Things to do in the school holidays: Picnic at the zoo
August 12, 2016
What glorious weather it’s been this last couple of days, and I think set to stay like this for the weekend too. We’ve now survived two whole weeks of the school holidays (and my first time looking after 2 children all day every day for 8 weeks until Pip starts school in September) and been up to lots of things, which I am re-capping in a series for The Little Pip novelly entitled Things to do in the school holidays… Sometimes I find even routine ideas can slip the mind, so I’ve been compiling a series of posts of ideas and things to do over the summer, or indeed, all the myriad half terms that will soon be on our radar.
Whilst we went to the ZSL London Zoo there are of course many other zoo/animal options all over the country
Pack an animal themed picnic and eat it at the zoo!
We were invited by Greggs to spend the day at the zoo and meet them at lunch time for a zoo themed picnic. Such a simple idea for a day out but we had a great time, and I would highly recommend this. I know the zoo is expensive, but Pip is still talking about it weeks later and we have had a great time since the trip playing with animal masks and also printing out the photographs and sticking them in our scrapbooks (I have got involved and am making her little brother one of his own!) printing out the photos using our Epson Eco-tank printer.
One of the things that I found daunting about a trip out to the zoo, particularly with 2 children in tow, was the logistics. Bringing your own picnic of course means extra packing, but it also means you can eat wherever suits you around the place. I was particularly impressed at the zoo at the number of benches and areas to eat your own food as well as water fountains to refill drinks bottles. Of course, there was plenty of food available too, but no-one makes you feel uncomfortable for bringing or eating your own, which does makes it a much cheaper proposition.
Because I was there on my own with Pip and LB, without another adult, I decided that I would let Pip choose what we saw when we needed to have a decision made, and base the day around that. I also roughly let her guide how long we spent looking at things – hence we spent a lot of time in the butterfly house (my photos didn’t really come out because my lens steamed up and with LB in the sling and pushing the car seat on the wheels loaded with our rucksack etc, I didn’t really have the opportunity to get a lens cloth out).
We both loved the penguins…
We also loved the new lion enclosure, Land of the Lions, in particular how child friendly it was. As we went in, a ranger approached Pip, inviting her to be a trainee ranger and gave her a worksheet and giving her a tag for her wrist (which I think signalled to the other rangers throughout the enclosure, as they greeted her as a trainee ranger throughout). We stuck to the lower walkways only as Pip wasn’t interested in getting closer and I didn’t want to drag her to places she wasn’t keen on – but she loved helping the rangers spot the lions through binoculars and answering the phone to a lion emergency (which rang as she stepped into the rangers hut). She also enjoyed stamping her card with her observations.
What to bring for your picnic
I usually take a small cool bag when we head out anywhere at the moment, with a couple of small ice packs wrapped in a tea towel in the bottom to keep everything cool. I love that all of these new bits from Greggs would easily fit in there. I particularly liked the old school picnic theme to the items we tried – I had a Honey Roast Ham and Free Range Egg Salad (although Pip immediately snaffled the egg) which came with a honey mustard dressing, and Pip had a simple ham filled milk roll (calcium & protein). As did I, having coveted hers – I know they are aimed at kids, but sometimes, nothing beats a plain ham roll. At £3 for the salad and 95p for the kids rolls, I thought these were really reasonably priced and would make the job of packing a picnic really easy. We also tried the fruit pots which were filled with ready to eat slices of fruit, again making things super easy. Pip loved the gingerbread that she had for pudding, and the cookies were also surprisingly delicious.
I have to say that I hadn’t thought of Greggs as an obvious picnic choice option before but having tried it, I do really recommend it for simple, uncomplicated picnic food. I do enjoy a fancy sandwich (and they have some of those too including a Cajun Chicken Flatbread which looked pretty tasty, and got a thumbs up from the other bloggers there) but for me, a picnic tastes best with simple tasty things which travel easily, and I think Greggs have got that down well.
I always pack napkins for a picnic, and even sometimes a tablecloth, and the zoo themed ones we used for this picnic were an easy addition to the theme. I think that this might also be a nice idea for a birthday party – Greggs had put out the picnic using zoo themed plates and tablecloths and it looked really effective. It wasn’t a private area though, so anyone could replicate the idea, and the kids loved it. The masks were also really popular (Pip has a tiger one and wears it pretty much every day at the moment).
Learning it is ok not to see everything & some things will end up being a highlight when you didn’t even know you wanted to see them …
In the afternoon we looked at some more of Pip’s choices – specifically gorillas, tigers and owls. I couldn’t leave without seeing the giraffes (we actually spent quite a lot of time peacefully watching them eat, as it also coincided with one of LB’s naps) but we also looked at some of the animals we saw in between walking to the various parts. I was delighted by an armadillo and Pip couldn’t stop exclaiming about the fascinating meerkats.
I usually want to make sure I’ve seen everything to get the most out of the day, or the best value from the ticket, but as I was on my own with the two of them, I knew that was never going to be possible. Making peace with that was such a good idea as it made me much less stressed.
Remember some pocket money for a souvenir
The other thing that really impressed me about the ZSL London Zoo was the items for sale. I knew Pip was going to want to buy things, because (a) I love shopping and so does she and (b) she loves pencils, notebooks, soft toys – as do most little kids, and usually places capitalise on that. As we went around, I noticed that most of the animals were available in soft toy form, with the smallest ones being darling little bean bag type toys, modestly priced at £2. I let Pip choose one and I bought a baby gorilla for LB (both Pip and I enjoyed watching the baby gorilla being taught to climb and thought her little brother was somewhat reminiscent of the gorilla baby!) and I also let Pip choose a Land of the Lions notebook and lion topped pencil and was pleasantly surprised when the bill was less than £10 for them all.
Timings & other things to consider
We arrived at 10.30am on a Wednesday morning at the start of the school holidays and there was no queue – something to bear in mind if you are wondering about fast track entry. It probably helped that the weather wasn’t super nice in the morning (but it picked up to glorious sunshine later that afternoon) but it was still much more empty in the morning than the afternoon when it noticeably filled up and was more difficult to get around easily – although we never felt we were in a constant queue, and there was plenty of less popular enclosures that were free from crowds even mid afternoon. Buying tickets online in advance looks to be cheaper, and the place was actually pleasantly empty with no lines for food or drinks that I could see during the first part of the morning.
Talks & feedings – these were all available at the enclosures and online which could be used to guide you around if you want more information. We caught the 3pm feeding & talk in the rainforest part and it was chatty and informative and meant that some of the shyer animals had come out into the middle for the feeding which allowed us a better view. Pip also asked some of the rangers a million questions (particularly the poor lady in the butterfly house) and there wasn’t anything Pip asked that she didn’t have an answer for.
Ethics of zoos – I was hesitant to touch on this because obviously the real focus of the day and the piece was the zoo themed picnic, but, I am also recommending the zoo as a day out. I know that the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which runs London Zoo is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, and that animal welfare is a priority. Indeed, all the enclosures were clean and large and the animals all looked (so much as it is possible to tell) well cared for and ‘happy’. I haven’t included any photos of the gorillas because I found it hard to take any – the dad was sat there a little sad/angry at the front guarding his baby who was at the back top corner from a wall of humans taking photos – but by and large I felt that it was a worthwhile experience for Pip to be able to learn and mostly the animals were either away from the viewing platforms (lions and tigers were really only properly visible through binoculars) or not at all bothered by the human viewers. Obviously I know other zoos won’t always be like this but I was happy enough with our experience of a fantastic day out, learning lots, to recommend as a location.
We were guests of Greggs at the zoo which included entrance and lunch.