As you know, dear readers, given the choice we would pretty much live at Whipsnade Zoo, we love it up there, it’s local, we have membership and it is somewhere we have been in every (and I mean, every – ok, except when the snow was so deep it was shut) weather and temperature. I was asked this week whether a day out at Whipsnade Zoo would be suitable for a 3 and a 5 year old (answer being a categorical “YES”) and subsequently promised to write a post about visiting the zoo – so here are my (as the Sealion Keeper would say with her fingers showing the inverted commas) “top tips” for a wonderful day at the Whipsnade.
How to Get To Whipsnade Zoo
The Zoo is about 15 minutes from Junction 9 on the M1 – possibly less if the traffic lights are in your favour. Find the directions here. There is a bus stop outside the Zoo but services are limited. You can pay to take your car into the Zoo itself (it’s not cheap but if you have small children, loads to carry round or little ones who won’t walk too far but refuse the pushchair I would say it’s worth it). There is ample parking for a small fee. If you visit after the end of October Half Term and before February Half Term it is free to take your car in.
How Much Are Tickets?
Children under the age of 3 go free. Other than that, ZSL operate seasonal pricing so it’s cheapest in the winter and most expensive in the summer holidays. There are frequently promotions that offer free entry, 2 for 1 or half price entry in the local press and on other websites. Save money by pre-booking your tickets on their website and there may be online offers there too. You can also exchange Tesco vouchers (other reward vouchers are available) for tickets. If you chose to become members on the day of your visit, the cost of your tickets that day is deducted from your membership fee. You need to visit the Zoo (either Whipsnade or London) 4 times a year to make your membership worth while.
When is Whipsnade Zoo Open?
In the summer, the Zoo is open from 10am until 6pm. Opening times vary by season and are affected by the clocks changing in the Autumn and Spring. In the Winter the Zoo is open from 10-4 and all year round, the last admission is 1 hour before closing time.
What Should I Take?
Whipsnade is wonderfully large, it’s also on the top of the Downs in the Chiltern Hills and very exposed. Expect it to be at least 2C cooler than the predicted temperature. It is seriously cold in winter (layers, lots of them) and gets icy far earlier than any towns do. The windchill factor can be a major impact on your day! In the summer, the breeze is often welcome but fools you into thinking it is cooler than it is – it is very easy to get sunburnt at the zoo!
Wear shoes that are easy to walk in and will be comfortable all day. There are areas of sand and gravel that can get into sandals and annoy small feet, equally you can suddenly be up to your ankles in mud (well, my kids can). Walking boots/trainers that sort of thing – not high heels (although many do!), new shoes or beloved party pumps.
There are ample facilities to purchase food and drink but equally, there are lots and lots of picnic places. We take our own food and drink most visits, sometimes buying an ice-cream (allow £2-£3 for an ice-cream). Cool boxes on wheels are a frequent sight – I spent last year taking a (very funky) shopping trolley round with all our drinks and food in. There is a bus service that runs around the zoo so if you’re planning on using that, make sure you take your ‘stuff’ in something that is easy to lift on and off.
Take your camera – from basking animals, elephants on their daily walk or just your children running the open space, there are a gazillion photo opportunities at Whipsnade.
Don’t take bikes – they’re not allowed. Scooters are kind of tolerated but make for a stressful experience for other visitors
The new indoor and outdoor play areas at Whipsnade are amazing. The soft play is a tad compact and as such has to operate a timed slots system – if you’re thinking of using the soft play while you’re there – go and book your slot as soon as you arrive – even if you want it for later in the day. Don’t forget socks for those who’ll be playing! My two are now 6 and 8 and rate the soft play because it has things “that are a challenge” – they also do an epic hazelnut syrup hot chocolate.
You can buy your train tickets at the gate and also at the shop located next to the station. The ride is worth it for the lovely views of the elephants, camels, Rhino and the wild deer that roam – bits that you wont’ see unless you’ve taken the car in. Generally you only do the train trip once!
ZSL is committed to both their conservation and breeding programmes. Sometimes this means that there are animals that you can’t see – for example, when we were up there last week, the Lynx were tucked away with their new triplets. You probably won’t spot them until mid-August or September, unless you’re there at the very end of the day.
Most (if not all) animals have access to their barns and enclosures during the day so have the choice of where to be – if the tigers aren’t in an outside mood, they won’t be visable. As much as you pay good money to see the animals, their welfare is the most important thing – and hopefully in the future there will be little stripy bundles of tiger to visit so if they want a bit of privacy…
I know I keep saying it but Whipsnade is a big place. You can ‘do’ the whole zoo in a day out but it can be hard going and I would really recommend, especially with little ones, that if they’re engrossed in watching a particular animal, go with it. They will remember the fun they had watching the penguins (or whatever) rather than being dragged off to look at a rhino.
Talks and Shows
The Hosts at the Zoo do a wonderful job throughout the day with talks, feeds and shows of the animals. The Sealion show is usually great fun – as they have young Sealions at the moment, their behaviour can sometimes be a little toddler-esque – if you sit in the blue areas you will get wet. We’d say the best veiw is about 8 steps up in the middle – looking directly at the stage.
The bird show is very much dependent on the wind (and weather) but if you fail to be awed by the sight of the macaws sweeping round above your heads, well, perhaps the zoo isn’t for you!
Occasionally there are opportunities for you (or your children, if you’re feeling generous, *ahem*) to feed the Wild Boar or the Bears – generally involving throwing fruit or veg to them. The boarlets don’t like shallots! Do remember though that many of the animals at the zoo are carnivorous so if you see the Wolverines being fed, it may well be a dead mouse or chick -if you’re not keen on this, look away! The chimpanzee feed is also great to watch – one of the older Chimps sits on her island and claps at the keepers until they throw her the fruit – in return the chimps have been known to lob a snowball back!
Food & Souveniers
There are a couple of shops at the Zoo who will happily sell you spare gloves or hats, cuddly animals, pencils, rubbers, t-shirts and a myriad of other ‘stuff’. These outlets also sell drinks, crisps, sweets and ice-creams. There are ample opportunities to purchase food – from hot dogs and sandwiches to a locally sourced sausage and mash (delicious, but expect to pay in the region of £8) in the Wild Bite Cafe.
Having such a wonderful Zoo as Whipsnade within reach is something I see as a privilege. It has enough space that even with 8000 visitors it doesn’t feel crowded, the opportunity to learn and observe some stunning animals and – in the most beautiful setting. It has space for your children to run (don’t mind the poo from the free roaming animals, children, and clothes wash), play and go “wow” We have seen 2 day old elephant calves, a zebra on the morning it was born and wallaby babies (joeys) popping their heads out their mummy’s pouch. I always see something new or different – or something that makes me smile. Take your time, dress for the weather, stay hydrated and marvel at the wonders of the natural world.
Just to be really clear, we pay for our own membership and I’ve written this as another blogger wanted to know about visiting. These are our views and top tips – if you do go, we hope you have a marvellous time.