There was a roar of approval when I told my family a visit to Woburn Safari Park was planned for the Easter holidays.
We hadn’t visited the attraction for a good few years and so we rolled up to the entrance hoping for some animal magic.
With a tank full of petrol - last time I remember trundling through the lion enclosure with a fuel tank dipping towards the red - we approached the start of the road safari which offers you the chance to get up close to the magnificent animals which call the 360 acre park their home.
Driving through a safari park can be a bit hit and miss. One minute you might have a rhino just feet from your vehicle and the next minute you’ll have to get the binoculars out as the tigers seek the shade of the farthest flung corner.
After meandering past wildebeests, ostriches, elephants and buffalos, and white rhinos we ventured through the security gates and past a sign warning visitors that getting out of their vehicle or winding a window down isn’t the best idea when you’re about to come across Amur tigers, black bears, timber wolves and eventually African lions.
My children (aged four and seven) had great fun pointing and shrieking “over there” as they spotted the latest beast in the parkland.
But the excitement was cranked up to a whole new level (in fact my son was in fits of laughter) when we entered the monkey enclosure and they saw the cheeky chappies climbing on the roofs and bonnets of cars, as they ultimately did with our vehicle.
Be warned, they do like to pull off car aerials, and the driver in front had his bent in half and nibbled. But there is a monkey bypass if you don’t fancy it, and, of course, you could always unscrew your aerial before you arrive for your visit.
The drive finished with some giraffes and zebras and then we parked up for a spot of lunch in the Safari Restaurant.
Next up was the foot safari and the chance to see some more animals at close quarters.
At Land of the Lemurs we were treated to the hilarious sight of half a dozen of the primates all laying on their backs with both arms raised in an apparent sunbathing position (see picture). A walk through the enclosure is not for the faint-heated as without warning they can spring from branch and land on the wooden handrail of the walkway right beside you.
Penguin World saw dozens of the birds swimming around a pool and there was even a lower level viewing area where you could peer through glass and see beneath the water.
Giant tortoises, a boa constrictor, sheeps and goats were all visited before it was time to get our tickets for the new attraction, the Sea Lion Cove 3D Cinema. This involved watching two of the park’s sea lions performing a selection of the 100 behaviours they’ve been taught, including mimicking a shark, waving to the crowd, and showing us their ears (during the demonstration of the various differences between a sea lion and a seal).
There followed a chance to whack on a pair of silly specs and watch a 3D behind-the-scenes film of the park.
With time against us, we hopped on the last train of the day. The Great Woburn Railway takes you around the edge of the inner park and past the new attraction this Easter, the Deer Station.
It gives the public the chance to hop off and feed the animals, however no-one on the packed train decided to disembark. That may have been because there were no deer in the immediate vicinity, presumably due to the fact that as a new attraction the animals are a bit shy and don’t realise yet that train stopping equals a meal... give it time!
There was just chance to get back to the car for one last whizz around the safari - we just had to see those monkeys again!
Sadly it was then time to head home.
If the kids had got out of bed earlier they might have seen the Bobcat Run Astroslide, got to go on the Swan Boats, the Mammoth Play Ark, the Elephant Paddock, Australian Walkabout, or seen one of two more of the animal demonstrations.
As it was they were quite happy with what they did see and those omissions can always be the first on the ‘to do’ list next time (they’ve already made me promise to take them back), as well as the Desert Springs attraction which is scheduled for a late May opening date.
The final word has to go to those monkeys, particularly the one who had left us a little ‘message’ on the roof on our car. A lovely surprise that we discovered when we’d finished that second drive around the safari course (see it posted on my twitter account @simschat if you want to have a laugh!).
For more information about Woburn Safari Park see http://www.woburn.co.uk/safari/