Thursday, 30 August 2018

Family Day Out at ZSL London Zoo

Last week we were very kindly invited to visit London Zoo as a family and I honestly couldn't type my reply fast enough. The fact it fell during the week of Lily's 2nd birthday was brilliant because it meant we could draw out her birthday festivities. And draw them out, we did! It was such a fantastic experience, one of those days where we all trundled off to bed straight after dinner with aching legs, smiling faces and happy hearts.

I know I had been to London Zoo as a child but I can't remember much about it other than it being huge, and that part definitely hadn't changed despite me growing to be quite huge too! I couldn't believe how big it was, with beautiful architecture that housed the aquarium and other exhibits, quiet picnic spots and plenty of open space to walk about without feeling as though you were on top of everyone. Which considering we went on a Friday during the summer holidays is quite a big deal! 

There was so much to see and do, I had expected Lily to be a little too young for a lot of it but amazingly she was just as involved as we were. Aside from the animals there are regular feeding displays and live talks throughout the day as well as a carousel, face painting, a playground with bouncy castles and plenty of places to stop for a snack throughout the park. Lily and I had a go on the carousel but even though she's been on them before and loved it, she was not a fan! To cheer her up afterwards we went and watched people having their faces painted. At 2, and as a child who literally never stays still for longer than three seconds, I didn't think she would be very interested in having hers done but as soon as she saw the board with the different options on her little eyes lit up! We went through all the animals with her but she liked the flower fairy the best despite our gentle encouragement for something more suited to our adventure. Amazingly, she sat perfectly still to have it done without even twitching or recoiling at the cold paint. She closed her eyes when she was asked and seemed to be completely enchanted by the whole experience. She did poke her face once she stood up which smudged a tiny bit but once she saw her face in the mirror she was besotted! I remember the first time I had my face painted so this felt like such a special moment for me and it was wonderful to watch her experience it for the first time. Although I do wish I had had mine done too!


After having her face painted we stopped for an ice cream then made our way to Butterfly Paradise. I've always loved butterflies and remember having an amazing experience at a butterfly farm when I was a child but since losing Aneurin butterflies feel all the more magical to me now. (If you're wondering why, butterflies are thought to be one of the little signs you get from your baby and there is a beautiful poem called 'A Butterfly Lights Beside Us' that many of us relate to our babies.) So, stepping into the tropical paradise to be surrounded by masses of huge, colourful butterflies was oddly moving. Lily was just as enthralled as I was and couldn't take them in quick enough. She kept holding her arm out wanting them to land on her and muttering 'butterfly'. One did land on my head for a brief moment but Haydn wasn't quick enough with the camera! I honestly could have stayed in there for hours (although I might have needed a shower afterwards due to the humidity!), it was magical. There's a video on my Instagram stories of Lily and I in awe if you want to check it out!

Despite the zoo having a lot of larger, more exotic animals I was surprised by how much I loved the smaller exhibits like the Butterfly Paradise. The other two unexpected joys were the Reptile House and B.U.G.S. (which stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival and also, y'know, bugs). I did have to do my best coaxing to get my husband in to the Reptile House because he absolutely hates snakes but even he ended up really enjoying it (whilst refusing to linger around the snakes long enough to take a photo of me by the Harry Potter tank!). As expected Lily was enthralled by all the different turtles but wasn't too convinced by her first crocodile encounter outside of a book. When we reached the B.U.G.S. area Lily was desperate for a nap so Haydn took one for the team and walked her around outside whilst I went in. I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to share it with them but it was actually quite nice to have the time to read about the conservation side of the exhibit and see some of the keepers behind the scenes. I also saw the biggest stick insect I think I'll ever see in my life, I kept trying to convince myself it was a branch because I couldn't quite believe it!  

We tried to wander about slowly so Lily wouldn't miss too much but she was in a mega snooze so we decided to carry on. I'm a bit sad we didn't wake her up for The Land of the Lions though because it was absolutely the best part of the zoo. Influenced and based on Gir National Park in Western India it really is like stepping into another world. On the ground level of the three walkways is a replica of Sasan Gir, the village on the edge of Gir with vibrant shop fronts, a heavenly smelling street food stand and fun little areas to explore. It's not just the village that was designed to replicate Gir but the environment the lions are in too. With the three walkways covering such a vast space you get a really good look at the entire space. Having that connection to the conservation projects actually based in Gir National Park was a big draw and it all felt far more authentic and closer to their natural habitat than any other lion enclosure I'd visited.  

The lions were snoozing as we walked round which was a little disappointing as we didn't get a really good look at them, however as we were leaving the enclosure the most incredible thing happened. One of the lions had wandered down to the stream that runs through their space for a drink and was literally two foot away from the barrier. She stood and lapped up the water for a few minutes whilst everyone in the vicinity fell silent. She was so close and calm, it felt like such a privilege to witness. 

Lily woke up just as we had decided to take pity on our sore feet and call it a day so we decided to have a second trip to see the penguins. We had been earlier in the day to listen to the Penguin Live talk which was brilliant but obviously quite crowded. In the afternoon though it was much quieter and we all enjoyed it far more. The penguins came right to the glass barriers and one actually followed Lily as she walked up and down which she thought was hilarious! There was a fantastic little inverted dome under the pool you could get in and see the penguins swimming under the water but she was a little apprehensive about it so we stuck to the top deck. She was desperate to get over the barrier and waddle about with them but settled for pressing her face up against the glass for a chat.


Our final stop was the gift shop and I know as an adult I'm probably meant to groan at having to exit through them but I love it! We asked Lily if she wanted to choose one toy to take home (within reason!) and she took ages sorting through all the rubber snakes and various bouncy balls before settling on a long, cuddly shark. We then had to endure her shouts of 'baby shark doo doo doo doo' all the way home!

We will absolutely be paying to go back in the future not least so Lily can see the bits she snoozed through. It was one of the best days out we've had and I honestly don't know who enjoyed it the most, Lily or mummy and daddy!
Disclaimer: We were invited to visit the zoo as part of a paid collaboration but as always this post is an honest review and all words are my own!
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