Last weekend we were invited to visit ZSL London Zoo. This caused much excitement in the Wilde household, as although the boys have been before it was when they were quite small and they didn’t remember the experience at all. In the days leading up to our visit, we read Dear Zoo ad nauseum and the boys requested the Peppa Pig episode where Peppa also visits the zoo – much to the delight of our little girls, who adore Peppa and don’t often get to choose what DVD is played! Every morning they asked if it was Saturday, until at last Saturday rolled around and it was time to dress in our animal-themed clothing and catch the train into Central London.
London Zoo is situated in Regents Park, and as we had the double buggy with us we decided to take a taxi from Charing Cross. The boys adore a taxi ride and consider it part of the experience itself; they were fascinated by the lions in Trafalgar Square as we drove past, and like to spot buses and to look out for interesting landmarks. The drive took about ten minutes and cost £15, which we found reasonable. We arrived at about 11.00, which is an hour after the opening time of 10.00, and were surprised and impressed that even though it was a Saturday in the summer holidays, the zoo didn’t feel busy at all. There were certainly a lot of people there, but I think that the size of the zoo and the clever layout means that the crowds are distributed in such a way as makes the space still feel quite open and clear. This meant that we could safely let the little girls out of their buggy to explore as well and made the day far calmer and more enjoyable as a consequence.
UPON ARRIVAL AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Upon arrival we were immediately processed through the queue, as we had brought pre-printed tickets from home. The man who took our tickets was so bright and cheerful, taking the time to greet my little boys who were almost beside themselves with excitement. In fact, one of the things that struck me about ZSL London Zoo is how friendly everybody is, from the lady in the gift shop who kindly cut the tags off of the boys’ ears and tails so that they could wear them straight away, to one of the helpers in the children’s zoo who took the time to introduce the pigs by name and chat to us for a little while about them. Little things like that really make a difference, especially to us as we’re always slightly on the verge of stressed when wrangling four small children!
We are working on a campaign to highlight the fun that families can have at ZSL London Zoo and part of our brief entailed picking up some little costume pieces for the boys at the gift shop, so we started backwards at the Zoo and worked our way round! I have to say, I could have spent a small fortune at the gift shop. I tried not to look too closely, as I had the boys with me to select their accessories and I knew that they would share my sentiment entirely, but there were some adorable plush toys there and gorgeous zoo-themed Playmobil pieces. If I were to go back and could afford to do so, I think I’d consider setting some money aside for the children to select a small toy by which to remember their day; admittedly, a day at the zoo is treat enough, but the shop was just so lovely.
As soon as we had picked up the boys’ little ears and tails, they were clamouring to ride the carousel. The carousel is based right by the gift shop and exit and is unavoidable, so I do suggest bringing some change if your children love fairground rides as much as mine. It’s £2.50 per person, and the kind lady operating the carousel kindly didn’t charge us for the little girls. I took the boys on first and then the girls, as the boys were desperate to ride the animals. Olympia was keen to ride a tiger too, but I definitely couldn’t manage the two little ones by myself and my partner can’t manage fairground rides as they make her quite ill, so the little girls and I sat in the little carriage to watch the world go by. You do get quite a generous turn, which was lovely, and it’s such a beautiful ride that I found it really enjoyable. Beside the carousel is a face-painting kiosk and a stall selling candy floss, but the children were easily distracted from these temptations when we told them that we were going to see the animals.
Our first stop was to visit the penguins. I was excited to see the penguins as I often tell Embla that she reminds me of one; she still has that funny, baby way of running with her arms held out at the side, even though she’s just turned two. The boys enjoyed being able to watch them swim underwater, and we held the girls next to the glass where they could see them up close. The children were all fascinated, and Olympia chattered at length about seeing the ‘pidgies’ (I’m not entirely sure how she could have mistaken them for pigeons!). She was very keen to climb over the glass barrier entirely in order to get properly up close and personal with her new mates, and was not particularly impressed to have a mummy holding her tightly to prevent this houdini move! We had so much fun watching the penguins, laughing at the children’s excitement and antics. The boys thought it was hilarious that the enclosure smelt of fish!
