Even in the winter months it is still possible to have some great family days out locally, and this weekend despite me having bronchitis and Daddy E and Roo getting over nasty colds we ventured out to West Midlands Safari Park just outside Kidderminster courtesy of moneysupermarket.com who had given us some family tickets as part of their Britain’s Best Days out campaign with Tots100.
We were lucky with the weather, the past two weeks had been absolutely horrendous with non stop rain and had put pay to most of our planned activities in December. The night before Daddy E and I made a picnic as we had been to West Midlands Safari Park before and had been unimpressed with the fast food and commercial eating options. We opted to make tuna salad wraps, turkey wraps, take our own crisps and fruit and drinks. The picnic cost us less than £10 to make for the three of us and had enough food to keep us going for the day.
The journey itself took no more than 40 minutes and even arriving at 1pm the park was quiet and we didn’t have to queue to get in. I had thought it might be quiet being the last weekend before the end of the Christmas holiday’s but it really was a joy to go straight through the gate and into the safari area. You are offered to purchase guide books at the gate which are a cost of £3.50 but we had kept ours from last time and doubted it had changed that much so kept our wallets closed at this point. The girl who took our tickets was polite and courteous but failed to offer us the chance to buy food for the animals (again at an additional cost) so this is part of the experience that Miss Roo missed out on much to her disappointment.
As you drive through the payment gates you have the choice of doing the drive round safari first or heading into the African Village and static attractions in Lost City Plaza. We opted to do the safari first as we could see several of the rhinos were out and about rather than in their pen and they are great to see on the plains so we wanted to catch these. Being quiet it wasn’t overcrowded driving round an we were able to take our time through the herds of deer and antelope, who even though we didn’t have animal food were keen to come and say hello and Roo loved being able to sit on my lap in the front and reach out and touch the animals as they came close.
We loved driving through all the antelope and black buck but were really intrigued to see the white tigers and lions as these are such beautiful creatures and most likely the closest we will ever get to seeing one in the wild. The white lions were enjoying some R&R but not up to much sadly but they still look so regal and magnificent even just lying quietly and many looked serene with their eyes shut on a cold winter’s day with a low sun in the sky. Miss Roo was enthralled by the cheetah’s – they were playing each other up and running along the fence and as we have a Bengal cat it reminded her of Miss Chi and she loved watching them. We got a really sneaky view of the new baby lions that had been separated from the main pride obviously to keep them safe and they were just too cute for words! The one shame is that with everything being behind such thick netting it can be difficult to see and with several of the cars in front of us bringing iPads and big cameras now to take photography shots it can be a bit of jostling game to get close to see the animals you want.
As we rounded the top of the reserve I was disappointed to see the giraffe’s weren’t out in the fields. I really wanted Roo to be able to see how big they are as kids have no concept of size at their age and even seeing the giraffe’s on the BBC’s new Attenborough programme Africa doesn’t give them a proper sense of scale. This though is just like the wild, you never know what animals you will see on safari and the same can be said for when you head to West Midlands Safari Park.
The drive through the park takes just over an hour if you take your time and do all the stops in the right places. It’s leisurely and not pressured in any way; you can as long as you are not inconveniencing others remain looking at the animals for as long as you want. Things are looking a little tired in some places, but then this year the park is 40 years old so I would expect it to be needing some TLC. Toilets although a little dated were clean but it would be nice if they could update them with more baby changing facilities and sinks for young children. We came to the end of the drive through and pulled over into the car park that has plenty of spaces for families and disabled drivers to park up and ate our picnic in the car whilst we talked about our favourite animals of the day.
After demolishing our home made picnic we wrapped up and walked down to see the other attractions. The park was clearing up from the Winter Wonderland finishing and there was lots of fake snow everywhere and a fair bit of the Lost City Plaza behind plywood boards as it appears to be under restoration. The shops were quiet but the main thing I like about the park is that you are not herded into gift shops to buy things, it is your choice if you choose to step into the souvenir shop and it makes a refreshing change not to be bombarded with merchandise.
The penguins are the first exhibit you come across and as usual they are quirky and full of life jumping in and out the water and entertaining passers by. The park is clean and tidy and there’s certainly on litter and rubbish about, the staff certainly do a sterling job of keeping it tidy and well signposted for attractions for families. Next we headed up into the free flying bat cave (not high on mummy’s wish list!). As our eyes adjusted to the darkness and our noses to the smell we could make out small bats flying in front of us and larger fruit bats on the ceiling. Roo was a little frightened at first but soon was fascinated by how they found their way around in the dark using sonar.
We had missed the shows for the day, it is worth noting the last one is 2:30 in winter for the sea-lions and with 3pm approaching we wanted to get up to see the meerkats as Roo is in meerkat class at school and she wanted to see them up close. Meerkat manor is a visually stunning and pretty interactive visitor attraction where people can get nice and close to several colonies of meerkats in a natural environment. They are cheeky little chaps, performing for the cameras with their quirky little ways and sitting up for pictures. It was great to see them following people around and looking out for their keeper as it was nearly their bed time and they ran scampering to her as she came to put them away.
Through the African Village there is a little fun fair which is closed in the winter; the rides look perfect for young children and this would be a lovely addition to the day out in the warmer months and we will be coming back to enjoy this part of the attraction when the summer comes. Although we didn’t need any food during our day out I did pop my head into the Rainforest Cafe and after looking at the prices was glad I did. With a simple pancake with lemon and sugar costing over £3 eating out wasn’t going to be cheap and the family in front of me managed to spend £30 on three of them for some coffees and snacks which didn’t look that appetising.
I think with most theme parks, catering is not their strong point and if you can be crafty and organised it is worth taking your own food and saving a small fortune on the day. Plus I know that Roo won’t eat fast food and this always encourages me to think ahead and make a pack lunch.
The African Village shuts at 3pm and as the sun was going down at 3:45pm we began to make our way back to the car. Roo had a brilliant day; she had been out in the fresh air, able to run around freely and burn off energy. The park has lots of information scattered about as to conservation efforts and how to protect animals and we even donated £1.50 via text to support the work of the zoo in the wild as we drove round as all of this text goes to helping their efforts.
As you can see from our video below we had an absolutely brilliant time, loads of smile all round which when you plan a family day out is all you ever want to achieve – big thumbs up from us for West Midlands Safari Park.
The park offers excellent value for money and apart from being a little tired and run down in places I cannot fault it in any way. Prices for 2013 are £11.99 for adults, £9.99 for kids and under 3′s are free and this includes a free return ticket so you can come back anytime to do it all again.
Disclaimer: With thanks to Tots100 and Moneysupermarket.com’s Britain’s Best Days out challenge for providing a free family ticket for the purposes of this review.