Big Night Out
Reviewed by Amanda Hayes
We had a fantastic warm and sunny evening for the Big Night Out at Whipsnade Zoo so we made a large picnic and set off full of excitement. We had an easy journey there until we ground to a halt 4 miles from the entrance. Unfortunately it then took us over an hour to drive the last 4 miles and park the car, obviously there were many many people in the same situation and we all missed the first set of shows at 6.15/6.30. The zoo was absolutely packed so I assume they may have misjudged the parking situation leading to the long delays.
Once we finally through the gates the fun began. The first thing we saw after walking past the gift shop and snack bar were the marquees on the main lawn, hordes of people picnicking, and a calypso band playing. You could feel the atmosphere straight away. We headed off to see the monkeys thinking we would come back to the main lawn later; they had a really good size compound and lots of ropes and tyres to play on and looked happy. We then went into the lemur area, this was great as they were loose around you and our son, Ethan was amazed as they climbed above his head on a tightrope. The Lemurs were great fun and we got some good photos to remind us of the evening.
Next we went off to see the elephant show, stopping off to see the tigers on the way, it was absolutely packed so not so good if you are short like me! We did find a spot where we could see and it was very entertaining. They had a volunteer from the audience in with the elephants to do a race, the elephants won, by cheating! But it was all done with great humour and really got everyone laughing and joining in. They had a gorgeous baby elephant that was hanging on to its mum’s tail with his trunk, so so sweet.
We were getting hungry by then so had our picnic on the lawn, there were loads of places to sit both on the grass and picnic benches and most of them had views of the animals. So many people were having picnics however that the bins were overflowing and had rubbish all round them, which was a little off-putting. We then rushed off to see the sea lion show, passing the train and children’s play areas on the way. The train was an additional £4.00 which I thought was a little expensive after the entry fee, we didn’t go on it mainly because we wanted to see the animal shows and there was not time for everything.
The children’s play areas were excellent and looked fairly new and in good condition. There was a very large adventure playground for the larger children, they were all having a great time and looked like they could stay there all night. They also had a soft play area for the younger ones which I’m sure Ethan would have enjoyed if we had been there for the whole day.
Next, the sea lion show, again absolutely packed with lots of fun and audience participation, definitely worth a watch. We then set off for a walk round the zoo to see the animals, we walked past the zebras, I never knew what large ears they had, and to the hippo house. They had some pigmy hippos, small like pigs, and two of the largest hippos I had ever seen, they were huge! You could get pretty close too so it was great if you have young children. The sun was starting to set so we walked round to the viewpoint at the far side of the park, it was well worth the walk, the sunset was amazing and we got some great photos. We felt we were running out of time a bit so set off quickly to see the lions, they decided to have a fight as we got there… it was scary and everyone jumped back from the glass! It was great to be so close. It was almost dark now but we could see the glowing lights of the giraffe house in the distance so we set off to have a look. They were just being fed and put to bed which was interesting to watch and again you felt you were really close watching through the viewing panel. I had forgotten just how tall giraffes are.
We ended up back on the main lawn where the final act, African dancers were performing. It was still really warm and there were plenty of people still milling around, it was like being at a festival. There was a BBQ, beer tent, sandwiches, face painting and music, everything you need really. We watched the last of the dancing and headed off for the exit, Ethan was then mesmerised by ladies dancing on stilts with batons on fire, he didn’t move his eyes for 5 minutes as he was watching the flames so hard! It was a great way to finish the evening. Luckily it didn’t take so long to get out of the car park, so we were soon on our way home. It really was a magical evening, but the time went very quickly, partially as we had not been there before and were trying to see everything and partially because of the hour lost getting in at the beginning.
I certainly recommend the Big Night Out, but leave loads of extra time to get in or take the train as it is hard going queuing for an hour with kids in the car. Don’t be put of you have been there before, it would probably be even better as you could relax a little more and watch the performers. Unfortunately the zoo is a little dated in places and could do with a lick of paint, especially the toilets, I did a nappy change on the lawn as the toilets really weren’t that clean.
I would have to rate this 4 out of 5 purely because of the car parking and dated facilities, however the evening itself was fantastic whether you have children or not.
For more information visit www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo