Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Visiting Whipsnade Zoo With Young Children

Whipsnade is a lovely Zoo in Bedfordshire where the animals have large enclosures. This is great for the residents, but is less ideal for young children because some of the animals are difficult to see and there is a lot of walking to get around the zoo. Here is my advice on how to have a great visit to Whipsnade Zoo with under under fives.

The red entry sign to the Zoo which says "ZSL Whipsnade Zoo" with text before it saying "visiting" and afterwards "with young children"

The Best Bits For Small Children

Most of the enclosures are large so you aren’t guaranteed a good view of all the animals. While this might be boring for small children, there are places where you are guaranteed a good view for instance the Butterfly House and Farm. The Butterfly House has some crocodiles (in a tank fortunately) and free flying butterflies which might land on you. The Farm has pygmy goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ponies and other animals which are close enough that you can touch them.

A young girl in a pale pink flowered coat stroking a brown pygamy goat sitting in the dust

The lemurs, giraffes, penguins and meerkats are all good bets to see interesting activity through out the day, but for other animals try stopping by at feeding time when they will be awake and active. At the entrance to the zoo there is a board which will tell you the feeding times and when the shows of the day are on. If your children are happy to sit still the Sea Lion show (closed until summer 2017) and Birds of Prey Display are good fun.

The steam train at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo pulling along carriages with people in

The train ride is popular with children and takes you round parts of the zoo you wouldn’t otherwise see (additional charge).

Play Areas

There is a huge out door play area, but much of the equipment is best suited to age 5 upwards. A smaller selection is good for toddlers including a climbing frame, roundabout and baby swings.

Some of the play equipment at the zoo. Looking through the biggest climbing frame to  the toddler area and soft play

Next to the outdoor play area there is a good size soft play with separate areas for 3 and under (and for those with special education needs) and for older children. There is normally a staff member on the larger equipment so it feels more controlled than many soft plays. It's worth heading straight to the soft play near the beginning of your visit to book a free time slot as it's very popular when the zoo is busy or the weather is bad. There is a small cafe inside selling coffee and snacks as well as toilets and baby changing. Slots are 50 minutes, with a 10 minute turnaround before the next slot so you don't need to be worried about the children trying to stay in there all day. Pushchairs have to be left outside (there is some cover to keep them dry) and like all soft plays socks must be worn.

Panoramic view of the soft play area for 4 to 10 year olds showing the slide and steps up
In door play for 4 to 10 year olds

The soft play area for age 3 and under showing a small yellow slide a small raised area and lots of cushioned areas
In door play for age 3 and under


Consider Taking Your Car In

There is a large free car park outside the zoo, but for an additional entry fee you can take your car in to the zoo. A ring road goes around the zoo with lots of parking spaces closer to the enclosures. I've always found it hard to get my young children in and out of the car repeatedly, but taking your car in has a number of advantages:
-You pay when you are still in the car so the excited children are strapped in rather than running off while you queue for entry.
-You park much closer to the action. Even if you just park once and don't drive around it means you won’t have to walk as far and it's easier if you want to pop back to the car for a coat or picnic. 
-You get to drive through “Passage Through Asia” a special car only section of the Zoo.
If you don’t want to keep getting in and out the car good places to park are near the Butterfly House or near the Elephants (and playground). 
There are some free roaming animals (and lots of people) so be careful when driving around.
If you decide not to take the car in you can get a bus around the ring road as well, but pushchairs have to be folded on board.

A view of elephants standing in the middle of their enclosure


Hiding From The Rain And Wind

Whipsnade Zoo is not the best place for rainy days because it is mostly outside. When we visited on a snowy day we only stayed for a few hours and one of those was spent in soft play, but as we were members it meant we didn’t feel any pressure to stay any longer and still had a good time. The best places to warm up are the restaurant, soft play and the Butterfly House. The Discovery Centre is currently being renovated so much of it was closed when we visited at Easter, but that is inside too. 
A few of the animal houses have inside space (giraffes, sea lions, elephants, hippos and lions) but they will still be cold and you will need to walk outside in between them.

A dad, a pushchair and a young girl in a woolly hat standing on a raised viewing platform and looking out at 5 giraffes hanging out in their house

Eating at the Zoo

The main restaurant (Wild Bite) serves hot and cold food and there are lots of smaller concessions around the zoo selling drinks and snacks. Some of these are only open on busier days. A picnic is a great way to save money and there are picnic tables (next to the Butterfly House), benches and plenty of grassy areas you can eat on. You are asked not to eat your own food in the cafes and soft play.

Toilets

There are 7 main toilets blocks around the zoo most of which have nappy changing facilities. 3 of the toilet blocks are close together: at the entrance, next to the Discovery Centre and in the Butterfly House leaving big gaps between the others which could cause some interesting moments for those with urgent bladder emptying need (I'm thinking children and pregnant ladies). The nearest toilets to the play area are outside the Wild Bite restaurant, there are also toilets in the soft play, but after the barrier so they may be reluctant to let you through if you aren’t booked on to the current session.

One of the penguin pools with penguins waddling around. The penguins have a wonderful view of the lakes and hills in the background


Pushchairs


To see most of the zoo takes a lot of walking. If your children get tired easily then a pushchair is going to be helpful. There are a combination of smooth paths, gravel and grass so at times the ride can be bumpy. There are lots of ramps including up to the raised viewing platforms so they are well set up for you to get around with a pushchair (or scooter). You are asked to leave pushchairs outside at times due to space restrictions with no way of securing them e.g. soft play, the restaurant and the Butterfly House and they need to be folded if you go on a bus. There are a lot of other types of wheeled transport used to get around the zoo too, I have seen children on scooters, trikes, push along cars and even a pedalled go cart.

I have been a ZSL Zoo member for about 7 years which gives me free entry into both London and Whipsnade Zoo as well as 10% off in the shops and restaurants. I love London Zoo and think it is great for small children, but I find getting there (by public transport or car) difficult so I have chosen the ease of driving to Whipsnade in recent years. I wrote this post to help other parents get the most out of a visit.
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8 comments

  1. Wow, so informative, thank you! I'm going to nag hubby now about visiting here :) #daysoutwithatoddler

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  2. This is a really informative post, full of brilliant tips for people who are considering visiting. It is so useful to know these little things like having to fold buggies on the bus and where the baby changes are.

    Everyone who is thinking about visiting Whipsnade Zoo with a toddler must read this guide!

    Thanks for joining #daysoutwithatoddler - see you again next month!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you and thank you for hosting

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  3. This looks like such a great place to visit, my children love a day out at the zoo. These are great tips x #daysoutwithatoddler

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  4. I've thought about taking my toddler to Whipsnade so these tips are great! I think he's like it but it would take some planning so glad I read your post first.#Daysoutwithatoddler

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