Last week I received an email from Moneysupermarket in conjunction with Tots 100 confirming we were receiving tickets for Britains Best Day Out. Our first choice family attraction was awaiting us. With Ross needing a well-earnt break from his work and a planned visit from my niece, Emily, on Friday we diverted to the wilds of Regents Park and a trip to ZSL London Zoo..
We travelled up by train to avoid the traffic and collected our tickets from the admissions desk. Inside we were greeted with a familiar site. The statue of Guy the Gorilla. Memories of visiting London Zoo when I was a child were jogged and I felt nostalgic. I wanted my family to have a day to remember, like I had when I was a child. So what better place to start than Gorilla Kingdom?
The girls noticed some climbing apparatus where you could have a go at mimicking a gorilla! Then, the weighing scales, where it took all of us to climb on and beat the weight of one of these fully-grown creatures. After this, we came face to face with Zaire the gorilla, whose favourite snack was popcorn. After saying hello to monkeys who also occupied Gorilla Kingdom, it was on to the Amphitheatre.
We took our seats at the very back, awaiting Animals in Action, a show displaying skills of some small animals and birds. We made a start on our picnic but it wasn’t long before a polite announcement asked us to put our food away. There was panic as Emily and Grace thrust their sandwiches toward me! The show had begun. Greedo the vulture, Bob the burrowing owl and Elton the spectacled owl all had the audiences ducking as they swooped over head.The girls were scared but excited by this informative and upclose animal encounter.
Next, Penguin Beach. This was one of three magical events of the day. The girls were carrying a stick each. There was a bubble window for an underwater view of the birds transformation into graceful creatures as they entered the water. Emily and Grace both spent a lot of time ‘playing’ with one of the penguins as he played ‘follow the stick’. They took this away as one of the main memories of the day.
The second magical event was Butterfly Paradise. A walk through a giant inflatable caterpillar populated by a variety of beautiful moths and butterflies. So many colours flew around our heads as we walked. Approaching the end, we noticed giant colourful leaves attached to the trees. We were intrigued. A helpful guide called Maureen was on hand to answer questions. She explained they were Atlas moths and some of them had damaged wings because these beautiful creatures only lived for about a week. Ross quipped ‘Well I certainly wouldn’t be wasting it hanging around on a tree!’ As we moved on, we once again felt like we had been a little bit educated.
Passing the flamingoes and pelicans, moving onto the lions and up to the Animal Adventure – an area designed by kids for kids. The girls enjoyed swinging on the ropes. They crawled along a small tunnel and popped up in a bubble inside the enclosures for a close-up view of the meerkats and aardvarks. Amongst the climbing we found time for a chocolate muffin each, and then it was on to ‘Meet the Monkeys’.
We were got up close to the very cute squirrel monkies – or as one young lady quipped ‘they look cute but evil’! As we came to the end of the enclosure, we heard a shout from one of the guides. A young girl was carrying around a rather sticky, yet inviting, lolly and the monkeys had it in their sight!
We continued around the zoo, taking in each enclosure we passed, the girls excitedly moving on from one animal to the next. As we did, Ross and I wondered what these creatures must have made of us staring out at us from their homes.
Our third memorable magical experience was at Rainforest Life, a living rainforest where periodically they spray a warm mist to emmulate the natural habit for the creatures living there. We saw piranhas which fascinated the girls – and they weren’t too keen on obliging when Ross offered them a swim in their tank! As we turned a corner, very literally over our heads was a sloth! She really was a sight to behold. Every movement made was slow and deliberate. All four of us had ever only seen these creatures on TV so were delighted to be so close.
All too soon it was time for that visit to the gift shop via the exit. We had already confirmed to the girls their spending limit. I was pleased to find very reasonable prices. The girls made their choice and went to join Ross. I added an extra something – a penguin beach pencil each, something they could use next time they wanted to conduct a penguin dance in the water!
Sitting on the floor of the packed train, tired but happy, we revisited our favourite memories but it was the car journey back that really hit home. I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw tears on Grace’s face. I asked her what was wrong and she said ‘Mummy, I would really love to go back to London Zoo one day. I hope it isn’t as long for me as it was for you’.
We would certainly recommend ZSL London Zoo as one of Britain’s Best Days Out. Many memories can be made – and re-made – there. It’s fun, educational and there is something for the kids (big and small!) round every corner. It’s well sign-posted and caters for all types and ages of family, including those with special needs. I notice that they have Special Childrens Day on 18th and 19th May 2013, and hope to return with my nephew.
Our verdict? A massive ten out of a possible ten!