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Imagine a Zoo.. Now Imagine Whipsnade!
Whipsnade Wild Animal Park (Bedfordshire)
Member Name: hayley_dl
Whipsnade Wild Animal Park (Bedfordshire)
Date: 12/04/11, updated on 12/04/11 (330 review reads)
Advantages: animals well looked after, actually get inside enclosure, good food, pretty location
Disadvantages: not the cheapest day out, but worth it in my opinion
I'm going to start this review by asking you to do a little work, nothing too taxing so don't worry! I want you to picture a zoo, really imagine what you think of a zoo to be like.
Now, if you're anything like me you'll have pictured an area with animals all behind bars, your view of them obscured by glass, chicken wire or something else to prevent you getting a good look at the animals. The zoo itself won't be too big, sure there's plenty of room for the animals but nothing really else except possibly a café or two where you can pick up a snack. Now forget that whole image! Whipsnade is a zoo in a league of it's own and I'm about to tell you why. First things first though..
Whipsnade is a Zoo in Bedfordshire, Dunstable to be precise. The postcode, for those of you with sat navs, is LU6 2LF. It is also very helpfully clearly signposted from all major roads and junctions 9 and 12 of the M1, by road signs with a picture of an elephant.
There are also buses (X31 every day except Sunday and 161 or 60 on Sundays and public holidays) from Luton and it's a 20minute taxi journey from Luton and Hemel Hempstead train stations. Whilst this does seem a lot more hassle then just going by car it does entitle you to discounted entry. More on this later.
Unfortunately, like all zoo's now, this isn't cheap to get into!
The prices vary depending on what time of year you go. Unfortunately I can't see the prices after July 2011 as these are not listed on their site. However, the most you can expect to pay for entry between now (April 2011) and 31st July are:
Adult - £19.50
Child - £15.00
Concessions - £18.00
Or, if you buy online an online saver is available. This entitles either two adults and two children or one adult and three children entry for 10% less then the price at the gate.
These prices include a £1.80 donation towards to zoo's conservation work. However if you'd rather not pay this you can request to have it removed and this will not affect your right of entry or anything else. It is a voluntary donation but automatically added on unless you request it to be removed.
Disabled adults or children are entitled to free entry for a carer.
If you go by bus or train there is a voucher that can be printed off (http://www.intalink.org.uk/default.asp?contentID= 657) that will allow 2 for 1 entry when presented with your bus or train ticket. It also allows you to save on the car parking prices.
If you do choose to go by car you have two choices: park your car in the car park. In which there are plenty of spaces and will cost you £4.00 a day; or take your car into the Zoo which costs £17.00 on top of admission but allows you to see more then you would have without your car.
Those of you with a Blue Badge can either get free parking (there are allocated disabled places in the 'lion' area of the car park) or free car admission to the park.
The opening time is always 10, closure is between half four and six depending on what time of year you go. Last admission is one hour before closing and the park is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day).
Enough Already.. What About Inside?
We arrived at 12 and didn't even see half of it so I would highly recommend you get there as it opens to make the most of your day. However, this gives you an idea of the amount of animals there and gives you a good idea of the fact that I would be here for the rest of time if I tried to let you know about the animals I did see, never mind all those I didn't!
As you enter the zoo you will be given a map of the zoo, even with this we managed to get confused so I would highly recommend making use of this! It also tells you the times of all talks and demonstrations available. These may vary but on the day we went they were:
* Lemur Breakfast: Since this is a breakfast it is early (10.45) we got to the lemur enclosure soon after entry so around 12:30 and there wasn't a lemur in sight! So I would recommend going to this if you want to see these wonderful animals.
* Birds of the World: There are three demonstrations a day. These are the typical birds of prey demonstrations you imagine including bald eagles, hawks and macaws (not a bird of prey I know). These birds are all doing things they are trained to do that usually imitate behaviours they would do naturally in the wild and all birds are flying free from chains, ropes etc.
* Bear Brunch Brain Tease: Again, as it's brunch it's early (11:45) so we missed it but it's advertised as an 'interactive quiz' and says that you can help feed them. (An explanation on how this is possible without getting eaten(!) later.)
* Sealion Splash: There are three of these displays a day. In the wild sealions are very active, acrobatic creatures jumping several feet into the air amongst other things. These displays are designed to show off these talents as much as possible and in my opinion is worth the entrance fee in itself!We went back to these wonderful creatures after a display and they still had access to their outside pool and were having fun playing with each other, so don't worry if you do miss these displays as just watching them play amongst themselves was a wonderful experience in itself.
* Supermarket Sweep: Don't ask me why this is called supermarket sweep! It's a talk about the chimpanzees at the zoo and the problems they face in the wild.
