This article originally appeared in Issue 1 of The Merseysider magazine. Prices quoted have been updated to August 2013 but it’s advisable to check the zoo’s website for current rates: www.chesterzoo.org
Alison Sullivan describes a year spent visiting Chester Zoo – with a two year old in tow.
Like many of us, although I’d always known that Chester Zoo was considered the best zoo in the country, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’d actually visited it. I always enjoyed going there, but other forms of diversion generally took precedence. And then there was the cost. With a family ticket (two adults and two children) costing almost £60, a trip to the zoo was definitely an occasional rather than a regular treat. The ticket price is not surprising when you consider the size of the zoo and the first rate facilities, but it can be a bit of a disincentive.
All that changed about 18 months ago. We’d been looking after our nephew Louis for an afternoon or two a week since he was a few months old. Now he was approaching two, and loved hearing animal stories and playing with animal toys, we thought a return to Chester Zoo was called for. On a beautiful Spring day the zoo looked fabulous and Louis loved it. We knew we’d have to go back, and out of curiosity looked at the zoo’s membership package. We immediately decided to sign up. For £118 a year two adults can go to the zoo as many times as they want, and with the membership comes a variety of other benefits, including entry to several other zoos around the country. And Louis didn’t need a ticket as under-threes are admitted free anyway.
Over the next twelve months we went about eight times, a notional ‘saving’ of well over a hundred pounds. In normal circumstances of course we wouldn’t have gone so often, but the saving wasn’t entirely illusory, because on many of those occasions we would no doubt have paid to take Louis somewhere else. More important than the money though were the numerous other advantages membership brought.
On our first visit with Louis we’d all ended up happy but exhausted. Like most visitors we’d tried to see everything, and I remember a mad dash to find the kangaroos before the zoo threw us out. But now there was no sense of rush. We usually made sure we saw the obvious favourites (elephants, penguins, lions, tigers, meerkats – the list continues and is pretty long), but took our time as there was always the next visit. Some days we were at the zoo for three or four hours; on others, if the rain came or we had other commitments, we were there for only an hour or two.
It was also of course both enjoyable and educational for Louis – the main reason for taking him there in the first place. He wasn’t madly excited by everything he saw, but certain animals made an obvious impression: the towering giraffes, the restless, mischievous orangutans, the shy okapi (how many two year olds’ knowledge of the animal world extends to that rare, solitary creature?). Every trip had its minor disappointments (sleeping tigers, distant, barely visible rhinos), but there was always next time. And every visit gave us something to talk about on the way home. The moment Louis roared at an apparently comatose lion and the lion roared back is one we’ll always remember. We also saw plenty of new arrivals over the course of the year: the rather scary African painted dogs, and baby elephants and giraffes.
Apart from the animals, the zoo has ample facilities to ensure a great day out. There are several children’s play areas, and special events, such as last summer’s animatronic (robotic) dinosaurs, who arrived in Chester before they got to Liverpool’s World Museum. The grounds are immaculately maintained, with floral displays and attractive picnic areas.
If you’re seriously interested in animals and want to take full advantage of your membership, there are other benefits, including members’ meetings and dinners. On one of our visits we met Janice Roberts, a keen member who travels regularly to the zoo from Stockport. She speaks highly of the talks given to members by zoological experts and says that on every visit she sees something unexpected or surprising – an observation we can certainly endorse. The zoo supports conservation projects worldwide, and has many endangered species in the zoo itself, so your membership fees go towards a good cause. A few months ago, our membership lapsed and at first we didn’t renew it. But Louis’s undiminished – and now more well-informed – enthusiasm for animals made us feel guilty, and there were subtle hints along the lines of ‘The animals must be missing me’. So we’ve just joined again. Louis’s now three, but a year’s membership for juniors (aged 3-17) is a very reasonable £35. We’ve just had our first visit and the highlight this time was the new tiger cubs – I’m sure there’ll be plenty more in the months ahead.
For details of Chester Zoo membership, visit www.chesterzoo.org
All photos ©Chester Zoo unless stated.