Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire is really part zoo, part wildlife reserve. If you say ‘zoo’ you tend to think of a bunch of animals in cages. While this is partly true, there’s also part wildlife reserve like the ones you’ll find in Africa – where you get to drive or walk around with nothing between you and the animals. In a sentence, the Whipsnade Zoo is fantastic. We spent a bank holiday Monday there and we loved every minute of it.
There’s a new farm section in the Whipsnade Zoo called Hullabazoo. In this area children can walk among goats, pet them and interact with them – my daughter was holding an Easter egg hunt page and a goat took it right out of her hand and ate it. The girls squealed in delight and kept feeding the goats hay after that. There are donkeys, chickens, llamas, alpacas, sheep, and all sorts in the farm area too. We particularly liked that the llamas and alpacas had their photos on the fence so we could identify them by their ‘hairstyles’ and colour. That was great fun.
We enjoyed the farm area, peeked in at the indoor play in case we needed it if it rained, and had a run around the fabulous adventure playground, but we wouldn’t drive the 80 minutes from our house just for that. It’s a fabulous added bonus to our day at the zoo, and if we had passes, it would be an amazing place for the children to go regularly, however.
Whipsnade Zoo has beautiful wide open areas and at this time of year the pathways are lined with cherry blossom trees. It’s really quite spectacular in it’s beauty. We were there on what we thought was going to be a crazy busy day, being a public holiday, but it is such a spacious place that despite the very full car park and overflow car park it wasn’t crowded inside at all. In fact, it was really pleasant.
When you leave the Hullabazoo area, there are three wild life zones: European, African and Asian.
There are three ways that you can explore the park: by train, by bus and by car.
At the time of writing, the bus is free for exploring Whipsnade Zoo. It’s basically a hop on/hop off system where you can navigate the constantly circling busses (I think there are two) to move between sections of the park. They don’t go along all the roads, but they get you a lot of the way there.
There’s also a train which is £4.50 per adult or £1.50 per child. It circles through the Asian zone and the children loved the idea of the steam train. We didn’t go on it, but it looked fun.
The third option is the one we went for – driving through the park. This was amazing, especially as we could drive to the different sections and park, hop out, explore and drive on. We were all quite tired by lunch time, having played and Hullabazoo’d and so on, so the girls didn’t fancy walking all the way around the park. (We had free entrance for this review, so we could do it without having to worry about the cost, which is £20 for non-members and £10 for members).
Having this option was fabulous. There was a troop of elephants being led by keepers down the road – it was like being in the Africa people imagine! (despite being Asian elephants) – and we drove right up to them like you do in the Kruger National Park, or Etosha National Park. Amazing.
We also drove through a vehicles only enclosure through hundreds of different deer groups. It was magical, and effortless as we weren’t carrying children or bags. Fabulous.
Refreshments and Facilities at Whipsnade Zoo
We didn’t stop to eat or drink at any of the restaurants and cafe’s on site, but I did have a look and I thought the prices were pretty standard. A children’s lunch box was £4.95, which is the same as they are at the National Trust cafes.
The bathrooms seemed to be cleaned regularly – we went to the one at the main gate and it was in a terrible condition, I couldn’t change Aviya’s nappy there. When we popped back in at the end of the day it was clean and fine. Other facilities around the park were fabulous and plentiful.
What We Loved About Whipsnade Zoo
Well, where to start! There was so much! The animals were brilliant. They looked healthy and they were well kept and if an animal can look happy, these did. Sure, they aren’t in the wild, but they are pretty ‘free’ in their cages. With the exception of the crickets in one of the displays, they all had a lot of space. They also have a fantastic range of animals. From beetles to a weird fish-slash-salamander thing that Martin and I’d never seen before, there’s so much. We had a busy and full day, leaving the park as it was closing, and we could have spent a fair bit more time there.
We thought the methods for moving around the zoo were great, with the train, bus and cars (and on foot) give individuals options, and that’s brilliant.
Aside from animals there are a lot of open spaces for picnics and relaxing. Again this time of year there’s a beautiful strip of blue bell woodland. There’s a play park, a schools area, an indoor play section. It’s a fabulous place.
Also, while I’m sure every season has it’s highlights in a place like Whipsnade, spring is amazing for all the little baby animals. It thrilled my girls no end.
What Could Be Improved At Whipsnade Zoo
I can’t really think of anything, to be honest. There weren’t crowds, there were plenty facilities, plenty rest places, plenty everything. I look forward to seeing the developments in Hullabazoo because it seems there’s room for growth there. It’s nice and fun and interactive, but there’s not a huge amount of farm animals there yet. The kids didn’t notice though. I wouldn’t call it something ‘wrong’.
If you’re not a member, this is not a cheap day out. It’s not much more than other parks, zoos and recreation grounds around the UK, but it’s not cheap. Bring your snacks, your drinks and your walking shoes. A brilliant day can be ruined by breaking the bank, so if there’s danger of that, just bring what you need.
If you can afford the extra £20 do the drive through – it’s really lovely, relaxed and a great pace to go at.
If you’d like to stay over, there’s a ‘spend a night at the zoo’ option for just over £300. I would love this. It looks amazing, with private tours, torchlight tour, breakfast, dinner and simply amazing views… maybe one day. It looks incredible.
Costs and Fees For Whipsnade Zoo
We have a weekly ‘entertainment’ budget of around £30. That’s for four of us. Suffice it to say we don’t get to do a lot of entertainment and really, most of it goes on our Mamaventurers trips every Tuesday. So for us to spend almost £100 on a day out is pretty much unheard of. (£23.50 per adult, £17 per child over 3, £20 for the car = £84, plus ice creams, snacks, lunch etc). We’ve never been to Whipsnade Zoo or London Zoo, for that reason. We simply can’t afford it. We’d have loved to go before now, but it’s out of our price range.
I asked around the interwebs, and most people pretty much said the same – most don’t go much over £50 for a family of four, some consider up to £100 to be ‘average’. You wouldn’t know it though, looking at all the people at Whipsnade today. I can imagine that if it was a lot cheaper, it would have been unpleasantly full. Part of the awesomeness of it was that it wasn’t uncomfortably full. I guess that is managed by the price.
Learning Themes To Be Explored At Whipsnade Zoo
Oh, so many! Farm animals, African, Asian, and European animals, the differences in wildlife from different continents, reptiles, rainforest animals, learning about nature.
On the way home, we listened to our beloved Beautiful Creatures CD and the girls had a blast identifying the animals from the zoo with those in the songs. We also were going to play the downloadable Safari Themed Board Game from Twinkl on the way home, but the girls fell asleep after a perfect day out.