Family day out: Woburn Safari Park
A dozen years ago, I got married at Woburn Abbey. As we trekked repeatedly up and down the M1 to Woburn to sort out the planning, my future husband and I kept saying we should take the opportunity to go to the safari park one time. We never did.
A dozen years later, now with our small girl in tow, we finally made it back for a day at Woburn Safari Park.
And what a day. Minnie’s eyes lit up at the thought of seeing animals so we were already on to a good start. But as it turned out, it was even more fun than I’d expected.
If you’ve never been to the safari park, there are effectively two separate sections – the road safari, where you drive through the park past animals living wild, and the foot safari, which (unsurprisingly) is on foot, with smaller animals such as meerkats, sealions, penguins and lemurs.
In this section, you also find the restaurant, kids’ play areas including a bouncy castle and various talks and feeding sessions which run throughout the day – top tip from the staff is to check at the gift shop if there are any updates to the advertised schedule, as it can depend on weather.
But on top of this, you can also sign up for one of the VIP experiences – and when we were invited along to the safari park, we were also given the choice of animals to meet. So once Minnie heard that lemurs were an option (along with lions, bears, tigers, monkeys, giraffe, meerkats and penguins), that got our instant vote.
There are age restrictions for various animals – over-fives only for meerkats, four and over for lemurs/penguins – and obvious safety restrictions for others (no stroking the lions). It’s worth remembering these are wild animals: feeding isn’t a guaranteed part of any experience because they simply might not be hungry.
We, however, were in luck. Walking into the lemur enclosure, we were instantly eyed up by a smaller brown lemur while the ring-tailed group were huddled together in a huge group snuggle, tails wrapped around each other and only one head poking out of the sea of furry bodies.
It turns out this was a good thing, as the ring-tails are the ‘bully boys’ of the lemur world, according to safari park ranger Bob, who drove us around in a Landrover marked ‘DOB’ (as in Duke of Bedford, the man who owns Woburn) which meant we could pretty much go anywhere.
So armed with snacks, we headed over to meet the black and white ruffed lemurs, who love to be tickled gently under an armpit – and seemed quite happy to be stroked by a small girl (and big girl) as well. Needless to say, the animals come first so if they’d seemed wary or unwilling, we’d have backed right off.
That was very definitely not the case. Within about 10 seconds, there was a scrabble of paws, and I had a furry friend sitting on one shoulder, while my husband briefly had one on each. On a chilly May day, there’s few things quite as warming as a lemur wrapped around your neck, delicate paw outstretched for some food – fruit and courgette vanished first, asparagus tips when it became obvious that was all that was left.
I couldn’t stop grinning. Minnie, closer to lemur height, got to feed them as well – no jumping up needed there (probably a good thing as she’s not that much bigger). And tempting though it was to stay there for the full session, when Bob offered us the chance to go off-road and meet some other animals, I reluctantly waved goodbye.
We headed onto the grass, watched by the giraffes whose necks seemed even longer than normal up close. ‘Do you want to feed them?’ asked Bob, hopping out and cutting a section off a branch lying on the ground. One giraffe came up to investigate then suddenly darted off, startled by nothing like a spooked horse. Not the brightest animals, apparently.
But another came over for a snack… and then another decided to peer curiously inside the window. Why grandmother, what BIG nostrils you have! (Another big bonus of going out with an expert is that they know when it’s actually safe to open the windows – don’t try this alone!)
Full, they ambled off on those spindly legs (again, not so spindly up close) and we drove over to the monkeys. Strictly speaking, to the apes – Barbary Macaques – and Pata Monkeys, with their moustached little faces.
Sprinkling some food on the bonnet, we had a new furry passenger within minutes: one of the big males who settled down to scoff his way through. He wasn’t so keen on Bob’s plan to start driving again, jumping crossly on the bonnet with a gigantic thud if we gently moved forwards. Eventually, he grumpily decided to climb down as we trundled past a few family groups including one with a baby tucked in the middle.
‘What do you think of my office?’ asked Bob. Frankly, I’d have been happy if that particular day at work never ended.
As we headed back to the starting point in the foot safari section, I realised it still wasn’t even quite lunchtime and we still had the whole park to explore alone, with over 1,000 animals to spot. Once I could persuade Minnie to come off the bouncy castle.
There’s so much to see we had to abandon the idea of going on the little train (big queues) or the swan boats on the lake, in order to say a quick hi to the marmosets, meerkats, wallabies and a variety of other furry creatures.
Then over to the lorikeets and lories – parrots! cried Minnie – which will come and feed from tiny cups of nectar.
And a final drive through the safari park to see some of the predators we hadn’t spotted the first time round. All that was visible of the bears were two furry paws draped over the edge of their shelter, and a very quick glimpse of a nose and ears – the wolves were even better at hiding, while one of the tigers was prone in the long grass having a snooze.
Then a final drive past the monkeys, who appeared to be entertaining themselves by car surfing and occasionally nibbling an aerial – sadly more than a few people were ignoring the signs asking visitors not to feed any of the animals, and were passing out fruit and snacks through their window. Although there are staff around, it must be impossible to police everyone so it’s a real shame that people take advantage of that fact.
And with our own (temporary) furry hitchhiker, we headed towards the exit.
Did you have fun? I asked my daughter at bedtime. She looked briefly doubtful. Only the lemurs, she said, and the monkeys and the giraffes and the zebras and the sea lions and the penguins and the ice cream and… the list went on for a little while.
Need to know
Tickets cost £15.99 for children and £22.99 for adults at the gate, or £1 off if you book online. There are also family tickets from £48.99 for one adult and two children (online only) and all-inclusive options, plus annual tickets.
There are a variety of VIP experiences, priced from £79 for the first person including entry, guidebook (which are packed with some great animal facts) and VIP Experience certificate, then £49 for up to three additional people – this is the cost to meet the lemurs, for example. Alternatively there are options priced for four people, including off road adventures and big cat breakfast, plus keeper/junior keeper day exepriences. During half-term and school holidays, there are also special events and activities.
Some have lower age limits and you’re expected to follow all and any instructions from staff to ensure both animals and people stay safe. The safari park can’t always guarantee that you can feed the animals as part of this as it may depend on the time of day, the animal and whether they’re actually hungry…
The safari park is open daily during the main season (until October 30 this year) from 10am to 6pm with last entry at 5pm. The animal enclosures in the foot safari seciton close 15 minutes before closing time. You can also retrace the road safari from the re-entry point near the foot safari as many times as you want during the day. Convertibles and soft top cars are allowed but only in restricted areas (nope, not the lions OR monkeys).
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Disclosure: My entry and VIP experience was courtesy of Woburn Safari Park. All opinions and lemur obsession are my own.
Images copyright MummyTravels