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Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Member Name: Amyrose
Dartmoor Zoological Park (Plymouth)
Advantages: amazing big cats, some great enclosures
Disadvantages: expensive, poor layout, clearly needs a lot of work doing
Although I do not live far from Dartmoor zoo I have never been and it was only when my boyfriend suggested he needed to go due to it being related to some uni work that we went. Usually when I think of Zoo's, this one doesn't tend to pop into my head as it is not that well publicised, although I think this is about to change with the release of 'we bought a zoo'.
===What it is?===
Dartmoor zoo was originally called Dartmoor Wildlife park and if any of you have heard of the film 'we bought a zoo' you may know of the story behind the zoo. Basically the Mee family bought the zoo back in 2006 which I find unusual as I have never come across a zoo that has been owned by a family before. The zoo closed for a while before reopening in 2007 after some major refurbishment work. The zoo is also the winner of the Eden Channel's Top Wildlife Attraction of the Year 2011. The zoo is set in 33 acres of woodland with surrounding views of Dartmoor countryside and has the widest range of big cats in the south west.
===Location and how to get there===
To find out how to get to the zoo I had a look on their website which I have to say I found incredibly helpful, not just for directions and such but for all sorts of other information too. There are two main ways to get to the zoo being bus or car. The zoo is located in Sparkwell which is just 5 miles from Plymouth city centre which is very close to me.
To get here by car you need to take the Plympton turn off from the A38 and follow the brown 'wildlife park' signs until you get to Sparkwell village. Continue another 300 yards or so and you will see the zoo. I did not travel by car and so cannot comment on how well signposted this was and I can't honestly say I was looking out for signage while on the bus. On arrival there is ample parking right next to the entrance with directions to go further up for those requiring disabled parking.
The website was fantastic in that it even gave the timetable for the buses so yesterday my boyfriend and I headed into town to find the right bus stop. This stop was easy to find and was located right at the bottom of town. To get to Dartmoor zoo you need to catch the 59 bus which is easily identifiable as it is a much smaller bus than usual. A return cost us £3.15 each which I found very reasonable, the driver was helpful and the bus stopped literally outside the zoo - brilliant! The bus took around 30 minutes or so which was fine although buses do not run particularly frequently - once every hour or so.
===Prices and opening times===
Dartmoor zoo is open every single day of the year (even Christmas?!?!)
Summer (April to November): 10am - 6pm
Winter (November to April): 10am - 4pm
Prices are as follows:
Adult - £10.95
Concession - £9.95
Child (5-15 years) - £8.95 and under 5's are admitted free of charge
There are also some group discounts available with groups of 15 or more, with each person receiving £1 discount.
I paid a concession rate as I am a student but I think just £1 reduction is pretty poor when you think that this is the same rate that OAP's would also have to pay which I think is a bit much. Overall I thought that the entrance prices were very expensive as I know that Paignton zoo is far bigger, would probably have lots more to do and see and would only cost £2 more than this zoo. Having said this I tried to not let the price but me in a negative mood as the zoo may well be worth every penny and would of course be a totally different experience than other zoos like Paignton or Bristol.
===Finding your way around the zoo and the layout===
After paying our entrance fees Mike and I were excited to see what the zoo had for us to see but we felt rather confused as to exactly where we were supposed to be headed. We started going up as this was the only way to go and saw some wonderful capybaras (look like super cute giant fat hamsters) but after this got confused as there was no signage to help us and we had not been provided or offered a map at the entrance.
I have to say that I think the layout of the zoo and lack of signage at times really frustrated me. It was only when we got further into the zoo that there was some simple signage although once we got to the restaurant we were able to collect a free map which helped a little. There seemed to be no logical way of getting around the zoo and we found ourselves just wandering down different pathways, often wondering if we had already been in that area before or not.
The paths through the zoo are quite often hilly with un-level surfaces which was not a problem for us but I could see this posing a problem for wheelchair users or those with pushchairs.
Once we got into the main part of the zoo the first thing we found was the restaurant which was brilliant as I was starving! There was plenty of seating in the Jaguar restaurant although it certainly didn't look particularly inviting. Everything was very clean in the restaurant and there was also an area for children to play in which unfortunately looked nowhere near as clean as the rest of the restaurant.
Having paid what I thought was over the odds for my entrance fee I was hoping for more reasonable prices for food but I wasn't overly impressed. Bottled drinks were £2 apart from bottled water which was £1.20. I found that the hot drinks were more reasonably prices but that the amount you got was far less. The range of food was pretty poor - sandwiches (£3.95 each) , panini's (£4.95 each) and a limited range of hot meals (6.95 each or 2 for £12). Admittedly these are all reasonable things to expect for a lunch but even the range of fillings for the panini's and sandwiches were limited. In the end Mike and I decided to go for a ham and cheese Panini each, one of just 3 choices of fillings, and paid an extra £1 to have one with chips. The restaurant wasn't busy when we were in there yet it must have taken around half an hour for our food to come out. The Panini was ok but barely touched my hunger and the chips were just lukewarm, not overly impressed at this point.
I also went to the loo in the restaurant and found these to be shabby, dirty and certainly did not smell too pleasant either. These definitely need a bit of refurbishment or perhaps just a more thorough clean.
The gift shop is also in the restaurant and offers the usual things, pens and books up to large cuddly toys that are around £25 or so.
===The animals and enclosures===
The first animals we came across from leaving the restaurant (aside from the very cute meerkats just outside) were brown bears. I have to say that they were very impressive and due to the type of enclosure the view was just amazing. Some of the enclosures at the zoo are not the typical wired fence, more like just a wall with a bit of electric wire over the top which doesn't sound great but they were perfectly safe. This means that you can see the beautiful animals properly without all that annoying wire in your face. Other animals we saw were : velvet monkeys, couti, otters, agouti, various falconry type birds, other birds, foxes, reindeer, racoons, otters, goats (including some very cute baby ones)and a range of big cats ( lions, tigers, lynx, and a jaguar). There is also a cheetah but it must have been shy when we were in that area as unfortunately we did not see it.
I think that on the whole the enclosures looked suitable for the animals, and were generally of good sizes but some looked like they could definitely do with some updating. One enclosure had some metal fences in it lying on the floor which seemed a bit inappropriate unless this is some form of enrichment? Most enclosures were accompanied with informative signs about the animals, but not all which I think is a shame. Generally speaking I would say that the animals looked happy enough although sometimes we did think that they looked incredibly bored - but maybe they just like doing nothing?
The highlight for us was definitely the big cats, particularly the tigers who were just magnificent. It was brilliant to be able to see them so close up for once and allowed us to take some lovely photos. During the day the tigers were fed and this was advertised on the board near the start of the zoo, so we plodded to the tiger area at 2.30 to see this happen. A volunteer led the talk ( they seem to have a lot of volunteers) which was very informative although you could tell that she was a bit nervous. The keepers had strategically placed 3 chunks of horse meat around the enclosure and it was just wonderful to see the tigers bound out of their cage and onto their pieces of meat. I was expecting them to start ripping chunk outs but interestingly they seemed very happy to begin by licking their meat (apparently they have very course tongues and this helps to remove the fur).
There were a few other things going on that day - I think one was otter feeding, a close encounters (something to do with reptiles) and something else that I can't remember, but definitely a few things to make your day that bit more interesting.
===Some other experiences===
As well as your typical day out at the zoo, Dartmoor also offers some experiences such as - keeper for the day, big cat keeper for the day and meeting the tigers. These range in price from £149 to £299 for the big cat keeper for the day. There is no way that I would even consider paying such money for these experiences but some people may feel they are worth the money.
I have very mixed feelings on this zoo with the overriding thought of it being very overpriced considering the condition of it. On walking around the zoo there is clearly a need for more work as many areas quite frankly looked a bit of a state. Having said this I absolutely loved the big cats and the bears and think that they make the zoo stand out a little bit more and made my day. The enclosures were another highlight as I have never been able to get so close to such big animals before and get such lovely pictures. I think that the restaurant was poor and overpriced but having said this there was also a picnic area should you wish to bring your own food. I think that I would have a better opinion of the zoo had the entrance been a little cheaper as I just think that £10 entry is just too much. I am not sure that I would go here again, I think I would prefer to pay an extra £2 and go to Paignton zoo which isn't too far away with the feeling that I would get a lot more for my money. I think that I would mainly recommend this zoo to those who are big fans of big cats as this is definitely the main attraction. I think that I would recommend this zoo for those who don't see the price as unreasonable but for me personally I don't think that I would go again. The zoo gets 3 out of 5 from me.
Thanks for reading.
Summary: I would say this zoo is a reasonable day out but is a very expensive one
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