – if they slip in the mud or jump in a puddle, you can strip it off them before they get back in the car
- Baby and/antibac wipes – for those moments when you’re not sure if you believe the Little One when they say they didn’t pick up the mucky straw or ‘stones’ that look mysteriously like poo pellets or just for sticky/muddy fingers
- Packed lunch & drinks – with your own car to carry the picnic and plenty of places to stop for a picnic (indoors or out), you’d be mad not to!
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