During the Summer Holidays we were invited to visit Longleat Safari Park as part of their 50th Birthday Celebrations. It was our first visit as a family so we were all very excited as there is one very special animal living there who I have wanted to see for a number of years.
We broke up our journey from South West Wales by staying in Newport the night before. From West, Longleat (BA12 7NW) is about 40 minutes off the M4 (J17).
On arrival, parking is free and plentiful.
The Safari Drive Through
Longleat do suggest that visitors leave the Safari Drive Through until the afternoon when it is quieter (unless everyone decides to take that advice of course). We were too eager and did it straight away anyway as it was the main thing we were there for. On our next visit we will swap this around.
African Village and Walking Safari
If like us, you plan to do the Safari Drive Through on arrival, after buying or showing tickets at the desk you can follow directions and drive straight in the direction of the Drive Through. On the way in you'll be provided with a CD (sadly our CD player doesn't work so we listen to music through USB). Don't panic, you don't go straight in with the lions, you can take a pit stop at the African Village first for the toilet, refreshments and the chance for the kids to stretch their legs and have a little play after long car journeys.
Here, you can see the giraffes and zebra. If you time it right, you can see them feed at 10.30am or 2pm.
There are also ring-tailed lemurs, red-necked wallabies, pygmy goats and warthogs. Here you will also find the café, which has stunning views over the park.
The kids liked the rope bridge which has great views too.
The important thing to know about Monkey Jungle (or Monkey Mayhem) is you can bypass this part of the drive through easily if you wish. Reading the sign above, I was quite tempted! I was more worried about the monkeys than my car but the kids (especially the biggest kid, Dave, really wanted to go through this bit and insisted a visit to Longleat wouldn't be the same without it, so we did!).
Sure enough, once we were in there the monkeys came to see us. I would have loved to have been a passenger watching the monkeys instead of the driver worried about keeping all of the monkeys safe (I would love a VIP Tour one day!).
It was so funny watching the monkeys climb onto the other cars though. See how they have already taken the registration plate and sensors off the car in front. They were so persistent and kept going until they'd taken everything they wanted.
They really knew what they were doing. Look at the monkey above holding onto the other one as they get more loot. They also seem to recognise different makes of cars and which ones are easier to take apart! My car was just good for weeing and pooing on apparently which the kids found hilarious.
Anne the Elephant's Haven
Anne the elephant was the reason I wanted to come to Longleat. Of course, no one wants to see an elephant in captivity. However Anne was a rescue circus elephant who was in need of a new home. In Spring 2015, she was moved to her large home in Longleat with 24 hour access to the outdoors. She has a dedicated team of keepers who keep her healthy and plan her enrichment activities. Despite being an elderly elephant she has come on so well during her time at Longleat and can now lift her trunk again and with medication live pain free. You can read more of Anne's story in Saving Anne the Elephant: The Rescue of the Last Circus Elephant. I cried many times reading the book but need to think positively that things have come on so far in recent years and we'll continue to move forwards. Hopefully in the future we won't have to see another elephant living alone in captivity again.
In the deer farm, food can be purchased for £1 (the deers are currently in rut so deer feeding will return in 2017).
One deer fed from my hand for a while but on the whole they had already been well fed so weren't overly interested. After the intense slow driving in Monkey Mayhem it was nice to be able to park the car and wind down the window for a while before continuing on our safari.
Wind up your windows and keep them closed as you enter the home of the big cats- Tiger Territory and Lion Country.
There are three female tigers and we managed to see them all (not many photos though as I packed my favourite prime lens and not a long zoom lens which would have been better for animal photography!). One tip to find the tigers is to see where the keepers jeep is and they will usually be fairly close to that so the keepers get a good view. They like to spend time by their pool too.
Next we drove through Lion Country. There are two prides and as they're territorial, two enclosures.
The second pride were enjoying an afternoon nap in the sun when we passed by.
As we drove through wolf wood we spotted a timberwolf straight away. I was suprised to see that it was white. In fact grey wolves can have a variety of different colour coats, grey, red, black, brown and white. They are naturally nocturnal but you may be able to hear them howl at night (their howls can be heard for up to 6 miles away).
We encountered more animals on our safari but the ones mentioned above were our highlights. It was a fascinating family experience.
Longleat House and Grounds
As we spent so long on the safari and then in the adventure park we didn't have time to visit Longleat House. This will be our first stop next time so I can write a detailed post about it.
The Bat Cave
Back in the main square, we walked through the bat cave and saw the Egyptian Fruit Bats.
Eating and Drinking
The Tropical Storm Cafe
For lunch, we stopped at the Tropical Storm Cafe which had lots of options. I enjoyed a veggy burger and chips.
