Safari Park Wars: Longleat vs West Midlands
Over the past couple of weeks my family and I have visited both Longleat and West Midlands Safari parks. They both offer similar experiences, both trips were paid for using Tesco vouchers and both have a wide variety of animals to enjoy from the comfort of your car. But which one is the better family day out?
The Safari experience
Of most importance is the actual safari themselves. Both parks were visited on busy days during the summer holidays and both had a lot of other cars driving round them.
West Midlands safari park was nice enough, with large enclosures, nicely presented and plenty of rangers patrolling keeping everyone safe.
Driving around though was a miserable experience due to the sheer number of vehicles visiting and the layout of the roads. We sat in a huge traffic jam for around 2 1/2 hours, occasionally seeing an animal but generally staring at the rear of the car in front. The road frequently led us up and down dramatic slopes, pushing our car’s clutch to the limit. We had to leave before getting to the elephants and giraffes because we’d sat for too long in traffic, not our idea of a fun family day out.
Arriving at Longleat the following week we were met with a long queue just to get into the park! Our hearts sank. Arriving at the counter to enter we were told the safari was closed! Picking our jaws up we accepted that maybe this was a good sign. The lady at the kiosk told us that the safari had been closed due to too many cars, if only this had happened at West Midlands!
Later that day the safari was opened and we entered, on our way in we were handed a CD offering a fantastic commentary to the animals we were seeing as we drove around, nice touch Longleat.
We drove freely around the first half of Longleat, enjoying the animals in our own pace and not getting stuck in a queue. This changed in the second half of our safari, approaching the big cats we got stuck in a long queue of traffic, some 20-30 minutes later we entered one of the many safety cages and saw a campervan who had sadly broken down. All rumblings of annoyance of yet another traffic jam gave way to guilt, the poor folk stuck in their broken down vehicle, surrounded by frustrated families and huge, hulking tigers, ouch! After leaving this cage though we were met with queue after queue after queue. The cages preventing the big cats from mingling with one another proved to dramatically slow our pace, frustrating but totally acceptable interference.
Without question the better safari experience was Longleat’s, the highlight of which (much to our surprise) was the deer.
One of the most important features of a Safari is of course the collection of animals who live there and how they are presented to the public. I say this because it was so nice to see in both parks that a lot of the animals were in large enclosures together alongside other beasts.
We visited West Midlands Safari Park first and came away feeling as though there were too many deer and bovine animals. Entering Longleat the following week we were disappointed to see a large area was especially for deer, we considering skipping it (an alternate route was offered) until seeing how Longleat made the deer special to the visit.
Both parks allow you to feed some of the animals. West Midlands sell you a box (the size of a large matchbox) of animal food for £3 and Longleat sell large cups of deer feed (including a hand wipe) for £1.
The deer park in Longleat was stunning and a definite highlight of our day. Pulling off the road families squealed with delight as deer flocked around. Mums, Dads and children held hands full of nuggets out to the deer, deer forced heads into windows trying to steal their food, it was a sight to behold. There were far more deer here than at West Midlands but here they were a highlight rather than a low point.
Away from the safari
Both parks offer a lot of other attractions away from the safari. Rides, extra animals, food stalls, shows etc. An important financial point to note here is that Longleat’s enterance fee covers you rides whereas West Midlands rides must be paid for either individually or a wristband can be brought allowinging you to go on as many as you wish.
West Midlands offer a lot more rides than Longleat but Longleat offer a lot more animals to walk around and enjoy. Each one would very much suit different interests.
Both parks are advertising brand new dinosaur exhibits that have recently opened. Longleat has a number of large dinosaur models littered in amongst an area housing some of their animals. West Midlands have given up an area of their park especially for the dinosaurs and it is absolutely awesome. The dinosaur area in West Midlands is simply stunning. Huge hulking beasts move and roar amongst the trees, pools, steaming volcanoes and geysers spouting water regularly. The girls were initially scared to go inside, it looks that realistic! This was without doubt the highlight of our trip to West Midlands Safari park.
Taking into account the costs of both days out, choosing a best one is not easy. Both have a lot to offer families and can be a lot of fun. Personally though we had the better day at Longleat. The safari was easier to manuveur around and the area away from the safari had more to offer our family.
Filling a summer with days out that don’t break the bank is always a challenge for us. Where to go next?