“ Address: Washford Cross / Watchet / Somerset / TA23 0QB / England „
This is very poor value for money. Expensive to get in then not a lot to do. It is basically an overpriced play park. Also it is very tatty looking and could do with a coat of paint. The cheekiest thing is that once U get in you then have to pay for certain rides and activities! Save your money and go to a park or a beach
Along with most parents, I always struggle for new things to do in the school holidays that will keep the children entertained. Whilst I obviously prefer to do free things, like a trip to the park or beach, I frequently find that this is not enough, and if I can keep them occupied for a whole day, I am happy to pay an entrance fee, however, whilst Tropiquaria is something different to do, I think that trying to spend the whole day here is asking a bit much!
Tropiquaria zoo is just down the road from us, and is very easy to find. It is located between Watchet and Williton on the A39, which is the main road to Minehead, Somerset. It is easy to spot, as it is on the site of an old radio station, and so has huge masts which can be seen for miles. There is a large gravelled car park which is free, and we have never had a problem finding a space.
*Entry prices and opening hours*
In 2009, Tropiquaria is open daily from 28th March to 9th November from 10.30am - 5pm. From 22nd July to 1st September, it is open from 10am - 6pm. I can imagine that the seasonal opening hours are mainly due to the nearby Butlins. A lot of the local tourist attractions cannot rely on locals alone, so when there isn't the passing traffic for Butlins, it mustn't be cost effective to stay open.
The entry cost for adults is £7.50, children, students and OAP's are £6.50, or you can get a family ticket (two adults and two children) for £25. Being a local, I often find money off vouchers in local publications, and also in letters that come home from school. I always use these, and I have never paid the full entry fee, and to be honest, I would be reluctant to pay the full price as we have never spent more than four hours here.
I think that calling Tropiquaria a zoo, is somewhat misleading. I would rather call it a park, as there really are not that many animals here. Outside there are a couple of peacocks roaming around, and a parrot which never seems to move! There are several more aviaries with birds in, but a few of them are always empty. There are Emus in the middle paddock, which live alongside wallabies that have been known to escape and hop happily around the local villages! Lemurs, Meerkats, and Tapirs can be seen in the paddock and there are two mischievous gibbons who seem to enjoy entertaining! You can easily see all of the animals outside within twenty five minutes, even if you walk slowly! Although the animals outside do not look uncared for, they also do not seem to be thriving, and their accommodation is all a bit shabby.
The "Tropical hall" inside is a lot more interesting. It is described as in indoor jungle, but that might be an optimistic description! There is the damp, humid atmosphere that you would expect from a place where lots of reptiles live, but a waterfall on one side creates a more refreshing area, and a stream running through the hall with fish in it is an attractive feature. Turtles, Tortoises, Lizards, Geckos, Caiman, Tarantulas and lots of varieties of snakes can all be seen. There are birds and butterflies flying around, and another motionless parrot! Regularly throughout the day, the keepers get some of the animals out of the enclosures to give you the opportunity for a bit of animal handling. I always make a hasty exit at this stage: snakes are fine to look at, but I don't want one around my neck, and if you put a spider in my hand, there is every chance that I will pass out!
Underneath the tropical hall, there is an "aquarium". Again, this doesn't take long to get around, and although there are lots of varieties of fish, spiders, snails and other insects, a lot of the tanks are so dirty that you can't see through the glass! There are good descriptions of what is in the tanks, but if you can't see anything, it can be a bit disappointing for the little ones!
*Shadow string puppet theatre*
An interesting addition to the animals is the shadow string puppet show. The shows are put on every hour, and you sit on tiered seating in a room that isn't much bigger than your average lounge. At the front there is a small stage, where one man puts on the show. It is really clever, and the children love it, but I find that as an adult, it can get a bit monotonous, and some of the puppets are quite freaky! The puppet master always seems miserable, as though he really doesn't want to be there, and he never says a word, just presses various buttons to operate recorded announcements, which seems silly when he is stood three foot in front of you!
Two large wooden Pirate ships are a relatively new addition, and they keep the children entertained for quite a while if the weather is decent. My children are older so play by themselves, but I would not be happy to leave a child under six roaming around alone, as there are some high drops. The whole flooring area is covered with sand, so spare socks might be a good idea!
There is a small outside activity area with a zip wire, swings and balance beams. It is always muddy here and probably best avoided with little ones at the start of your day if you want to keep them clean! There is a tiny electric car track, and hovercraft cars to ride on, but you have to pay extra for these, and they do not provide good value for money in my opinion.
Inside the barn, a large wooden fortress has been constructed with a ball pool, and a wood shaving floor, to make for a soft landing! This is in the same building as the cafe area, so the young ones can play whilst they are waiting for their food, or whilst you are stopping for a cuppa!
Although it is more cost effective to pack a picnic, sometimes I simply can't be bothered to make one and carry it around all day. There are plenty of tables available for picnics, both inside and out if you choose to, but there is also a reasonably priced cafe. The food is nothing fantastic, but it is fine for a one off. The usual chips, nuggets, sausages and burgers are available alongside jacket potatoes, sandwiches and pasties. There is quite a lot to choose from, the service is good, and it feels relatively clean. There are a couple of ice cream huts, but they have always been closed whenever we have visited. Toilets are located in the cafe building and also in the main hall: clean, but a bit shabby!
*Radio Museum and shop*
As I mentioned earlier, Tropiquaria is on the site on an old radio station, and so there is a small museum dedicated to old radio equipment and memorabilia. The children and I found this rather dull, but my husband loved it! It's all a bit dank, dark and dusty, but worth a look if you are into that sort of thing!
The shop has the usual gimmicky bit and pieces, but this is the only touristy place that I have ever visited where you don't have to go through the shop to get out! It really is optional, so if you don't want to be dragged into the "pleeeease can I have it" discussion, it is easy to skip!
And we're done! Overall, Tropiquaria is maybe trying to be something more than it is. I don't think that the site is big enough to keep you occupied all day, and the entry prices are slightly unjustified. Although it seems as though there is plenty to do, in reality it is quite disappointing, as each activity barely takes up much time. There is definitely something missing here, but if you can get a reduced entry price, it is worth a go if you are in the area with a spare few hours on your hands.
Family fun from outside play, indoor play castle, to a fantastic puppet show and don't forget the animals.