My favourite part in the main park was the Jungle Safari. There was quite a long queue but we knew it would be worth it. There were also sights to see as we queued which made it more fun.
On the boat we looked out for sea lions.
We went past the two hippos, Spot and Sonia- can you spot them?
The sea lions came right up to the boat. We were told their names and about their different personalities as well as facts about sea lions in general.
We bought a tub of fish for £1 and the kids fed them which was a noisy affair. They love to try and get your attention for more food!
We enjoyed the beautiful view as we sailed back to land.
The Sea Safari takes you past the Gorilla Colony.
First we passed Nico, Europe's oldest male Gorilla, in his private home (sadly his mate Samba died in 2007) which boasts central heating and TV to keep him occupied.
Sailing further on we got to Gorilla Colony, a lakeside retreat for three lowland gorillas.
We enjoyed a stroll through the Secret Garden- I would love to create a "Secret Garden" inspired section in our garden!
Next we went to Penguin Island to see the lovely Humboldt penguins.
They were so fascinating- we loved watching how they stood so still.
Unfortunately since our visit Longleat have lost a large number of these penguins due to malaria. This part of the park is currently closed to put the needs of the nine remaining penguins first. We are so sad to think of the poor penguins, we hope the remaining penguins recover well and our thoughts are with the Longleat keepers who I know are devestated by this news.
When Penguin Island does reopen you will be be able to see the ray fish at Ray Bay who live just past the penguins.
Butterfly and Reptile House
Next we went into the Butterfly House (remember these areas are always really hot so remove a few layers if you can before entering).
Walking around the butterfly house there were surprises at every turn, such as reptiles, banana plants and a wishing chair.
As well as, of course, lots of butterflies. Look out for the hanging chrysalises too.
In the animal adventure room there are animals to pet. I spotted Danny handling a snake. He had a good chat with the keeper as he held the snake.
Characters and Education
Dotted around the park are lots of information boards, posters and games.
There were also characters walking around. Here, I just missed a shot of Danny high- fiving the monkey. He was showing Isabelle that there's no need to be scared of animal characters (she's really not sure about them!).
Rebecca plays the African Drums.
Next it was time for the hedge maze. It's the largest of it's kind in the UK with over two miles of path to choose from (and I think I walked every single step of those two miles).
Danny was the first to find his way to the observation tower (why didn't I stick with him instead of following Izzy?). We kept passing him but not actually getting to him. Eventually, we all made it to the middle and found the way out again which is always handy!
Everywhere we go the kids always ask, "Is there a park?" Thankfully, Longleat went over and above our expectations with their adventure playground. There is so much there the kids could have played all day.
As well as the playground there is a Medieval Fortress to explore.
There's also a splash pad- I'd pack bathers/spare clothes/rainsuit and a towel if your kids plan to get really wet (as they love to).
In addition there is a giant ball pool, dancing balloons, softball canons, interactive art wall and the little lion heart castle in the Play Kingdom.
Pride of Longleat Parade
As we visited during the 50th Anniversary of Longleat (Happy Birthday!) we settled down to watch the special "Pride of Longleat Parade".
We grabbed some popcorn and clapped and danced as the parade passed us- it was great fun!
At the main square, the parade turned into a show. The walking lion puppet (pictured here meeting guests earlier that day) was designed by the same team behind War Horse theatre production.
As you can see the girls loved joining in with the celebrations.
After the show it was nearly time for the park to close. We still hadn't been on the Jungle Express and I love land train rides. I noticed there was one more ride left for the day so we hopped on it.
Train rides are a great way to see all of the park when little ones (and older ones actually) need a rest.
We enjoyed hippo and sea lion spotting once more and saw lots of sights on our ride.
Shop and Souvenirs
There are lots of shops at Longleat to buy a souvenir or gift before you go home. There are also those souvenir penny machines that I know my kids love so bring a couple of pound coins and pennys!
Time to Go Home
Then it really was time to leave. We walked past the stunning Longleat House once more.
We said goodbye to the great lion statue outside the house and made our way back to the hotel.
This post is just an idea of what we managed to fit in during the day but there is so much more there to do. I would definitely buy a two day visit ticket next time. Tickets for just the house and grounds are available too.
Longleat is open: Daily from March until October
Friday to Sunday during November
Daily in December (excluding Christmas Day)
Opening hours are usually: 10 - 5 (off peak) and 10 - 6 (peak)
Please see website for up to date opening times.
Current online prices are £28.85 (adults), £21.20 (children) and £22.90 (seniors), under 3's are free.
The Festival of Light will take place on selected dates from 11th November 2016 to 2nd January 2017.
Thanks to Longleat for sending us tickets for the purpose of this review.