We were lucky enough to be invited to Marwell Zoo for the day. We were so excited, we decided to add it to the end of our weekend away so as to extend the fun.
The first thing we noticed as we went through the entrance was a lady handing out stickers. At first we thought they were just cool things for the kids, but then the lady explained what they were. Each child gets a sticker, and their parents write their mobile number in the space on the sticker. That way, if the child is lost they can easily be reunited with their parents.
You can see S's sticker in this photo. Sensible parents stuck the stickers on their children's backs, so they couldn't be pulled off!
The first thing we did when we got into the park was go on the train. There are two trains at Marwell: the land train is free and pulled along by a tractor (omg!) and the... er... train train costs £2.50 per person.
We kept missing the land trains, but we did enjoy seeing them pass us, and passing them! We did go on the train train though! The train station is not far from the entrance to the park, so as soon as we'd seen the penguins we hopped on the train. It does one long circuit of the park and then comes back to the same train platform, so we left the buggy on the platform and off we went. The train was fantastic because it got us really close to the animals; closer than you would get from just walking around the park.
|Here's S saying hi to the flamingoes|
What we loved the most about Marwell was that even when you're not on the train, you can still get fairly close to the animals. The penguins for instance, had a small mesh fence around them (because they can't fly so can't escape) and a sign telling you not to touch them because they'll peck you. This was great because it meant S was able to see a lot of the animals without needing to be lifted up.
|We were lucky enough to be able to see the giraffes being fed right in front of us!|
What I also loved was that the cafe we went to had a massive outdoor seating area, which was also really close to the animals. So while the parents finish their lunch the kids can go and see the animals. The fence here was slatted as well, so even the tiniest of toddlers could have a peek through.
|S enjoying the view after her lunch|
A lot of the fences are slatted or have large perspex windows in them to allow smaller people to see.
There are lots of interactive maps around the park, which are great for helping you find things, but also kids just love to press buttons and things don't they! What I also like is that there's a wet weather route set out, in case it's raining and you don't want to spend too much time trawling around getting wet toes.
We were lucky enough to be there on a day when the weather was quite nice though, which was handy. It was also the first day everyone went back to school after half term, so it was fairly quiet. One thing I liked though, was that there were bits and bobs dotted about the park aside from the animals - so if it was a really busy day there were other things to do besides wade through the crowds to see animals. We had great fun posing for photos as meerkats:
You can tell from this photo just how much my sister enjoyed having her photo taken!
There is also a big adventure playground, the sort of place that looks like hell to most parents, but heaven to most kids. From what we saw of it, it seemed like the sort of place your children could play all day, and have just as much fun as if they'd spent it looking at the actual animals surrounding it!
Also, besides the animals, Marwell has Rise of the Dinosaurs running until 2nd September. As you enter the park you're given a fold-out leaflet with a map of the park showing where the dinosaurs are, with quiz questions, a word search and all sorts. This is fantastic if you have older kids - there are dinosaurs at various points around the park, and they all move and make a noise. There are also some facts on the fences around them. I was surprised to find that S really enjoyed these; they move and squawk, and one of them even squirts water. Kids always seem to love dinosaurs, don't they, and the facts were really quite interesting too. What I also loved about the dinosaurs was that there were things like "fossil discovery" dotted around the park - so children could use brushes to remove sand from fossils and bones and make their own discovery. Children love this sort of thing, and S is obsessed with sand so it's something children of all ages can get involved with.
Lots of the paths around the animals were sloped rather than having stairs, and there were a lot of ramps in place so wheelchairs and pushchairs are well accommodated. This impressed me, as there's only so much bumping up and down steps a girl can do in one day, and you'd be surprised how many places just put random steps in here and there.
There were lots of toilets around the park, and although they could do with being better signposted in places, all of the ones we came across were clean and well looked after.
Yes, this really is a photograph of a toilet. For one thing, look how clean the whole area is. But more importantly, that there is a flip-down toddler toilet seat. How often do you see one of those in a public toilet? They weren't in every toilet we visited at the park, but it's still impressive to see them around!
Also, take a look at this:
These are Dyson hand dryers, a personal favourite of mine as they're so efficient - but there's one at parent height, and one at child height. Less need for picking your child up to dry their hands! Win!
At every toilet we stopped at, there were baby changing facilities in both the male and female toilets. There are also several of these "Changing Places" around the park, for people with disabilities who need more space and facilities available to them.
As part of our visit to Marwell, there were certain things we had to look out for, and were given a tick sheet to fill in. We had to check for things like a non-smoking eating area, high chairs, baby changing facilities and so on. Here's what we found:
- We didn't see any no-smoking signs, but we also didn't see any smokers. My sister smokes, and whenever she felt the need she was sent off around a corner and out of the way as we didn't see any "smoking area" signs either.
- In the cafe we went to, I only saw 3 high chairs which was not fantastic, but I also didn't see anyone holding a baby, trying to find a high chair so perhaps they don't have use for them. I know S refuses to use a high chair while we're out these days.
- I asked the staff if there was a designated area for breastfeeding, and I absolutely loved the response I got. The lady told me no, you are free to breastfeed wherever you like. There followed a discussion about how some places have a "designated breastfeeding area" in the toilets, and how awful that would be for both mother and baby.
- There was a children's menu available in the cafe we went to, with healthy, sensible options. S and I "shared" fish fingers and chips though, as it was my birthday and we both fancied something nice.
- All of the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable. The reason I know so much about the Changing Places rooms is that a member of grounds staff saw me taking a photo and told us all about how great the rooms are. When I asked one lady about something and she didn't know the answer, she took me to someone else who did.
S had such a fantastic time at Marwell, she barely stayed in the pushchair for more than five minutes at a time and enjoyed running from animal to animal, jumping around on all the grass, and generally having a lot of fun.
Of course, you can't go out for the day without having an ice cream! There was a massive range of flavours to choose from, and some with cleverly dinosaur-themed names, which was fun.
We all went home very happy and tired; thanks for a fantastic day out, Marwell!
Note: We were invited to spend a day at Marwell Wildlife Park on behalf of Approved Family Friendly, in order to gauge how family friendly they are. All words and opinions are my own.