Over the last year we’ve discovered a few successes with last minute decisions on places to visit. Over the holidays, I’d planned on taking N to London but he turned his nose up at that and refused to go. A nearby transport museum was refused as well. He decided he wanted to go to a zoo. Now, we’ve been to most of the zoos within a 1.5 hour radius from us, so it was going to have to be a safari park. I prefer to visit new places rather than returning to the same place over and over. And the nearest was West Midlands Safari Park.
I’d mentioned safari parks before and N wasn’t keen on them in case the animals came close. I didn’t want to go through monkeys with my nice car, but I wasn’t too worried about the rest. However, after a 50 minute drive and getting trapped in the queues to buy tickets on arrival, N was panicking and said he wouldn’t go into the drive through part. Er, stuck and yes we were for the money we paid.
Most tourist places seem to open at 10 o’clock, but West Midlands open at 9, so we’d arrived later than I’d planned (only having agreed at 9 where we were going!). The queues weren’t too bad, and like most people we drove straight in for the safari to avoid it being too busy.
Drive through safari
My experiences of safari parks in the past have been limited to Windsor Safari Park before it was Legoland. You had to keep driving, no stopping and certainly no feeding. West Midlands is different – obviously in some areas they don’t want you hanging around but there are no signs saying don’t stop, so people do. Even in the lions area. You can even feed the animals in the first areas – with some animals (including the zebras), coming right up to feed from your hands…and lick the cars.
We were moved through from one area to the next of the drive through safari well. With plenty of time to drive through and stop and take photos. I’d thought I’d be relying on N’s photography, but I did manage to take a few. Unfortunately my camera was playing silly with focusing, so had to switch to my phone halfway through.
If you didn’t want to drive through certain areas, you could divert, but it all felt very safe and secure with plenty of park rangers driving around. But there are no monkeys at this safari park so my car was safe!
The tigers were hiding so we only caught a glimpse of those and the giraffes were in their enclosure rather than out loose on the drive through. But we were able to see lions, elephants, camels and rhinos, as well as so many other animals in each area.
Considering N hadn’t wanted to go in the drive through, he loved it. He wanted to go straight back round again but the cars were building up. We decided we’d go and park and go into the other area of the park.
The great thing about West Midlands Safari park is that there’s so much to do. Not only the drive through safari, but also the food plaza, the discovery animal zones, dinosaur and the new Ice Age exhibit, as well as the rides. Without paying for the rides, there’s still plenty to see, although I’m not sure we’d have spent a full day there if we’d not done rides as well.
First thing was to get something to eat. There are several stands as well as some takeaways in the main plaza area. If you’re after healthy food, that’s not really available. It tends to be burgers, pizza and chips. In hindsight we should have taken a picnic as there was plenty of places to sit and eat just before you go into the leisure part of the park and it’s easy to pop in and out (unless you’re parked miles away which luckily we weren’t). It’s a bit of a trek to the toilets, so do make sure you go once you’ve parked (there are more toilets dotted around the park though.
As you first go into this area of the park, there’s several animals to check out. We spent some time watching the Humboldt penguins playing ball, and came back later to the sea aquarium and bats (not that you can see anything apart from black things flapping around you). The aquarium is tiny, so was disappointing, but a bit further into the park you can also see lorikeets and the reptile house. Unlike zoos or other wildlife parks, all of these buildings are quite small, but they’re just enough for young children.
The Land of the living dinosaurs and Ice Age exhibit are some of the best I’ve ever seen. With sounds and animatronic models, it does help bring those ages to life for children. N was happy enough walking round, through the ‘volcano’ and through the different periods of the ice age coming face to face with woolly mammoths before heading into the dinosaur park.
Of course N made a beeline for the fossil digging area. We had timed it well, just in time for the dinosaur keeper to come out and do his talk about some of the beasts, before they brought out the baby triceratops for children to meet. N didn’t want to meet her, so we just headed on through the other dinosaurs.
While we were there, there was also an Easter egg trail. It was a mystery where the trail started and where we could get the information for it from, because the eggs started near the entrance, but you didn’t find the ‘white rabbit’ and the trail start until you’d reached just before the rides area. The trail was free, you had to look out for specific eggs with animals on, and stamp the correct letter at each egg. Solve the anagram then get your prize of some mini eggs at the end. Unfortunately I managed to get N’s sheet wet and soggy after only one water ride, but we still worked out the answer and he was pleased to see there was a prize. It was nice to have a trail where you didn’t have to pay on top of entry – especially when it was quite pricy for tickets.
I’d not realised we’d have to pay extra for the rides, but I suppose it means they don’t get too busy with some people just doing the free areas. You can pay for individual ride tickets, or wristbands which work out cheaper (as long as you go on enough rides). Prices vary depending on child height and how many rides they can go on. N is over 1.2m so he could go on all but 2 rides, and the Twister he would have to be accompanied on if he’d gone on it. His cost around £10 and mine was £12, so it’s pricy if you’re paying for a whole family, but he went on about 10 rides and I did 8 so I think we did ok – much cheaper than going to the fair, and with much shorter queues (I think the longest was only 10 minutes for the roller coaster) than big theme parks, it’s not too bad a price.
There was a white water rapid (I seemed to get very wet – there are paid dryers but with great weather we dried off ok), and a flume ride. N was keen to have a go on the dolphin water shooter ride. Again, we got a tad wet, thanks to one girl the opposite side to us who had the most powerful water gun which reached us. Luckily each ride had a place you could leave bags, so at least they stayed dry. N loved the water rides.
We rode on some hippos and elephants, N tried the firefighter ride, and the big cats dodgems called. N got excited because the height measure had said that over 1.2m could drive the cars. But they need to correct that because N is well over that, but they wouldn’t let him drive because he couldn’t reach the pedal when sitting right back. Luckily he takes change in his stride and isn’t the type of child to kick off, but it would be nice if they got it correct.
N also wanted to go on roller coasters. We started off with the kids caterpillar version which was pretty tame, then N decided he wanted to try the Rhino coaster. I didn’t think it would be any worse than one he went on at Paultons Park, and he was certainly excited to be waiting. We ended up being sat near the back which isn’t the best in terms of being flung about more. And I’d not warned N about holding his head tight – he bashed his ear on the carriage being at just that height, so that really hurt all the way round. I thought he looked a bit sick, but afterwards he was fine, just with a throbbing top of his ear. Serious bruise arrived the next couple of days, poor thing.
As well as the rides, you could see the hippos lazing in the mud alongside. And for younger children there’s a Boj play area which was obviously very popular.
We did stop in to see the meerkats, and part of the lemur walk. It was so fun to see them in the trees, and just sitting there. They were almost chatting to each other as one was in the tree. Usually when we go on lemur walk throughs, they’re all hiding somewhere.
Ice creams were obviously essential before we left. N wanted to go back through the drive through safari again, but by that stage I wanted to get home and not get caught in the crowds as everyone left at closing time.
West Midlands Safari Park isn’t cheap. It cost £43 at the gate for 2 of us to get in. Then the ride wristbands on top of hat for another £25ish. With the main entrance ticket, you do get a free return ticket until the season close in Autumn, so if you can do that, it’s good value.
Helped by the great weather, we had a brilliant time at West Midlands safari park, and I’m sure we will be back, maybe with friends next time.
Are you a safari park fan? What’s been your experience?
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