This February half term was so much colder than last year. Last year we were in gorgeous warm sunshine in the New Forest. This year, freezing at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. We decided on Whipsnade over Wooborn Safari because I didn’t want to risk my car, and then N decided he didn’t want to go in to enclosures with animals even being in a vehicle. But after the experience at Whipsnade, the safari park would have been a better option.
I think we chose the coldest day of the year so far. I knew it was due to rain around 1 o’clock, but given our experience of other zoos, we’ve been able to get around them fairly quickly before taking a bit more time to go back to see certain animals again. I hadn’t counted on Whipsnade being as big as it is.
Whipsnade ticket prices
ZLS Whipsnade Zoo is pricy. Without the gift aid (I hate when they add it on top when others just claim back the gift aid on the cost) it was £25.45 for me and £18.50 for N. Under 3s get in free, and if you pay in advance there’s a couple of pounds discount. You can also pay to drive into the park, rather than parking in the free zoo car park just outside the gates.
At £25 driving in is expensive, however after walking a long way over a couple of hours and not getting round much of the zoo, I know why people would pay it. Rather than parking in one car park, you drive around from one area to the next. I presume the high cost is to put off too many people in the summer from wanting to drive in, but if you’ve elderly people or young children out of pushchairs, it’s worth paying. A bus did pass us once as we walked round, so I’m presuming that’s a free get on/get off bus, but I only saw one bus stop and couldn’t see any times on it.
Whipsnade is massive. It’s really spread out – my Fitbit counted 16k steps from 10-12.30 and we only got round most of Asia and a bit of Africa areas. That was probably less than half of the site before it rained and we’d got sick of being too cold and not really seeing many animals for the walking we did. It’s certainly a zoo for a nicer day because it’s quite exposed.
You’re given a map and there’s plenty of signs around the place, but I did find it hard to follow where we were heading and where we wanted to go. It would be nice if there was a trail, like footsteps or a coloured line on the ground for different routes around the zoo.
There’s a large playground near the farm area, where you can spot animals roaming around which was a bit of a novelty. The playground was the best thing about our visit, despite N slipping over into the icy mud about 15 minutes after we’d arrived.
This isn’t far from the main hub area which has the steam railway station, the picnic marquee, the plus soft play with a takeaway café and coffee stand inside. The soft play books up quickly especially on a cold day and then there’s no seating left, so if you buy food from there you need to eat it in the picnic area.
The restaurant is only a little way away although this seemed to be focused on hot food (and on the day we were there, they were taking bookings. I don’t know if this is normal, but there really weren’t many places to eat, and the food choice was limited so if you can take a picnic – there are outdoor and an indoor eating area. There are some individual kiosks dotted around, but in winter it was limited to a coffee stand as far as we saw.
The animals were split into geographic locations, so Asia, Europe and Africa plus the butterfly house which was near the hub area. There was plenty to see in the butterfly house and it was nice to be out of the cold. We did enter it by what looked like a back door so I’m not sure if we were meant to go in that way. I think better signage for entrances would be good.
Being so cold, not many of the animals we saw were outside. Luckily when they’re indoors we could get up close.
We were lucky that the tiger was outside although hiding in a corner behind several lots of wire. The rhinos were outside and up quite close, but we didn’t get round to the lions and nothing was happening in the meerkats enclosure.
The pelicans were hiding behind a grassy slope but N was intrigued by the birds who were standing on top of the icy water.
Disappointingly the elephants weren’t in their indoors enclosure. They’d been turned out while the keepers were sorting out their food. We could see them outside, but against, big fence poles meant you couldn’t see much take decent photos.
With the giraffes we could get really close to them from the viewing gallery. As well as seeing the animals there were plenty of educational resources lining the walls and on the platform, although we didn’t see many of these elsewhere in the zoo apart from the butterfly house.
The zebras were also inside. But this was fine because they were literally the other side of the glass, and not phased at all by all the humans coming inside to see them out of the cold. Selfie with a zebra = zelfie.
We usually like watching the flamingos, but again they were indoors. Still nice to watch and much closer than if they’ been out, but not as nice as seeing them outdoors.
N decided it was going to be too cold to go on the steam train and all the time we were there we didn’t actually see it running although we did hear the horn. It was hard to work out where the entrance was, and although the map suggested there might have been a shop/refreshments at the station, when I asked in the soft play where there were places to eat, that wasn’t mentioned.
He refused to walk up to see the chimps before we left, and didn’t want to walk through the lemur enclosure, so we headed off back to check in to the hotel.
We’re usually pretty hardy, but ZSL Whipsnade was just too cold for us on the day we visited. I’m sure in the summer months when you can arrive early and spend all day there, taking a picnic, then it’s much better value for money. But over £40 for 2 people to spend nearly 3 hours there and not get to see much, wasn’t worth it for me.
Top tips if you want to visit
- Pay in advance online
- Take a picnic – the choice isn’t massive and it seemed there was only 1 fairly small restaurant, a take away servery in the soft play building, and a limited choice café in the visitors centre.
- If you’ve injuries, people who can’t walk far, youngsters, are older, or just lazy, stump up the £25 to drive in. It will make it easier. But by parking outside, you will save money and hit your daily step limit by miles.
- Decide up front your route and what you want to see. You don’t want to be ambling round and having to backtrack if you miss something.
- Arrive early because even in February on a cold day there was a queue for entry tickets, and the car park was rammed when we left.
Have you ever been to Whipsnade zoo? What tips would you have for going out of season?
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