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Chester Zoo is fabulous! I went years ago when I was a little girl but have never got round to going back until my birthday last week - who says you have to grow old gracefully?! It was a little cold when we went, so we were a bit worried that all the animals would be hidden away, but they have designed it so well that there are lots of indoor places to visit.
It is really easy to get to, there are lots of brown signs from the M6. There is plenty of free parking when you get there. The car park is huge so even when it is busy, you'll find somewhere to park - you might just have a bit of a walk to the main entrance!
The ticket can be bought online before you visit, or there is a ticket desk at the park gates. Tickets vary depending on the time of season and up to date price can be found on their website but to give you an idea, adult tickets range from £14 to £18 and children's tickets from £11 to £15. Infants up to two years are free and you can get discounted family tickets if there are a few of you. I'd say this is pretty good value for money because the zoo is massive and there are plenty of different animals to look at. it's definitely a day of a visit.
When you get into the zoo, you should grab a map to help you get round in a logical way. You'll definitely need to plan your trip or you'll be walking for miles and going round in circles. If you have a map, you can go in a sort of big loop and see all the animals.
I'm not going to talk about all the animals because I'll be here all day but i'll mention some of my favourite parts. All of the big hitters are here - elephants, lions, tigers and rhinos. The elephants are right in front of you as you enter and there are a couple of babies that are really cute. The enclosure is massive and there are plenty of viewing points. We loved the bat cave which is obviously very dark and has bats flying freely. They don't land on you but they fly pretty close and it is quite thrilling if you have the nerve. There are staff inside who will tell you about them and point out the bigger ones. On the whole we found the staff throughout the park extremely friendly, helpful and obviously very passionate about their work.
The orang utans are adorable and again, there are a couple of babies. The enclosure is quite warm (even on a cold day) so there are water jets spraying cool water over you. The chimpanzees are great. When we were there they were being very playful which is always fun to see. The giraffes are good and you can go inside there indoor house if it is cold, so you won't miss out. There is a weighing scale inside and you can see how much they weigh if one of them walks over it. In the days after we visited one of the giraffes had a baby, so it seems there is a bit of a baby boom going on!
There are meerkats as well, looking very cute and, rather bizarrely, located between the rhino enclosures! There is also a massive new enclosure for the jaguar at he back of he zoo, which is inside and packed full of information. It is quite a challenge to spot the cats inside, but easier to spot is the amusing sloth (like Sid from the Ice Age films) who lives nearby.
Some of the more weird and wonderful animals in the park include the rather odd painted dogs that are like hyenas but they do indeed look like they have been painted with random colours. There is also a massive bird enclosure that has menacing looking vultures and eagles, and a smaller enclosure that has free flying smaller birds in.
As with many zoos, conservation is at the forefront of Chester's ethos and you can donate money on top of the part of your entry ticket that goes towards it. There are various ways to do so, the most popular seeming to be sponsoring an animal, for which you get a plaque near the enclosure of your chosen animal. The zoo obviously takes care of it's animals and I felt like the priority was given to them over the visitors, which is of course how it should be. For example we didn't see the black rhino, presumably because it was too cold for him to be outside, which was a little disappointing, but I would prefer that than to see him/her looking uncomfortable.
One of the things I liked most about the zoo is the educational displays all around. There are some interactive displays in the monkey enclosure that show you how they educate them and there are lots of factual signs all around the park that will engage visitors old and young alike. The signs are bright and well designed so that younger visitors can enjoy them. They include lots of fascinating information about the animals and I liked that they compared information to things you could understand to give perspective - for example when describing the amount of food they all it.
The footpaths around the park are well maintained and easy to walk on in all weathers. If you are pushing a pram, you'll have no problems. There is a little monorail type thing that you can get between different parts of the zoo, For a small charge. It is high up and goes quite slowly, so you'll get good views. We didn't go on it because we enjoyed the walking but it was surprisingly busy even on a quiet day so people must have enjoyed it.
There are lots of food stalls and restaurants scattered around the zoo so there are plenty of places to get something to eat. Prices aren't cheap, but nor are they overly expensive. Food offered tends to be the basic attraction type fayre of sandwiches, burgers and chips. There are lots of places to get a snack too. I will mention that a lot of the food places were shut when we went, presumably because it was the quiet season, so bare in mind that the choice won't be as good as if you are visiting in summer. There are also lots of picnic areas if you have brought your own food. You can get your hand stamped at the gate too for re-entry so you can leave packed lunches in the car rather than having to carry them round with you all day.
Overall I'd say Chester Zoo is a great day out for all of the family!