Newest Review: ... there are two public giraffe feeds and two elephant feeds each day. Here everyone can queue to receive a piece of fruit to feed directly ... more
We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo
Member Name: kat1234
Advantages: lots to see and do, each visit is different
Disadvantages: entry for a family is expensive
LOCATION AND ADMISSION
The zoo is located just south of Colchester and is well signposted with brown tourist attraction signs from the A12, junction 26. There is no bus service directly to the zoo, but car parking is ample and free. The car park, however, is basically a field with some concrete walkways so care should be taken when parking in wet weather. Although a little bumpy, access is fine for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
The zoo opens at 9.30am, with last admissions at 3pm (winter months). The zoo closes at 4pm (this is usually later in summer). Admission prices also vary with the season. In peak summer, adult tickets are priced at £16.99 (£17.99 on Bank Holiday Weekend) and child tickets (aged 3-14) £10.50 (£10.99). Under 3's are admitted for free and seniors (over 60) and disabled have various discounts. Full price lists are available from the Colchester Zoo website.
For those that are likely to visit more than once a year there are one year (gold) and two year (platinum) passes available for adults and children that cost just a little more than two entry fees a year and mean that you can just visit the zoo anytime you like for no further cost (with the added bonus of avoiding any queue!). It is also worth checking the website before visiting as there are sometimes some offers and discounts advertised here.
Colchester Zoo has a large variety of animals and various displays/feeding times throughout the day (50 per day!). There are over 270 species homed at the zoo. Animals housed at the zoo include lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, sealions, zebras, various monkey species and meer cats. There is also an area of more 'familiar friends' such as goats, pigs, guinea pigs and ponies. In this area, you can get up close with the animals and feed them.
All the animals are housed in environments that closely replicate their natural habitats. The animals look to have plenty of space and are well cared for.
There are various opportunities throughout the day to spend some time with different animals. For example there are two public giraffe feeds and two elephant feeds each day. Here everyone can queue to receive a piece of fruit to feed directly to the animals. This is a really personal touch and makes the day special as you can experience something that you will rarely get the opportunity to. When I have attended with younger family members, this has always been a highlight for them.
THE ZOO ITSELF
The zoo is quite large in area - 60 acres. Although the zoo is large, it doesn't feel quite as big as this to walk around. Don't get me wrong, by the end of the day you know that you have done a lot of walking and it is tiring, but the animals are so well spaced that you don't really have to walk far to see anything. There is always something to stop and look at so you don't realise how much you have walked! The zoo is divided into areas named after the species that is housed in that area for example otter creek, tiger taiga and lion rock. This helps in the general navigation around the zoo and you are provided with a free map upon entry which is really easy to use so you can't really get lost. It is very open though, so if the weather is bad you will get wet. There are a few enclosed areas but these get very busy if there is a rain shower.
Even at peak times when the zoo is really busy it does feel like there is lots of room to move about - it is not cramped of claustrophobic at all in the general areas. The areas that can get busy and be uncomfortable are those that are more restricted - for example the underwater viewing tunnel where you can walk underneath the sea lions and watch them swim. These areas are best viewed early in the morning and avoided when really busy.
Generally access around the zoo is good for those with pushchairs. There are some steep areas that can be tiring on your arms but most are accessible. In areas where the ground is too steep or there are steps, there is usually an alternative route so that you don't miss out on any of the exhibits.
The zoo has always been very clean when I have visited. Picnic areas are kept clean and frequently washed and bins seem to be emptied regularly - I have never seen any overflowing with litter. There are also a lot of staff present throughout the zoo, who always seem very courteous and helpful.
There are various picnic areas throughout the zoo, with plenty of benches and tables. Some are also under cover. This is a refreshing change from attractions such as this having very little provision for those who bring lunch, hoping instead that you will opt to purchase from their own (often overpriced!) restaurants. There are also numerous benches scattered around the park for anyone to stop and take five if the walking is proving a little tiring.
There are two road trains that operate around the zoo. These operate most frequently at peak times and take you on a tour of the zoo. This is something that most children enjoy! Also for the children there are four adventure playgrounds as well as an indoor soft play area.
There are various cafe and eating outlets scattered around the zoo as well as ice cream vendors. There is also one or two soft drink machines. There are a lot of toilets and most also have a baby change facility. Although there are a lot of toilet areas on the map, each tend to have just three or four toilets so there can be queues particularly in summer months. The toilets are generally clean although they tend to be in outhouse/cabin buildings so can be cold!
There is a gift shop that is craftily placed at the exit of the zoo - you have to go through this to get out of the zoo. You can also purchase things like a zoo keeper experience day or adopt an animal - great for an unusual Christmas gift perhaps!
MY OVERALL OPINION
As I have said, the zoo is always clean and tidy and is really welcoming. It is a great place to visit and you can easily spend a day here and still not see anything - this is why I would recommend investing in a years pass if you live in Colchester or the surrounding area. There are so many animals to see that there should be at least a few of your (or your children's!) favourites. The displays are really good fun and informative too, the zoo keepers are obviously very knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. There are also placards at each exhibit detailing the species and facts like what they like to eat - this, together with the displays, can make the day educational as well as fun for the little ones (and adults too!).
I find the zoo layout really easy to follow and it is easy to find your way from one animal to the next. The zoo is also not overly smelly (there is inevitable some 'animal' smells!). Some zoos that I have visited previously have really smelled, particularly during hot months, and this can be a little off putting, especially at lunch time!
I do think that the admission price is a little steep. I understand that the zoo costs a lot to run and that they also support conservation in the wild but I think that the children's tickets in particular are slightly too much. At peak time, a family of four can expect to pay £54.98, which is quite a bit. There is no family ticket option like some attractions have and I think that it would benefit the zoo and families if there were.
There is plenty to see and do here and the variety of displays offered means that you can easily go four or five times a year and see something different each time - making the gold card well worth the money! I would definitely recommend the annual pass if you live nearby as you can then just pop along for an afternoon here and there rather than make it a day out every time - there is always ample parking.
The children that I have visited with have always had a fun, but very tiring day. Aside from the animals, they always enjoy the play areas which are well spaced throughout the park - usually near a picnic area so that you can combine lunch and play time. The indoor play area is also nice if the weather is a bit miserable as you can grab a coffee in there while the children let off steam - although there are not that many tables so it can get a bit busy (there are usually a lot of pushchairs to negotiate too!).
I usually take my own lunch and make use of the vast picnic facilities - I have never had any trouble getting a table - so I can't comment on the quality of food here if you do wish to dine. There is a Southern Fried Chicken outlet, pizza lodge, barbecue, wrap shop, chip & dip and hotdog stand. Therefore there is a variety of food, but not much in the way of healthy options! I've had hot drinks in the coffee shop and these are reasonably priced and, from what I could see from the menu, the food looked quite reasonable in price too. The gift shop is quite expensive but offers a large variety of gifts and keepsakes so there is something suitable for most budgets. I disagree with the ethos of putting a gift shop in a place that means you have to walk your children through it to leave but understand completely that this is exactly why it is located where it is!
Overall, the zoo is well worth a visit and is a great family day out with plenty to do and see. Definitely recommended.
Summary: A great day out
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