* Peckish Penguins: Penguin feeding, a keeper talks to you about the penguins and watch them be fed whole fish.
* Tigerrific Tigers: Pretty self explanatory! This is a talk about the tigers, the conservation work the zoo is doing and how you can get involved with this work. This is an especially interesting talk as you are actually in the enclosure with the tigers.
Besides all these animals there's also a Children's zoo where the children can get amongst the animals and touch them. There's a range of other animals, some native to here such as otters, llamas etc. Others non-native such as cheetahs and sloth bears.
The whole zoo is set within 600 acres of the Chiltern hills (information taken from http://www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo/) which provides some spectacular scenery to stop and just enjoy the views and some wonderful places to stop and have a picnic.
All the animals looked extremely happy and well cared for, they are actively breeding which is also reassuring as they wouldn't if they weren't happy with their surroundings. There are also certain animals such as Wallabys, Maras and Peacocks running wild around the park. You can get fairly close to these animals considering they are wild. This is also reassuring in regards to how well cared for the animals are because these animals could (in theory) just escape over the hills as there's nothing physical keeping them in the park - yet they choose to stay and breed (the wild wallaby's had babies)
I mentioned earlier that this zoo is unlike any others that I have been through before but haven't as yet explained why. This is because you are allowed to walk through several enclosures, the tigers and bears being two such enclosures. Usually these animals would be securely behind bars or glass which, whilst it makes sense from a safety point of view, it does prevent you getting a good look at the animals. However it works in this zoo because there are pathways quite a bit above the actual enclosure giving you a good look down on the animals. Obviously since tigers can jump there is still something between you and them but the whole walk through experience provides an experience completely different to any other I had experienced. It's also been very cleverly designed as although there are brick walls on the walkway above the enclosures there's carefully placed plastic (or glass) sections where children in pushchairs or adults in wheelchairs can look down on the animals without having to get in and out all the time.
As for taking cars in if you can afford this I would highly recommend it. There is a "passage through Asia", a safari that takes you round animals such as Axis deer, Yak's and Hog deer. Since this is a safari you cannot get round it on foot and therefore will miss out on this if you do not take your car in. Also, as mentioned above the zoo encompasses 600 acres. That's a long way to walk! However, there is a whole area inside the road way that circles the zoo that is not accessible by car and so you will have to walk around this but there is plenty of parking inside the zoo gates too so you will have no problem parking inside, walking around the foot paths, then returning to drive around the rest.
That said, if you don't want the extra expense or hassle of taking your car in but the thought of walking round that far is giving you a heart attack while you read this(!) the zoo has very helpfully thought of this too and provides a free shuttle bus with regular stops around the zoo.
Don't worry, even with all that exercise you won't get thirsty! There are huts regularly placed around the zoo in which there are hot and cold drinks and snacks available from vending machines.
There's also two café's which serve drinks, snacks and hot food. I wasn't too impressed with the first one - although it had spectacular views over the hills and into the village below. It had a very limited choice of food; namely fish and chips or nothing! However walking a little way around we found another equally well placed café with tables both inside and out. We chose out as it was a warm day and it had wonderful scenery with flamingos and other animals behind us.
The food is locally sourced, the meat comes from within 45 miles of the zoo and the fish is marine life certified. Meals are reasonably priced at around £8 to £10 for a full meal, salad bowls available from just under £5. The food is both fresh and well cooked. At this café there was a selection of cooked meals ranging from beef stew and roast dinner (meat varied - I had chicken) and fish and chips. There were plenty of veg included in the meal but a side salad can be purchased if desired. The quality was just as good as I would have expected from any local pub. If you still had room after your main meal there were a wide selection of puddings such as cakes, cookies and donuts.
We All Like Presents..
There is a gift shop by the entrance/exit. There is something for everyone in here including posters, stuffed toys and paint by numbers. Prices are reasonable, unlike most other places. In fact, there's a poster I was particularly interested in that was priced at £5. The producers name was included and I thought I could get it cheaper elsewhere. It's £1 more expensive to buy online then if I had just bought it at the zoo - I guess that's a reason to go back then!
Whipsnade is a part of ZSL and as such is a charity and is actively working to conserve animals in the wild.
By joining as a member of the zoo you can get unlimited free entry. There are a number of options available for this (single, joint etc.) so I won't go into each one but suffice to say that to make the joining fee worth it you will, on average, need to visit the zoo three times a year.
So.. Worth A Visit?
That's a resounding yes! I hated zoo's before I visited here. The image I painted at the start of this review should explain why, however this is nothing like that and is well worth a visit. It's an enjoyable day out for both kids and adults alike.
Summary: a good day out for kids and adults
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