Out of all the animals to capture the imagination of young children, it’s the large mammals. Lions, hippos, tigers, bears, elephants and others feature highly in children’s books are when a visit to the zoo is mentioned, they come at the top of the request list. Happily there’s a space not far out of London where the big animals roam free (well relatively, depending on their level of ferocity). We’d been to Whipsnade once before, which isn’t too far from us, but this was our first visit with Tilly. Offering soft play and a playground as well as an amazing array of animals, we were keen to get stuck in.
We arrived just after opening time and being during the summer holidays the car park was filling up quickly, although there’s no shortage of overflow space. Although there is the option of driving around the site itself, on this occasion we wanted to see it all on foot. Tilly was a touch grumpy from the journey so we let her choose the animals we saw first and headed for the bear who was just being given his breakfast, along with the wolverines and monkeys.
From there we headed to the edge of the park for the penguins and a spectacular view of the local countryside towards Ivinghoe Beacon (a favourite walk of mine) and beyond into Buckinghamshire. Tilly was entertained by the reindeer before we popped into the Outlook Cafe for a break, opposite the white rhinos.It then became difficult to know which way to head first to take in all of Tilly’s favourites. We set off on what was something of a wildlife ‘who’s who’: Hippos, cheetahs – check, back round to the lions and meerkat, not forgetting the giraffes, zebra and flamingo. (The Hippo area was a particular hit.) By this point Tilly was flagging so we headed to the central cafe for her nap, some lunch and to plan the afternoon.
There were a few more ‘must see’ animals still on the list so we headed straight for the tiger, which was conveniently being fed, before heading on to the elephants (alas only one was around), taking in camels and yaks on the way, which are rather more numerous. Then it was time for play. Like many good destinations, small visitors are well served by both indoor and outdoor play areas. The main climbing frame in the playground was too large for Tilly, although will probably be fine by the time she’s three. Similarly in the soft play, we started in the infant’s play zone, although Tilly couldn’t be kept away from the larger frame and was holding her own with the older children by the end of the session.
Whipsnade is huge and it would take an older child than 2-year-old Tilly to hope to get around it all. However this is fine, as there’s plenty left to see on the next trip – the train, birds, sea lions, wild boars and taking the car around the passage through Asia open area being among them.
Facilities are good, clean and well distributed around the park, which is pleasantly walkable. Animal enclosures are spacious and animals look to be comfortably at home in their surroundings. If there were any criticisms, they’d be that the modern shop at the entrance was oddly cluttered in its layout and that more of the wasp catchers around the site might have been useful in the outdoor cafe area.
Tickets cost £22.70 for adults with under 3s being free, which is welcome. Prices look to be competitive with other zoos. I know of several people who ask for Whipsnade season passes for Christmas and I can easily see why, as there’s plenty to keep coming back for. I might well add it to our Christmas list too for that matter…
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