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Brilliant zoo and great day out for all!
Member Name: rosaliecullen
Advantages: Great value, great animals
Disadvantages: Reptile house let me down.
Chester Zoo is a fantastic zoo in Chester in the North West of England. It is open daily except for Christmas Day and opening times vary (typically shorter in the winter, longer in the summer and longer again in school holidays). If you go in a large group you can save money by buying tickets on the website. The other thing to note about ticket prices is that they are cheaper online for everyone as the price you are charged at the gate includes a "donation" of £1.70 - not much and you can refuse to pay the donation but if you don't want to feel pressured on the gate, opt out of this by getting the tickets on the website.
Ticket prices are £16.30 for adults and £12.60 for children, a family ticket costs £53.
==What to see==
Firstly, let me recommend you get there early. Doors open at 10am and even as two adults who don't dilly dally like children do, we found it was a struggle to see everything before 5pm. If you have small children, I'd try and plan your visit in advance. There are maps on the website: http://www.chesterzoo.org/ you are also given a map (free) on arrival plus a list of when the talks are for the animals on each day. I would do a bit of forward planning to ensure you see all of the things you want to see. My personal preference is head to the big stuff first so the elephants, lions and tigers as these are further over in the park it tends to be quieter first thing in the morning. We have ended our last two visits with the hoofed animals, meercats and painted dogs which seems to be a good way to do things as that tends to be quiet in the afternoon (and closest to the entrance/exit).
What to see..well with over 8000 species to see it is pretty difficult to name all of them but I'll give it a good go from memory. They have elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions, a red panda, zebras, camels, an aquarium, jaguars, rhinos (no hippos any more), monkeys, chimpanzees (no gorillas although they are apparently "coming soon", no bears except a spectacled bear which was cool (no polar bear, he left years ago), owls, snakes, orangutans, spiders, turtles, komodo dragon, gila monster, cassowarys, cheetahs, giant otters, penguins, condors, flamingos, lemurs, cranes, bush dogs, capyabara, butterflies, bats, meerkats.....and so the list continues. That is pretty much the big animals covered. Oh...except for the Dinosaurs which are there until November 2012 (see later review).
==Other "paid for" activities ==
You can jump on the monorail - this is ideal for tired feet or little feet. Adults cost £2 and Children cost £1 and I think you can jump on and off all day. Would be great if this was included in the price but I'm certain the monorail wouldn't be able to handle that many people getting on and off it. There is also a waterboat tour which costs £2 adults and £1 children. I am unsure where this goes or how long it lasts. I also noticed a mini golf but failed to see how much it cost and there is a "fossil wash" for children which I assume is an activity related to the dinosaur exhbit, again I didn't see how much they were. The prices aren't too bad but I guess on top of a ticket for the day, the cost for a family of four could soon mount up.
There is also a gift shop full of things children will never need but always want :)
Hardly an activity but it is worth noting wheelchairs can be hired there. After 5 hours of walking around, this was starting to look like a serious option for me!
*There are lots of "best bits". For me, the price reflects good value. It is a true "full day out" (unlike the Blue Planet Aquarium which we spent an hour in and paid £13) and you will be hard pressed to see everything unless you are quick on your feet.
* Lots of places to eat dotted around the exhibits, including places to have your own picnic. There is some indoor picnic areas but I imagine these get hugely crowded if it rained.
* Quite a few toilets about the site with the exception of the far right corner (with the painted dogs and zebras) but you are fairly close to the entrance there so shouldn't be too difficult.
* Disabled and pushchair access has been seriously considered and although there are a few ramps, there are no steps anywhere. A lift is in the orangutan house for disabled people or people using pushchairs.
* My favourite things to see were the Elephants which were brilliant and the Chimpanzees. Not sure if this has anything to do with them being the most recognisable areas from when I was a child, but the animals are pretty cool too.
* There have been lots of upgrades which is good in one sense (bad in another see below). Lots of the exhibits have more than just the animals to see, lots of information boards which are great for children and they have tried to give "a feel" of certain areas like the painted dogs are in an "African game reserve hut" which makes you feel like you are seeing them on a Savannah rather than just in Chester!
* I liked the Dinosaur exhibit, I expected it to be rubbish but it was pretty good as a free added extra - they are scaled versions of dinosaurs and they have put info panels around, you tour around the dinosaurs as you would the zoo exhibits and the dinosaurs are animatronic and move quite realistically. In some senses they do look a bit fake but without being Jurassic Park I thought they were pretty good.
* I don't have many "worst" bits but as with any of these sort of places, the food prices are not cheap. We took a packed lunch and were grateful but "topped up" throughout the day. Cafe prices for cakes and coffee were similar to Starbucks or Costa. Didn't see how much lunches were but a bag of crisps was £1 and ice lollies were £1.30-£2.
* I have hugely fond memories of Chester Zoo as a child and I know they have put a lot of money into upgrading various displays. £2million was spent on the Jaguar house (sponsored by Jaguar cars) but there is a huge house for 2 Jaguars and it can be pretty difficult to see them. I would of course rather they had nice big enclosures rather than tiny cages but it can be frustraing to see empty enclosures as they are hiding.
* With the upgrade they have mixed a lot of the animals. In "Realm of the Red Ape" (or something like that) they have orangutans with lizards with snakes. Then in "Tropical Realm" they have turtles, tropical birds, spiders and snakes. For me the bog standard old "Reptile house" worked really nicely but 'tropical realm' just lacked something this time, perhaps the lack of enormous snakes (as they were in with the orangutans).
* The worst bit for me is always the aquarium as the first are often fairly boring when compared with tigers. Having just visited a great aquarium this week, it was hard to get excited about the fish in the aquarium at the zoo as there were no big fish or rays or sharks. It looked like a large pet shop.
Overall, I believe it is a brilliant attraction for all ages. We were there almost six hours and had a truly great day out. Take your own packed lunch and book online for the best prices. Hope you enjoy your day as much as we did. It is the best zoo I've ever visited.
Summary: Great day out.
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