Chester Zoo review - A review by a family

by DannyUK

Two adults, six children aged between 6 and 12, and several hours to kill. What do you do?

Last weekend the girlfriend and I decided that it was time for our two sets of kids to meet. Chester Zoo was chosen as our day out and so we began.

A long distance relationship doesn’t lend itself to the normality of life, and this was no exception. With a boot full of pillows and duvets, I loaded my four kids into the car on Friday night and made the drive from Essex to Liverpool for the weekend. The A12 was closed, the M1 and M6 had various problems, and almost six hours after we started out, we finally arrived at our destination. The kids were well behaved on the journey, and settled down quickly in the beds that the girlfriend had made up in her spare room.

The entrance to Chester Zoo (picture taken, with thanks, from thorntonfirkin.com

The entrance to Chester Zoo (picture taken, with thanks, from thorntonfirkin.com

We’d promised that we would be going to the zoo the next day, and after breakfast we bundled everyone in two cars and drove the thirty minute or so journey to Chester Zoo.

Being a Saturday in Winter, the zoo is only open from 10am to 4pm, and we made sure we got there shortly after opening to make the most of it. Armed with a packed lunch we made our way to the ticket office to get tickets. As with most places these days, Chester Zoo offers a family ticket to save money, but again as with most places it assumes that the only family you can have is two adults and two kids, and no other combination (which as a dad of four, frustrates me).

Still, based on a ticket price of £14.50 per adult and £11 per child, the family ticket saves £5.50 which isn’t to be sniffed at. The total cost for all eight of us was £89.50, which is as cheap as it can be for that amount of people, given that we went in what the zoo considers “Low Season”.

The same price in “High Season” would be a staggering £115, and these are the “standard” price rather than the higher “Donation” price that is also on offer. Once through the doors, the zoo is extremely well laid out and signposted. Almost immediately the elephants are visible and there’s a few fairly logical ways to get around without retracing your steps.

Chester Zoo is said to be the most visited wildlife attraction in Britain, and it’s easy to see why. The range of animals on display is amazing, totalling over 440 species, and there is plenty of space for all of the animals to roam around, which is something that my 11 year old daughter was especially pleased about.

As well as the standard layout you’d expect to see with animals roaming in their own sections, the zoo has a dedicated Wet Weather Trail which allows a decent (and dry) visit even in the worst weather, though fortunately, despite being cold, the rain held off and we didn’t end up using the trail.

My expectations of zoos were shattered, given that I’d only ever really thought of them in terms of the big animals (lions, tigers and bears – oh my!), but on entering the Fruit Bat Forest, a darkened warehouse with bats flying freely around your head, I was reminded that zoos have moved beyond my “animals behind bars” image preconception.

Despite the name, we quickly rechristened the bat enclosure as the Bat Cave, which in turn led to me muttering “I’m BatDan” in a low gravelly voice, more than once as we wandered through. My preconception mistake was later enforced by a visit to Tropical Realm, which houses free-flying birds and tropical plants, and the Butterfly Journey which is essentially a large, heated butterfly warehouse.

All in all the entire day was a success. We stopped after a couple of hours to have some food, and I was grateful that there was picnic areas which were free to use so that we weren’t forced (or co-erced) into buying food on site. The kids all had a great time, and the five hours or so that we spent there shot by in a flash.

I asked my kids for some feedback on the day, and once we got past the normal responses (“I liked the ham sandwiches” and “I liked where we parked in the car park”), I found that my 11 year old daughter enjoyed seeing the monkeys, but disliked the butterflies because it was so warm in there and they looked really horrible (which is really saying something given that she has seen me get out of bed at 6am before).

My 9 year old daughter’s favourite part was the leopards, though she disliked the bat cave as the bats would brush past our heads as we walked through.

My 7 year old son simply said that he liked the monkeys, though I think he quite enjoyed a day out with my girlfriend’s kids, who are a year older and younger than him, though he certainly enjoyed the Mongoose Mania area where the kids were able to run into tunnels and pop their heads out of domed viewing areas, which my girlfriend’s kids cited as their favourite part of the day.

The girlfriend, in the interest of balance, said that her preferred sections were the big cats and the bat cave, though I believe the latter is solely down to my impressions.

The day finished with a trip on the in-zoo Monorail, which has two stations, and two trips that can be made between the two. This was an additional cost of £2 per adult and £1.50 per child, which I think is a little excessive given the cost of getting in, though it didn’t stop the four carriages being full (meaning a good twenty plus people all making the five minute or so journey). We travelled from Jubilee Square station to Monkey Island station, jumping off and visiting the meerkats before heading for home. Simples.

If Alfred Hitchcock had been a giraffe... (image taken from the @chesterzoo_no1 Twitter page, with thanks)

If Alfred Hitchcock had been a giraffe… (image taken from the @chesterzoo_no1 Twitter page, with thanks)

In summary: The positives:

  • It’s a full day out. Even if you choose not to stop for food, and miss some of the animals or exhibits, you can still spend several hours looking around.
  • There are free picnic areas throughout the park, all of which have picnic tables to sit on, and though there is food available to purchase, I didn’t notice any signs saying that only food bought at the zoo could be consumed there, which makes a nice change.
  • There are family tickets available. I’ve already bemoaned the lack of flexibility in the ticket price (Personally I’d love to see Chester Zoo offer a “large family” ticket, but that’s not a view that concerns only the zoo), but at least there is some discount available.
  • The zoo is well sign posted. No matter where we were, it was always easy to see which way to head to see whichever animal we wanted to visit next.
  • There is an excellent conservation program in place, and details of the various projects are on display as you make your way around the zoo.
  • Lots of staff on hand who are knowledgeable and willing to chat about the animals.
  • There are animal adoptions available from £50, which gives a couple of free tickets to the zoo, valid in the life of the adoption, though I can’t seem to find how long the adoption lasts on their website.

But for all the positives there are naturally some downsides too. The negatives:

  • There is so much in the zoo that has an extra cost. The monorail and waterbus both cost extra per person, and although many of the food huts were shut when we visited, I can imagine that during the Summer there are constant adverts and reminders for food, drinks and treats, all of which make the day even more expensive.
  • The zoo is becoming very commercialised, according to my girlfriend who has visited the zoo dozens of times over the past thirty or so years.
  • There are no llamas! (Honestly, I was gutted!)

Given the chance, I think we would all jump at the opportunity to visit Chester Zoo again, though unfortunately the sheer cost of getting in makes the visit to the zoo an occasional treat rather than a regular visit, though the fact that annual memberships are available means that if you were going to visit more than three or four times in the year, you’d save money (with the cost for the eight of us, based on an annual membership for two adults and four kids at £258, plus an additional £80 for two additional junior memberships which is the cheapest way of doing it, being a total of £338, compared to the one-off visit cost of £89.50).

My favourite part?  Well, apart from getting to spend some quality time with my kids, my other half and her kids, it has to be seeing the giraffes.

I don’t ever recall seeing a giraffe close up before, and I never knew how vivid their colouring was, or the presence they had.

The official Chester Zoo website can be found at http://www.chesterzoo.org
The official Chester Zoo Twitter page is @ChesterZoo.
The official Chester Zoo Facebook page is here.
The official Chester Zoo Google Plus page is here.

Disclaimer – this is an independent review, all words and opinion about Chester Zoo are my own (or the kids!). No payment or gift was received in lieu of this review.

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