Super quick post today as I wanted to get something up whilst South Lakes Safari Zoo was still offering FREE entry. That's right totally free! I know, I thought it might be too good to be true, or be some catch somewhere but there really wasn't.
I'd spotted on Facebook that South Lakes Safari Zoo was offering free admission until the end of December (NOW EXTENDED TO 11 FEBRUARY 2017) and thought it would make a nice day out for my baby's first birthday. I've never been before and have always been put off by the long drive, but spurred on by the great reviews I'd heard about it in Family Explorers Facebook group (brilliant for getting ideas about places to visit) I thought we'd give it a go during our Christmas break.
The journey took 2.5 hours from Newcastle without any stops. When we were almost there I decided to read up about some of the accidents which have happened at the zoo - not a great idea, should have really checked before setting off, although even if I had read it whilst still at home it probably wouldn't have put us off visiting.
There was loads of car parking and finding a space was easy. After spending about 30 minutes adding layer upon layer to kids, so the baby looked like the Michelin man and the toddler was struggling to use his arms, we set off into the zoo. It's open 10am-4pm in the winter. There was a biggish queue on the way in, but it moved quite quickly. We were probably in it for around 15 minutes. Even though entry is free until end of December you still have to go to a cashier. When we got go the front we were asked to make a donation of any amount, which we were happy to do. Tickets are usually £16 per adult with kids being free, so we saved about £25 off the usual entrance cost for us. You could choose to pay an extra £6 each if you wanted, to be able to feed the penguins, giraffes, reindeer etc, but we didn't go for that as we knew our two would be happy just looking at the animals.
Just passed the entrance there was a large play park with lots of picnic tables and an indoor, but not heated picnic spot. No food is allowed past this point, but because the zoo isn't huge it would be fine to leave food in the car and come back and get it at lunchtime. There is also a coffee shop with outdoor seating (which was heaving with huge queues at lunchtime) at the entrance, and a restaurant with indoor seating (busy but not full when we went) in the main zoo. Prices were reasonable, £2 for a slice of cake, £3 for hot dogs, £7 for proper meals.
The zoo is a really nice one, there aren't many cages on show or small enclosures. It felt like the animals had a lot of room to live in. There was a large safari area where you walk amongst loads of different animals, there were lemurs, monkeys, wallabies, capybaras, emus and more that I've forgotten which were all wandering around freely in the safari area. I've got hardly any photos as we'd left the pushchair outside so one person was holding the baby, and the other was making sure we weren't about to be involved in a Harimbe-esque incident with our toddler. This bit of the zoo was great, we could have spent way longer in there if it wasn't for the fact we were carrying such a heavy kid.
After the Safari area there were lots of other animals to see in more traditional enclosures, we spotted tigers, lions, leopards, wolves, hippos, bears, primates, reindeer and camels.
There was a chance to walk in the vulture enclosure at certain times of the day, and we saw loads of exotic birds in the avery when we went inside there. There were also feeding times and talks about the animals which you could go to pretty much every hour if you wanted to, but we managed to miss all of these as the time flew when we were in there.
Couple of of practical tips: when going through the entrance see if you can get a map, these were few and far between in the actual zoo so it was difficult to know where to go, f you are heading there with babies or toddlers then take a sling if you have one, there were quite a few areas which recommended you didn't take buggies, and it was a nightmare navigating our double buggy through some of the gates as it was quite busy.
We had a really nice day, and stayed from about 11:30-4pm. It was great to do something so cheap over the Christmas holidays. Even if we'd paid the standard entry price I think it would have been great value as it isn't that much more than some of the farms in the North East, but there was so much more to see. The drive was very long with 2 little kids, but I think we'll go back this summer or next.
Prices: free until end of December 2016 (donations appreciated) then £16 per adult after that, children free with paying adults.