Zoos aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but we quite like them. Our latest visit was a great opportunity to talk conservation of animals with N as he was asking about why we had zoos. We had a spare day and I was looking for something to do outdoors to make the most of the outdoors and some of the only sun on my week off work. After comparing Whipsnade and Dudley Zoo, I decided that Dudley was better value and hopefully a shorter drive. Plus there’s a castle!
Dudley Zoo was easy to find, well sign posted once you get near the area, and there’s a good size car park. It is barrier controlled with a £3.50 day charge, but that’s cheap compared to other zoos I’d been looking at and in line with parking in our town for a day. The entrance cost wasn’t bad either – we paid for the gift aid and voluntary charity £1 on top of the standard rate. With that we got a token each to decide what animals our funding went towards- I chose the chimps and N chose the tigers.
I liked that we didn’t have to pay for a map – they were definitely helpful to find our way around. The zoo is on a circular layout around the central castle, with 3 levels and areas to walk around. There are quite a few steps and a few very steep areas that they recommend shouldn’t be used by pushchairs and wheelchairs. There is a land train that goes around the site from bottom to top if you would rather not walk. There’s also a single chair lift for going up and down the first hill.
Dudley zoo has all the animals you’d expect to see. From monkeys to big cats, birds to reptiles, we had plenty to see.
Being a warm sunny day did mean that many of the animals weren’t out ‘performing’, they were preferring to sun bathe or sleep inside out of sight. But we still saw the animals we wanted to see.
The best were the tigers prowling around, and we had a fun time holding our ears, watching and listening to a very chatty gibbon up a tree while its friends looked on and pretty much ignored it.
Throughout the day, the zoo also have feeding of different animals that you can watch. We just missed the sealions, and didn’t make any others, but you can easily go from one to the next. There are also various talks by keepers around the site which looked quite interesting.
Having a castle (well, ruins) to explore and walk around gives something else of interest. You can go up in the battlements to walk round, and there’s a bar and café in one part. Unfortunately, even though it was school holidays, we didn’t find the café or bar open.
Inside the castle grounds, there are falconry displays that happen, and I noticed a bug session you could go to. N just wanted food by that stage, he wasn’t even bugging me to have a go on the bungee trampolines.
For food we had to go to the Oak Tree café. With a small sandpit and climbing frame, plus picnic benches, it was busy even just before midday. Luckily there was plenty of (dreary school dining) room style seating inside. Buying food was chaos and lengthy.
Confusingly there’s a hot food counters, and then a drinks counter for those just wanting hot or cold drinks. There were children’s lunchboxes costing around £5 for 4 items, although the choice wasn’t great – no crisps, just sandwiches, fruit, dried fruit and yoghurts. N ended up choosing a drink, yoghurt and 2 sandwiches. For sandwiches there were normal sandwiches and a couple of choices of toasted sandwich options, although the choice was severely limited even before midday. When I was asked whether they had any further sandwiches coming out I was told no, so my only choice (not liking horseradish) was a cheese and ham panini.
The queues for food were insane -they’d be better off having more service station style where hot food went to one place and anyone taking quick cold food can just pick up and queue to pay rather than having to wait for all the hot food people. We then had a nightmare because we’d ordered a milkshake which was made at the other counter. But the one person serving drinks had a big queue. 15 minutes later and her queue hadn’t gone down, so I decided to jump in and mention I was still waiting for my order with my cold toasted sandwich, and N halfway through his lunch in the seating area, sitting on his own waiting for me.
I’m not sure why this seemed to be the only place for food inside the main part of the zoo on a sunny summer holiday day, but in future I would definitely take a picnic or just have a snack and eat elsewhere.
Our final walk was down to the chimpanzees, camels, past the (locked up) playground, and down to the fun fair. N was allowed 4 tokens (£1 each), and was able to choose his rides. He chose a ‘balloon’ ride which he loved controlling his rotation, and a Planes ride. He and another 2 children had to sit there for ages because one family sat their kids in a plane before buying tokens to ride, then ambled off to buy some leaving their children sitting on the ride. I can’t believe the guy thought that was reasonable. If the children had got off the others could have had their ride while they waited for the father to return. Eventually he came back with no tokens, but still didn’t get the children off. Eventually I got a bit arsy (N kept asking why we were having to wait), and the girl running the ride asked the mum to get them off so she could run it. What a pain.
Our final stop was the refreshments stall for ice cream. I’d not realised there was a stall there when we arrived but it was good to see an alternative. Not so good to see they had no ice cream machine. Thankfully the gift shop had a few so we were able to have a treat before we left. There’s also a pretty good playground by the shop too, although N didn’t fancy a play as it was quite busy.
As we were leaving, even though it was nearing 3pm, there were plenty of people still arriving. Dudley Zoo is obviously a popular place, and we certainly enjoyed out day there. For the money it cost, it’s somewhere we’d return to.
Which zoos are on your list of places to visit?