Once they had tired of the penguins, we meandered toward the Land of the Lions exhibit, which was my favourite and most memorable experience from the last time that I had visited the zoo (though typically the boys, who were only two at the time, couldn’t remember it at all). On our way, we stopped to admire the pelicans, who gave a great show of opening their enormous beaks to yawn and flapping their wings. They were so gorgeous; I want one for the garden..! We also saw some huge wild pigs, which mesmerised the girls.
LAND OF THE LIONS
By far our favourite part of the zoo was the Land of the Lions exhibit, 2,500 square metres designed to look like India’s vibrant Sasan Gir. The children loved climbing the walkways, which are designed to be pram and wheelchair-accessible as well, in order to view the lions and the Hanuman Langur monkeys. These monkeys are named for the Hindu god Hanuman, whom is oftenn depicted as part man and part monkey, and indeed they did look strangely human as they played together. Watching the monkeys kept the children captivated for a good five minutes or so; they really showed off, which was quite entrancing to watch.
Once they had their fill of monkeys, we came down from the walkway to try to catch a glimpse of a lion. I think that we would have been able to see the four lions, but there was quite a crowd at the relevant area and we didn’t feel up to it with four children in tow. To be honest, the children were spectacularly unfussed about seeing a lion in the first place and far more interested in exploring the ‘high street’ with its rickshaws, bicycle repair shops and other entertainments. We spent an easy forty-five minutes at the Land of the Lions and could probably have stayed for even longer.
A LITTLE DOWNTIME
At some point on our way to the Land of the Lions, the boys had spotted a little playground and some bouncy castles. They were desperate to go, so after exploring the Land of the Lions we doubled back to the playground. All four had a spectacular time burning off some energy on the climbing frames and slides, though we weren’t particularly impressed with the level of supervisation some children were(n’t) receiving. Consequently we removed ours a little sooner than we would have otherwise, and let the boys take a turn on the bouncy slide that sits adjacent to the playground in compensation. We found that the cost was quite reasonable at £2 for five slides, and the lady supervising was lovely (and insisted that I sit down – bless her!). The boys had a superb time launching themselves down the slide and were quite sorry to leave. Very sorry, in fact – there were tears!
I think that at this point the boys were simply exhausted. We often forget, because they are the oldest, that the boys are still only three years old and their little legs must still tire quite easily. We turfed the girls out of the pram at this point and let them walk about again, which they were more than eager to do, and the boys gratefully climbed into the seats in their place. We wandered about for a little while, herding the girls in the right general direction whilst the boys rested their legs. They were enchanted by the camel and greatly amused to spot the camel poo – I think that if you asked my three-year-olds to describe their day, this would feature quite high on their list of memorable experiences!
THE AMBIKA PAUL CHILDREN’S ZOO
I was so happy that we found the Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo, because it was seriously adorable. More farm than zoo, it holds pigs, goats, alpaca, donkeys and a turkey, which my children were able to see up close. I think that seeing the pigs (or ‘piggas’, as Embla calls them) were the best part of the day for my little girls. There were several staff members milling around, all of whom were kind to my little people and went out of their way to chat to them. The girls enjoyed learning the pigs’ names, and were desperately keen to hop on over the barrier and give them a cuddle! Unfortunately that wouldn’t have been safe, but their interactive urges were satisfied in the ‘Touch Zone’, where they and their brothers were able to stroke and feed hay to a herd of goats. Again, the goat keeper was super friendly and told us the names of all of the goats and a little about their personalities. The children were fascinated, and it was hard to convince them to wash their hands and come away. Although less exciting to big people, this is definitely worth doing if you are visiting with little ones!
By now, we had been at the zoo for about four hours and needed to get home to a dog whom was probably crossing her legs! We could probably have spent another couple of hours at the zoo easily, especially as we were all feeling ready for a late lunch by then, but we’ve realised over time that the best way to enjoy any adventure with children is to do it at their own pace. If we’d taken two double buggies, or borrowed another double from the zoo (you can do that!) we could probably have stayed until bedtime even – there was so much to do there, and we didn’t even touch on half of the exhibits such as the tigers, the gorillas, the lemurs and the giraffes.
We would definitely go back again!
Disclosure: We were invited to visit the zoo as part of a paid collaboration. We really did have this lovely a time!