In the UK the coronavirus / covid-19 lockdown is starting to ease. Most recently Zoos have been amongst the list of attractions that are now allowed to reopen. This is our first visit to a zoo since lockdown and our first experience of a post lockdown day-out, other than visiting a local park / woodland.
We have a number of zoos and a safari park a reasonable drive from our home, the one we decided on was Dudley Zoo and Castle. This is a zoo we visit regularly and I’ve written about the zoo before, although that was 10 years ago. Dudley Zoo at Easter 2010.
There are a number of changes to the experience specifically due to the Covid-19 restrictions. The first was having to book in advance. We went at a weekend and booked online several days in advance; the Saturday was almost fully booked, but fortunately there were quite a few time slots still available for the Sunday. We bought tickets for the Sunday with an arrival time of between 1pm and 1:25pm.
I do sometimes book days-out in advance particularly if there is significant savings but more often we don’t decide where to go until the day in case of bad weather or if we change our plans, but that is not an option at this time.
Upon arrival we were told that there were changes to the visit including a one-way system around the park and told to avoid touching enclosures / windows and to wash hands regularly. There are already plenty of hand washing stations (for the “up close” encounters which are closed) and hand sanistiser foam was also placed regularly around the site.
The zoo was certainly popular, but with restricted numbers and fixed arrival times the zoo did not feel crowded at all. It was sometimes neccessary to queue to see inside a particular enclosure (particularly at the glass windows), but that worked well. Most people were observing the social distancing although there were some people that didn’t (or perhaps just forgot about it). There was only one place where the social distancing appeared to be completely forgotten and that was near the sea lion where a number of people were crowded around to get a look. Even with the relative close proximity around there it was certainly nothing like the photographs that have been circulating about overcrowding at Bournemouth beach. We just went past the crowd and observed from a distance.
Although looking at the map there were lots of closed attractions these didn’t appear to be a bad as it first looked as some of these were just certain vantage areas and most of the animals were still visible. One thing we were aware of was the land train and chair lift were not running (the chair lift would have been closed due to high winds anyway). As Dudley Zoo is quite hilly this meant that you had to walk up the hill, however they did create a one-way system which went around the zoo following a more gentle climb up the hill than some of the alternatives. Another thing we were aware of is that the restaurant and bar were both closed. There were some kiosks but they had a limited range of drinks, ice creams and sweets. We took a picnic along and ate that at one of the many benches.
Some of the close encounters or indoor exhibts were closed including the lorikeets, wallabies, lemurs, farm, chimpanzee (there was just one in the outside area) and reptile house. The funfair rides were also closed although as they are mainly for young children our children are now too old for them anyway. The gift shop was open but operated a one way system making it difficult to decide what to buy without needing to go back through the shop.
The experience of visiting the zoo was certainly different, but still well worth visiting. It’s a shame that some of the close encounter exhibits were closed, but there was still plenty of other animals on show. Whilst you had to walk a certain away around the zoo this was just a different way of experiencing the zoo. There was no need to be at a certain place at a certain time so it was just a case of going around at your own pace and enjoying the animals.
It was a good day out and good value for money. With the extra restrictions and hand cleaning available it felt like a safe place to visit whilst coming out of Coronavirus / Covid-19 lockdown.