Next week LSH and I celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary. In the old days this would have meant that this weekend was spent in a spa hotel or a pub with log fires. The Terrorists, however, do not appreciate the finer points of either of these activities, so when we said we would have a special day to celebrate and we would do it as a family we ended up deciding that our celebration would be a day at London Zoo!
It might not be everyone’s idea of a fun celebration, but with the sun finally out in London we were pretty excited. The Bear had chosen to bring Baby Oo Oo (his cuddly gorilla) so the second we were through the gate he was adamant that our first port of call would be the gorillas (Gorilla Kingdom) to show him his Mum (we read far too much Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson in our house – a lovely book if you have never read it). The Gorillas and the Tigers (Tiger Territory) are two of the big ticket items so these are well worth doing early before the crowds arrive and we had an awesome 30 minutes with them largely to ourselves.
Bollie is a huge penguin fan so next stop was Penguin Beach where she stood pressed up against the glass and roared (she roars at everything and everyone at the moment!) at each one that swam past. This is a new facility and it is fantastic as you can see the penguins both over and under water.
The Terrorists tend to love any opportunity to get close to the animals (ideally without any glass in the way) so we end up spending a lot of time in the huge butterfly tent (Butterfly Paradise) and the rainforest room (Rainforest Life). The best ‘without glass experience’ (or at least The Bear’s favourite) is in the far corner of the zoo and is called ‘Meet the Monkeys’. This is an enclosure where 22 super active squirrel monkeys roam free. There are strict instructions about not taking food in (there were some crumbs in the bottom of my bag and within seconds a monkey had jumped over onto my arm to check it out!) and buggies need to be left outside but otherwise you are free to wander around. You are politely asked not to get too close (there are several keepers in there to control both humans and monkeys!) but the monkeys are by no means shy and are often within a couple of metres of you, chasing one another and swinging over you in the trees. It is a great experience for toddlers (and grown ups!) and we were there for 45 mins.
We then had another hour or so of wandering around, checking out lions (they are really easy to see and always seem to be asleep on a big central viewing platform), hippos, giant ancient tortoises, a Komodo dragon and flamingos (a list once again defined by The Bear who decided, with some determination, that he absolutely did not want to see giraffes today).
We had hit lunch time so we headed to the main restaurant (the Terrace Restaurant) where we grabbed a table outside in the sun. The Terrorists both tucked into their zoo themes Yumboxes (see www.yumbox-uk.co.uk for more information) and LSH treated me to an anniversary lunch of chicken curry! The food options are plentiful and the standard is really very good for buffet style catering but the prices are high (about £8 – £10 a meal) so we have determined on our next visit that we will all have a Yumbox!
There are almost always special seasonal events on throughout the zoo and there is a whole itinerary of opportunities to see feeding / learn more about specific animals etc. The Terrorists are just too young to be interested for long but the shows (or at least the bits I caught before chasing after a bum shuffling Bollie) are really well put together and interesting. There are also some great play areas as well as a petting zoo but The Terrorists are a bit young, and it was a bit cold, so the focus remained (thankfully!) on animals for the day.
Post lunch we did a final lap of the bird enclosures and a quick trip round the huge aquarium (a bit dingy and definitely my least favourite bit of the zoo) before calling it a day and heading home. You have to pass through the (very well stocked) gift shop to leave but luckily they do 2 packs of stickers for a £1 so we managed to leave with everyone happy (although Bollie had managed to drop hers before we reached the car as she was sound asleep!)
Top Tip – as with most of London’s top attractions is gets very busy by 11.00 so it is worth arriving by 10.30 (it opens at 10,00).
Time to visit – we didn’t even see half of what is on offer in our half day so this is definitely full day’s activity
Highlights – LSH says the Tigers and the Gorillas, The Bear says Meet the Monkeys, Bollie (if she could speak!) would probably say Penguin Beach and Butterfly Paradise and I would say the Victorian clock by the Blackburn Pavilion (which puts on a fabulous mechanical display on the hour and half hour) as well as the cake selection in the cafe!
Getting there – London Zoo is within walking distance of Camden Town and Regent’s Park stations and short bus ride from Baker Street station. It is a bit of a pain to access via public transport from South-West London so we usually drive (30 mins to get there and 45 mins to get home). There is a car park attached to the zoo £14.50 for the day (though free to members in non-peak times). As it was a Sunday, LSH and I drove and parked a 2 min walk away on Prince Albert Road where parking is free (it’s a yellow line) on Sundays
Pushchair access – everywhere is very pushchair friendly with lots of ramps. Meet the Monkeys and a couple of the other animal enclosures do make you leave pushchairs outside but provide places to do so
Price – this is I think is the biggest drawback. It is very expensive (especially if your kids are over 3 as they cease to be free then). Adults are £21 and kids (over 3) are £16.50. There is a small discount if you book on-line in advance and annual memberships are available (worth doing if you plan to go more than 4 times a year). The best value deal I have found is this one where you buy one ticket and get another free so long as you have a valid train ticket for the day you visit (see website for more details) http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/zsl-london-zoo?gclid=CPKG9rv80LwCFUQUwwodsyEAnQ
Food and Drink – there is the main Terrace Restaurant plus a couple of other cafes and snack stalls. As I said above, the food is very high quality and there is great variety but it is expensive and the Terrace does get very busy at lunchtime. There are plenty of picnic tables but these are all outside
Other attractions nearby – The zoo is in Regents Park which is one of London’s top parks and well worth a visit. Given how much there is to do in the zoo though you are unlikely to have spare time on your hands
Baby facilities – there is plenty of baby change (in both the male and female toilets which makes a pleasant change!) and lots of cafes (with highchairs) and benches for feeding babies. There are also microwaves in the Terrace Restaurant for heating food and bottles
Website – http://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/