Chester Zoo has to be one of the best known zoos in the British Isles. it opened it’s doors to the pubic in 1931, and since then has grown to cover around 125 acres of it’s 400 acre site on the outskirts of Chester. It has been the subject of a historical BBC drama “Our Zoo” about the fight to establish Chester Zoo in the 1930’s, and is currently the subject of Channel 4’s, BAFTA nominated, The Secret Life of the Zoo. It is an obvious choice for a family day out if, as we are, you happen to be lucky enough to live within an easy drive of the zoo. But how good is it really, does it live up to the hype?
Founded in the 1930’s by George Mottershead, to house his expanding collection of exotic animals. The zoo initially face local objections, but the Mottershead family persevered and following the Second World War, it rapidly grew in size. Mottershead wanted to create something different from traditional zoo designs, and preferred animals to be in open enclosures rather than cages. In recent years the Zoo has focused on conservation, and has been voted the best zoo in the UK, and third in the world.
Enough of the history lesson, but you could say as zoos go this is meant to be one of the best.
Entry prices to the zoo vary year round, and so I would recommend checking the website. I would consider it pricy for a day out, especially if you are a large family, but I would also say you are getting value for money. Kids under 3 go free. If you do live near by and your finances stretch to it, then the year memberships are worth looking at. I generally ask for one as a birthday present as with a young child it useful and I know I am going to like it.
I wont bore you by giving a run down on the animals, but I will say that Erynn’s top three are the bats, the exotic ducks, and the penguins. I like the Okapi. It is a zoo, the animals are in captivity, but the zoo does invest in the enclosures, and seems to be constantly expanding or improving one area or another. As a rule most of the animals are in large open paddocks and this means generally visitors can easily get a good view. Walk ways are wide and attention to design is evident everywhere. The painted dogs are in a “desert” type area with large (fake) boulders. The grassland animals are in open fields and the lemurs have their own island of trees. There is a distinct feel to each area and this makes walking between areas more interesting for the visitor. Not only that there is educational material everywhere, from talking chairs, to annotated plants and obviously animals. There are several walks and gardens which can make for a pleasant change in pace, or maybe just a nicer route to the next destination. Fortunately you can obtain a free map at the entrance and for those who forget reference maps (take a picture with your phone) can be found at regular intervals throughout the zoo.
Children have not been forgotten in all this, enclosures often have low glass panels or breaks in the fencing so children and those in wheelchairs are able to get a good view. There are several quite ornate play areas for kids, including a new water and sand play area which opened last year. This area has proved a massive success with my daughter, and judging by how busy it can be with other kids too. My only word of advice would be take a small towel and a change of clothes! Along side these newer innovations there is face painting, art stations, souvenir shops and the such like. We usually take a picnic and eat at one of the many picnic tables dotted throughout the zoo, but for those who like to travel lighter there are three larger restaurants open year round and several cafes and snack stalls which seem to open on busier days. Prices are not cheap but they are still within reason and with a membership card you do get a discount.
There are several toilet facilities dotted around, although the grassland area seems to be lacking in this respect. Toilets are busy but generally clean and numerous. If you need baby, disabled or adult changing then you may need to wait a short while. Parking is plentiful and the earlier you arrive the closer you are to the entrance. There is a disabled badge area close to the entrance.
Kids play areas especially the water, provide a change in pace for kids.
Engaging for adults and kids.
Not so good
People dodging on busy days when walking from area to area.
Cost of entry, whilst value for money it is a pricey day out for many families.
Fun factor 5/5