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Marwell Wildlife Park (Winchester, Hants)
Member Name: Huomenna
Marwell Wildlife Park (Winchester, Hants)
Date: 23/01/11, updated on 23/01/11 (262 review reads)
Advantages: entrance is competitively priced, wide variety of animals
Disadvantages: some animals seem bored, lots are inside during the colder months, refreshments poor
As a child I used to go to Marwell zoo quite alot - my dad would take me there for a day out while we were staying at my grandparents caravan on Hayling Island, as it wasn't too far away. I used to love going there and dad would always buy me a t-shirt from the main gift shop on the way out (I still have some of them and they still fit because dad always bought my clothes several sizes too big!). Anyway I now live on the south coast with my boyfriend and I decided that we should visit the zoo together for an enjoyable day out and to give me a chance to do some animal photography.
We decided to visit today (23rd of January) because at this time of year the zoo charges 'off peak' prices which are the cheapest available and on their website you can get a voucher giving you 2 for 1 entry until the end of the month. This meant that it cost us £14 for two adults which seemed reasonable considering the cost of many other attractions. Prices do vary throughout the year and are clearly posted on the zoo's website, so you won't get any nasty surprises when you arrive.
Getting there and parking:
The zoo was fairly well sign posted all the way from the M27, although we did use the sat nav on my phone to help us at times. On arrival the car park is a decent size although even on a quiet Sunday in January, it still seemed quite busy - even so we found ourselves a space quickly. The one bad point I did have about the car park was that there were no sign posted areas and as the whole thing looks the same, you may struggle to remember where you parked the car, especially during peak season!
There are several pay cubicles available, with one set aside for pass holders. On a day like today where there were no ques, they only had 2 open as this was all that was needed, but in summer the que's can get quite long. The woman who served us was friendly and approachable - she accepted our voucher and processed the cost of the tickets whilst explaining that if we were tax payers we could fill out a gift aid form which we duly did. She also asked if we would like a 2010 guide book which had been reduced to £1, which we accepted (they didn't seem to have any 2011 guide books available but the differences are probably minimal and I doubt I would be willing to part with the RRP cost).
The vast majority of path ways are tarmaced and quite wide which makes them suitable for the disabled, although the follow the contours of the land which gives a more natural feel. There are some viewing platforms aswell which have stairs/slopes leading up to them - these can be handy for watching the giraffes when they are out in the paddock, although they were all inside on this occassion.
On the website it suggests that you give yourself 4-5 hours for a visit, however we were around and out again in two hours and I was lingering at enclosures to take photos, so I can't see most people needing 4-5 hours to go around the whole zoo.
There are a number of cafe's, kiosks and vending machines located around the zoo, so you wouldn't think you'd have any trouble finding something to eat. At the entrance to the zoo is a cafe located to the left, up a slight incline however this was closed on our visit (possible refurbishment?) and many of the smaller kiosks were closed due to the out of season timing of our visit. There was one cafe open near the zebra's which seemed to be the only one in the whole zoo selling a decent selection of food (regardless of whether or not the others were open) as it actually seemed to sell sandwiches and the like, however it was packed and the que was ridiculously long so we decided to press on and find somewhere else to satisfy our hunger.
The next place we found was near the back of the zoo in the 'close encounters' section, however this only provided drinks, chocolate and cakes which really wasn't what we were looking for considering it was lunch time. When we arrived back at the entrance we went into the gift shop where we discovered a small cafe in the corner - this usually sells sandwiches however by the time we got there (2pm) they had only 2 decrepit looking ones left and they were priced far too high at £3.50 each, so we gave in and got a bit of cake each with our drinks. (Ginger beer, a glass of milk and 2 slices of cake came to £8.75).
Overall the food available was a real disappointment - there was nowhere near enough 'proper' food and I imagine that in the summer there will be much the same problem as the increased number of visitors will be putting the available facilities under even more of a strain. Also considering the high price of the food, I would recommend that you consider bringing a packed lunch with you and taking advantage of one of the couple of picnic areas, or any number of numerous benches available.
My view on the animals is split - there were plenty of different species from many different parts of the world to see, which of course is a plus, however some of the enclosures seemed a bit small. Further to this the big cats never seem to cease pacing, which I've heard is a sign of boredom.
Our English winters can be a bit on the cold side and as many of the animals are natives to warmer locations, at this time of year a great number of them were huddled away inside their sleeping quarters. I can't say that I blame them as I'd do the same, but it did of course mean that there were less animals to view (probably about 30% of them were out of view). This will of course be different in the summer.
Overall I give the zoo 3 out of 5 - it's not as good as I remember it being when I was a child (but what is?), we weren't able to see quite a few of the animals, some of them were pacing, the available refreshments were poor and the gift shop was over priced.
The zoo is probably at it's optimum in spring - I imagine most things will be open by then, more animals will be out but there won't be quite as many visitors as in the summer (it was relatively quiet there today however there was still one person who pointed out a leopard to her grandson, whilst standing by a big sign that said leopard, and said 'Look at the tiger!')
Summary: Not a bad zoo, but definate room for improvement
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