We have visited Chester zoo on numerous occasions and I was super excited to be visiting again over the Christmas period.

Chester zoo is by far a family favourite, we absolutely love the place.

We first visited when Billy was a toddler and Isla was a baby bump, Billy absolutely loved it, splashing around in muddy puddles, running around in his bright red coat and wellies, pointing at all of the animals.

We went again when Isla was a newborn, it was the middle of Summer, the weather was glorious and the zoo was a hive of activity, I remember sitting feeding Isla while watching the lions lazing around. John was running around after a very giddy Billy. I can hand on heart say that I remember that exact moment in time because of the overwhelming feeling of contentment I had.

We have been on a few other occasions too. I remember Isla escaping her wheelchair on the hill past the elephant enclosure and falling out, getting up and making a run for it with me running behind trying to catch her, the gasps and the looks on people faces were pretty hilarious.

Here are a few of our family snaps from some of our previous visits to Chester Zoo…….

Me and John are always trying to create happy memories for our children. Family time is so very important to us and it’s safe to say that Chester zoo holds some very special memories for each of us.

So aside from all of the great memories that we’ve made there, what makes Chester zoo so special and what exciting things did we get to see and do? Read on to find out……..

The animals

Chester zoo is huge! I don’t mean big huge, I mean enormous huge. In fact there’s 11 whole miles of footpath and a whopping 125 acres of land. So what do you do with all that space? Well you fill it with more than 21,000 animals for starters!

Some of these animals are endangered, some even critically endangered and Chester zoo are extremely passionate about conservation. They run extensive conservation programmes to try and prevent these species from becoming extinct. Chester zoo themselves are in fact a charity. For more information on how you can support the conservation projects at Chester zoo please follow this link https://www.chesterzoo.org/support-us

I wish I could share every single picture I took when visiting the zoo and I wish I could tell you about every single animal we saw but I would literally be here for weeks. Instead I will share with you some of our highlights.

Very early on John and Billy decided they wanted to go through the bat cave. I admit I was a little sceptical given Isla’s sensory issues. I was a little bit worried that the dark and the fact that bats are free flying in there may throw her, especially as we hadn’t been in the zoo very long. How wrong was I! Isla absolutely loved it. We all did. What an experience. Bats are actually pretty cute, who knew? You can’t really see them in detail, it is very dark but you can definitely hear them and you can see them flying around everywhere. Dare I say you can even smell them, yup they are a bit stinky. The guy working in the bat cave was very knowledgeable and told us some pretty cool bat facts. Did you know that baby bats are no bigger than your thumb nail and weigh the same as a £1 coin? Bats are also expert flyers, they will never fly in to people because their senses are so brilliant. Obviously no photographs of the bat cave, you’ll have to visit and see for yourself.

Some animals we didn’t bet on seeing (because we had never even heard of them) were the Prevost squirrel which are a gorgeous red, white and black colour and a tree kangaroo. Yes you heard me right, there was an actual kangaroo sat in a tree! Don’t believe me, here it is………

A highlight for me whenever we visit Chester zoo is all of the different breeds of monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans because you can see them so very clearly and sometimes pretty closely too as they come right up to see you. On this visit we even got to see a baby. I could watch monkeys and orangutans for ages, and we did actually stay and watch them a while. Some were swinging around after each other outside while others were just chilling out indoors.

I think our monkeys thought they were looking in a mirror!

An animal we hadn’t previously seen at Chester zoo was the jaguar. Oh my goodness what an absolutely stunning animal. I had to be dragged away from him but when we looked up……

Guess who was also in there? a two toed sloth, hanging above our head. Sloths aren’t as slow as I thought, they are however extremely fascinating and I think quite elegant.

Further on we all stood in awe of the otters who put on the most wonderful display, dancing together under water and showing off. We watched them for a good while as there were no other people around. I tried to get a picture but they were very quick and all my pictures are blurred. They were incredibly beautiful  and graceful. Isla kept shouting ‘sea lion’ and clapping her hands. Billy was also fascinated by them.

One part of Chester zoo I find particularly interesting is ‘The Islands’. The zoo have recreated the environments of six South East Asian Islands and it literally feels as though you have arrived on one of those islands. There are boats, shacks, boggy marshes, long grass, plants, trees, bridges and wooden signs everywhere. The detail is astounding. The Islands have some beautiful animals, Isla kept shouting ‘Peppa’ at a few and Billy enjoyed pointing out the different animals to his sister.

On our previous visit to the zoo, we managed to have a good look around the Islands by boat. As you know Chester Zoo’s monsoon forest suffered a huge fire just before Christmas and even though the Islands had reopened, some of it was obviously still closed off. Seeing the burnt building was indeed sombre. There were notices around explaining what had happened, in Chester Zoo’s words ‘the worst day in our history’ which made sorrowful reading and there were members of the Chester zoo team and volunteers around explaining what had happened to visitors. So very sad to see but did not at all take anything away from our day out.

Here are some more pictures of animals we saw at the zoo…..

I am not overly keen on spiders and I have a huge fear of snakes but even I thought the colours on this snake were mesmirising.

We all laughed when Isla shouted to a sleeping tapir ‘good morning’, it must have heard her because it woke up

Who doesn’t love giraffes and elephants? Elephants are one of Billy’s favourites and we got to see a baby!

We always love visiting the butterfly house. When Isla was tiny a butterfly came and landed on her nose! All butterflys are free flying and you can walk through and admire them in all their beauty and beautiful they are. I managed to take a picture of a glass winged butterfly, how stunning is this?

Did you know Chester Zoo has an aquarium? You do now. There were quite a number of different fish to see.

