Reviewed by Helen Wyatt
We visited Paignton Zoo, near Torquay in Devon, on a bright sunny day in April at the end of the Easter school holidays. Unfortunately, due to the location of the zoo, it’s a fairly winding route to get there as there are a number of one way systems in place. The zoo was however fairly well signposted , once we reached Paignton, and we found it easily enough. On arrival at around 11am the free car park (which holds 1000+ cars) was already rather full however instead of leaving visitors to drive aimlessly up and down the rows looking for spaces, the zoo staff were helpfully directing traffic through to the next available spaces; this meant that we were parked up really quickly with little hassle.
There is a long path from the car park down to the zoo proper, which meanders through various flora and fauna, with animal sound effects floating through at certain points. This got the children in the mood for what we were about to find.
On entry to the zoo itself, it was easy to locate the entry gate we needed as everything was well signposted. The staff we encountered at this stage were helpful and friendly, wanting to enable us to get into the zoo as swiftly as possible.
The zoo is home to more animals than anyone else in the South West (as they state on their website), which means there is a huge amount for everyone to see, over the full 80 acres of the site. The animals are split into different habitat zones, such as desert, forest, savannah, wetlands, and primley (where you’ll find the apes and crocodiles).
Whilst you are reliant on the behaviour of the animals somewhat in order to be able to see something going on, the zoo is arranged in such a way that whilst you may not see every animal you have every chance of seeing the majority of them. We did find it tricky to see the animals housed behind glass (such as the snakes or small mammals) as the lights reflected off the glass.
Every habitat was full of information about the animals housed there, and many also had interactive elements to add further interest.
We found an indoor play area for the child that gives parents a well-deserved sit down however it seemed a little dingy/tired and could benefit from some TLC. Staff that were visible seemed often to be sitting down behind the till rather than clearing tables. They were however observed to do this later on, and also venturing into the play area to clear up a spillage.
There were a large number of food/drink stations throughout the zoo, in addition to the main restaurant. We did not use the restaurant other than to buy hot drinks but instead took a picnic – there are ample areas to sit down and eat a sandwich if you do not want to purchase food at the zoo. You can always supplement your sandwich with an ice cream and cup of tea later on. The tea was fine but we would struggle to recommend the coffee!
You can take a ride on the small train which takes you slowly around a number of the habitats at an additional cost (we paid £3.20 for a family of 4) which affords you some different views of some of the enclosures however it is definitely aimed at entertaining children rather than adults.
The toilets all seemed clean and in working order, but did have an unfortunate slight odour.
We were a little disappointed that there any extra activities to do for the kids, despite our visit being during school holidays; there were some activity huts but these were closed. It would have been nice to have provided some quizzes or directed trails for children to follow, which could lead to a small prize on the production of the correct answers at the end. This would serve to keep children further entertained by focussing them on finding out certain information, and also educate them. We found that whilst there were a large number of information boards around the site it was difficult to get the children to focus on reading these in any way before they zoomed onto the next exhibit.
There were keeper talks arranged throughout the day, with the list of times/locations being located by the entrance, and boards also placed at some of the individual exhibits. We found however that we kept missing the talks as we didn’t have anything to refer to in terms of timings whilst walking around the site. The website does allow you to pre-plan your visit however if you haven’t had the opportunity to do this then you aren’t provided with anything more at the zoo when you arrive, which is a shame as this may have enabled us to catch further talks by the keepers.
The majority of the zoo did appear to be well maintained and all of the animals looked well cared for. The zoo was clear that their work was focussed on conservation efforts to support endangered species, rather than just on enabling visitors to view animals they would normally see in the wild.
We spent an enjoyable 5 hours at the zoo, with the telling point being that the children weren’t clamouring to go home at the end! We exited through the gift shop, which is very extensive as can be expected from any site like this, and obviously situated so it was impossible to leave without walking through a number of items which is tricky to navigate with 2 young children, however we managed to leave without parting with too much extra cash.
The cost of a family day ticket is £51.95, or you can buy an annual membership for the same size family group (2 adults/2 children) for £147.50 which gives unlimited access to Paignton Zoo, its sister site Living Coasts in Torquay (where you’ll find all the marine life), and to Newquay Zoo amongst a number of other benefits. Whilst the day ticket prices are fairly high, the annual membership is better value; if you can visit 3 times in a year then it essentially pays for itself. There are a number of other ticket and membership options which are worth exploring to find the best value.
I would certainly recommend this to others (bring study shoes and a picnic!) and would give it 4.5 out of 5.
Tickets: Adult £16.50, Child (3-15 years) £12.10, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £51.95
These prices include Gift Aid donation. If you prefer not to support the vital conservation work through the Gift Aid donation, admission prices are: Adult – £15.00, Child – £11.00, Family – £47.20. If you do not wish to make the donation, then please advise the ticket staff accordingly.
For more information or to buy tickets online visit www.paigntonzoo.org.uk.
Paignton Zoo, Totnes Road, Paignton, Devon TQ4 7E