Sunday 25 November 2012
We headed down to Drusillas Park as a family with our two girls aged 7 and 4.5. We were visiting as part of the Moneysupermarket competition to find Britains best family days out. A sudden black cloud and rainstorm as we got within a few miles almost turned us around but we decided to go ahead and give it a go! We had chosen to go on a Sunday as although it was still considered off peak more was open than during the week. We knew as well that we were going just before the Christmas special features started up and we were happy to avoid these.
Entry was really quick – there was no queue, I suppose that was to be expected after the deluge of a few minutes earlier. First thing to be spotted were the children’s activity booklets and challenges to do around the zoo. The girls loved this and straight away grasped their books and pencils eagerly as they zoomed to the first animals. There was an animals spotters book and ink stamps as we went around, and then also some ‘zoolympics’ challenges throughout (can you jump as high as a cheetah, which animal can you run as fast as?).
The route is quite long, with no obvious resting places, but good and varied in the way the animals are viewable: some behind glass/plastic, some more open air so they could be seen over or through the fence, some underwater or mirror viewing windows etc. Much of the route around was covered as well so although we actually didn’t get a lot more rain it probably would not have been much of a problem.
The animal highlights for us were:
– The porcupine: Nige was amazed at how large they are
– The meerkats: the children get to go through a tunnel and look through a bubble at ground level in the middle of the meerkats enclosure.
– Penguins are always funny with their waddling and diving and swimming
– We saw the ring-tailed lemurs being fed – you walk right into their enclosure and they leap around you and walk past you so it’s great and very immersive.
So, we got to the end of the zoo part and were pleased to emerge into an impressive outdoor playground area with towers and bridges and swings and tunnels and lots for the girls to go wild in after the relative order of walking around seeing the animals to this point.
Unfortunately we were pretty hungry by now too, we had planned to have our own food as a picnic, but the rain was starting back up and there seemed to be no undercover picnic space. The Christmas features were taking over the normal allocated area, and signs everywhere reiterated that you were in no way allowed to sit at the cafes or other seating areas! So we shivered and struggled and ate half of our supplies huddled standing up under a roof of a shop area. Later we managed to establish there was some tolerance in one of the cafes with a covered picnic area: and a later email conversation with Drusillas admitted that they need to improve this information for visitors.
The information leaflets and maps at first didn’t make it clear to us that there was an indoor play center, so it was a welcome, warming place for us, including space for me and Nige to have a bit of sit down and rest for a while.
We took an obligatory Thomas the Tank engine ride which we found quite disappointing. I’m sure that littler ones would love it just for being a train and for it being Thomas, but there is very little to see whilst you are on it so it felt a little odd and pointless. Nige had certainly expected that you would get some peeks of the animals as you went round. The promise of a Thomas ride was a big anticipation for our two and they too seemed a bit let down when it quite quickly came to a halt after just one short lap when nothing very interesting was spotted (I think (if my memory serves me correctly) you might be able to see the Llamas but they certainly weren’t out).
A happy discovery was a walk around maze which was themed around the four elements fire, water, air, earth with some interactive display pieces and riddles. The girls found it both a bit spooky scary (a number of things suddenly make noise or talk based on infra-red beams) and intriguing, imagination-inspiring and fun. Our 7 year old wanted to go around it again, alone, and then our 4.5 year old also wanted to go round it again although not so much without one of us. It might be the sort of thing that older children would find a bit naff and pointless (in these days of high spec computer games), but our girls were willing to get into the idea of it and enjoy it for a bit of make believe, even on a drippy wet day when it spooked them a bit. A nice feature of the maze was a raised viewing area, where I could see our 7 year old cruising around it from a high up birds eye view, although I couldn’t see her for about half the time she was in…. so not ideal for letting kids be unaccompanied (although I think the sign said they should be anyway)….
We decided we’d done enough, except for a quick pop back to the huge play area to explore the bits that Nige and the girls hadn’t quite managed first time round, and then some chips for all and a final cuppa for us before we strolled back to the car and headed home.
We were given Moneysupermarket discount vouchers to review this attraction free of charge.
Would we pay the full entry fee for a trip there? Unlikely. As home educators, we might be interested if they would offer a good value educational group rate. Otherwise we would probably go there under some kind of offer such as using voucher or an adults go free offer or similar. We would generally try to save money and avoid café food by taking our own, so a better message and adequate facilities for picnickers in all weather is important and they may need to sort this out first (although if they weren’t using the space/shelter that is available for their Christmas Wonderland when we went, this might be OK – although it might still be a bit chilly as it is a high roofed open fronted structure).