This beauty was not even a resident of Chester zoo but look at how gorgeous it is. I have never in my life got this close to a robin.

We also bumped in to this incredibly rare bread of bird, some kind of hornbill I believe.

Accessibility

You all know I talk a lot about accessibility. It wasn’t something I had really given much thought to until we had Isla. Having a child with autism and spending time with children and adults with different disabilities really opens your eyes to how vitally important accessibility is and how difficult it is when places aren’t accessible and aren’t overly concerned about it.

I am beyond pleased to tell you that from start to finish Chester zoo has accessibility absolutely spot on. They have really thought about their disabled visiotrs and it is nice to know Chester zoo welcome everyone with open arms.

If you are disabled or have a disabled loved one and are thinking of visiting the zoo then I would highly recommend taking a look at their accessibility sections on their website https://www.chesterzoo.org/plan-your-visit/accessibility-for-disabled-visitors

Firstly Chester zoo has ample parking for disabled visitors, I believe they have around 100 parking spaces right near the entrance (not disability related but I was stunned to find they also had a number of charge points for electric cars, is there anything they haven’t thought of?)

A carer will be given free entry to the zoo when accompying one full paying disabled visitor (proof will of course be required).

If you have a child with autism who likes to know exactly what is happening and where they are going then the Chester Zoo website is a must. They have an interactive map so you can plan your visit, do your research and prepare your loved one for your day out https://www.chesterzoo.org/zoo-map .You could also use large sections of their website to make a social story because it is literally jam packed with information.

You have already heard me tell you that the zoo is beyond huge. This is brilliant for people with autism because there aren’t crowds of people everywhere and therefore it isn’t noisy either. If you are planning to visit for the first time I would probably advise to visit in low season, it is a lot quieter, in fact in some areas we didn’t see other people at all.

All paths are smooth, wide and most of the zoo is quite flat so wheelchair access is brilliant. There are lifts around the zoo in exhibits that are on more than one floor.

Chester zoo has some beautiful gardens, full of plants with bright colours and different textures, offering a lovely sensory experience for those with autism who enjoy different textures and like to touch and feel and explore their different senses.

What else does the zoo offer its disabled guests? Well something I was extremely happy to see is a changing places toilet! Hooray! Not all tourist attractions have these facilities (they should and its beyond disappointing when they don’t) and I can tell you they make a massive difference when they do. There is a full adult sized changing bench, a hoist for those who require it, and ample space, space that can easily accommodate a wheelchair and several carers. No changing your loved one on a floor here. There are plenty of disabled toilets too. This was an absolute breath of fresh air. Particularly loved the sign outside of the changing places facility ‘Remember not all disabilities are visable’ – Thank you Chester zoo!

Food (and coffee)

You all know coffee is very important to me, and to my family because I am a nightmare if I don’t have it. When we arrived at the Zoo the very first place we headed was café Bembe which was very conveniently located at the entrance. Me and John had a coffee, Billy had a hot chocolate and Isla just wanted to be off. The coffee was lovely, and you know that I know a good coffee when I have one. Billy reported his hot chocolate was delicious, I wanted to try it just to confirm but he wouldn’t allow it so you’ll have to take his word for it. I am also pleased to say the coffee didn’t cost the earth and so we stopped at another café in the afternoon for even more coffee, more hot chocolate and crisps for the cherubs because well you know coffee is life!

There are plenty of picnic spaces at Chester zoo and ample places to buy food and drink (even more in the Summer months) with little cafes and kiosks spread around. There’s a huge british pub in the middle (one day we will get to have a gin and a pint when we visit), there’s Manado street kitchen on the Islands which smelt absolutely amazing, so amazing it made my mouth water. You all know Isla likes her food to be a bit beige and traditional so we headed for Junes pavilion to fill ourselves up. All the way there Isla kept asking for icecream, typical given its Winter but we needn’t have worried because Junes pavilion had plenty of that, in fact they had plenty of everything. What I love about Junes pavilion is the choice of food, all under one roof. There are pizzas, fish and chips, sandwiches, coffee (cant believe I didn’t mention that first), salads, burgers, to name but a few and of course Isla’s beloved chicken. We had two portions of chips, a drink, a meal of chips and chicken goujons and afterwards Isla had an ice cream and it was less than £15 which I think is great value considering the portion sizes. The chicken was particularly lovely quality. I would advise you to either arrive before dinner or a bit later as it is very busy. We did manage to find a table and in warmer months there is plenty of seating outside.

Billy’s view of Chester Zoo

“Chester zoo is one of the best zoo’s I’ve ever visited because it is disabled friendly, has loads of information about animals and the zoo’s history, the staff are very kind, there’s lots to see and do and loads of places to relax too. I really like the islands because there is so much to see there.”

and it’s a thumbs up from Isla too

Summary

To summarise Chester zoo is by far the best zoo we have visited in this country. I haven’t even mentioned the monorail, the playgrounds, the atmosphere, and the amazingly warm and helpful team of staff and volunteers all over the zoo offering a breadth of knowledge and insight and of course help should you need it. There really is an infinite amount of things to see and do.

If you are looking for a zoo to visit this is your place and if you’re looking for an accessible day out I couldn’t recommend Chester zoo highly enough. Every single one of us enjoys it here and we always leave with smiley, happy faces (and the kids always leave tired and that’s when you know you’ve had a good day).

As amazing as the zoo is I do have one massive gripe – that we don’t live closer to visit more often and that we needed another day to make sure we had seen everything.

Goodbye Chester zoo, hopefully be back soon!

 

Entry to the zoo was gifted in exchange for a review – all views expressed within this review are my own.