There are few better group days out than a visit to a zoo, safari park or animal centre, to enjoy the incredible sights of nature up close. Such visits can be educational, enlightening and entertaining – but above all, they are exciting and highly enjoyable, for groups of any age.
Near Winchester in Hampshire, this 140 acre landscaped park is home to over 170 exotic and endangered species. They warmly welcome group visits and provide all the facilities needed for a brilliant day out at any time of year.
As well as classic zoo animals such as giraffes, meerkats, zebra, ostriches and penguins, Marwell Zoo’s animals include many that are currently in need of help in order to ensure the survival of the species, and a visit here is in itself a great way to help out. This year Marwell has opened a brand new walkthrough aviary, which provides a fascinating insight into the world of flight and also creates a year round home for Marwell’s current birds and some new ones too. The landscaping team has created a varied habitat, including a large pool, which will encourage the birds to engage in their natural behaviours. Also opening this summer is a brand new home for Marwell’s ring-tailed coatis; these active creatures will play among visitors as they walk underneath specially designed bridges. One character groups won’t want to miss is Ralph the penguin – it is impossible to miss him as he wears a wetsuit designed by Californian surf brand O’Neill for most of the year, due to the way in which he moults his feathers. During his annual moult, Ralph loses his feathers quicker than other penguins, leaving him exposed to the elements, so he needs this wetsuit to protect him from the sun and keep him warm on colder evenings. However, with all Ralph’s swimming and grooming, his last wetsuit had become tatty. The team at O’Neill heard about Ralph’s plight and offered to make him a special custom-made wetsuit that was perfect for the little penguin.
Snow leopard cubs have been bred this year and will be making an appearance from mid-July. Until then, visitors can catch footage from inside the den on screens in the park. There are also three play areas in the park where children can run wild and a free road train to help everyone get around. Café Graze has plenty of great food and drink, or there is a dedicated picnic area nearby.
Marwell Zoo offers free tickets to any GTOs planning a visit for their group and coach drivers will benefit from free parking, free entry and a lunch voucher. Group rates are available for groups of 12 or more and for every 12 tickets booked, a free ticket will be given as well. A downloadable group booking form is available on the website.
T: 01962 777965
The perfect combination of a rescue centre and a visitor attraction, Monkey World in Dorset is a 65 acre park operating as a sanctuary for rescued and endangered primates from around the world. Spacious and well laid out, the park gives visitors endless chances to watch the monkeys and apes interact with each other, playing, grooming and eating. The massive ‘Great Ape Adventure Play Area’ will occupy children for hours, while older guests can learn all about the creatures who live at Monkey World and the international breeding programmes for endangered species which some of them are now part of, including Europe’s official orangutan creche. Daily keepers’ talks provide a captivating insight into life at the park and its inhabitants - staff are really enthusiastic about what they do, which gives a real feel-good factor. Pre-bookable guided tours are also available and offer the chance to learn more about the often harrowing pasts of the primates and how their lives have been transformed since arriving at the safe haven of Monkey World. Visitors can also support Monkey World in continuing their rescue and rehabilitation work by adopting a primate, which includes a certificate, photo of the chosen primate, three editions of the Ape Rescue Chronicle magazine and free entry to the park every day for a whole year.
Open every day (except Christmas Day), groups are welcome throughout the year. There is ample free parking and discounts available to pre-booked groups, and as an incentive Monkey World also offers free entry and a drink to uniformed coach drivers. Cafés serve good value hot and cold food and there are numerous picnic areas spread throughout the park. Monkey World is great value for money and a fun yet educational day out.
T: 01929 462537
Situated in the heart of England near Birmingham, Drayton Manor Theme Park is one of the UK’s most popular days out destinations for group visitors as there is something to keep everyone entertained. The theme park is famous for having Europe’s only Thomas Land™, a must-see attraction for fans of the little blue engine and his friends, as well as the ‘Ben 10: Ultimate Mission’ rollercoaster. For older visitors there are the white-knuckle rides, such as the UK’s scariest thrill ride ‘Apocalypse’, and ‘G-Force’, a rollercoaster that subjects riders to 4.3Gs.
Surely the main attraction for most visitors is the 15 acre zoo, however. Animal lovers will be delighted with the recent birth of triplets to the resident cotton-top tamarins; twins are the norm but it is rare for three babies to be parent-reared as these are. The three new additions are welcome arrivals as the primate species is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The babies join the zoo’s many other wonderful animals that include West African dwarf crocodiles, a meerkat mob and a pair of black leopards.
For groups travelling from further afield or simply looking to turn a day trip into an overnight break, there is the luxurious four star Drayton Manor Hotel. It has 150 bedrooms, including 15 ‘Thomas & Friends’ themed family rooms. The hotel has two bars and restaurants.
Great group discounts and offers can be found online and groups of 12 or more arriving in one vehicle can get fantastic prices when they pre-book. Prices start from £18.50 per person and toddlers (age 2- 3) cost just £5.00.
T: 0844 472 1960
LONGLEAT SAFARI & ADVENTURE PARK
Longleat Safari & Adventure Park gets bigger and better all the time, as investment and development continues. Longleat House is a magnificent stately home filled with priceless artefacts and surrounded by landscaped parkland, lakes and formal gardens, with themed tours available for groups. The Longleat ‘All in One Day’ ticket allows entry into the house, more than 15 adventure park attractions and the famous safari park.
Winners of the best animal attraction for groups in 2012, Longleat Safari & Adventure Park is one of the best loved tourist destinations in the UK. As part of an ongoing development strategy, the park is receiving substantial investment with many attractions being completely re-vamped with new ones also introduced annually. One of the latest developments underway is ‘Penguin Island’, a 225,000-litre naturally-themed seawater display which will be home to a colony of Humboldt penguins. ‘Stingray Bay’ is a new giant, open-topped display housing a selection of tropical stingray species. Groups will be able to enjoy spectacular views from both above and below the waterline via huge viewing windows.
The award-winning Wiltshire attraction has also joined forces with BBC Earth to create a spectacular new series of ‘Deadly’ themed features. The four year plan will see areas of the park transformed in the style of the BBC’s wildly successful ‘Deadly’ branded programmes, which include ‘Deadly 60’, ‘Deadly Top 10s’, ‘Deadly Art’ and most recently ‘Deadly Mission Madagascar’ as seen on CBBC. Visitors to Longleat can now go on a ‘Deadly Safari’, to discover some of the most dangerous creatures in the park and participate in the ‘Deadly Challenge’, which puts both physical and mental skills to the test.
Longleat is open daily until November 3rd for this year. Discounted rates apply to groups of 12 or more; GTOs should contact Longleat to book.
T: 01985 844328
REDWINGS HORSE SANCTUARY
Redwings is the UK's largest horse sanctuary, caring for over 1,300 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules every day. Their work is funded solely by donations, with their aim being to give the animals the best possible care so they can eventually be re-homed or enjoy a home for life at the sanctuary.
They have four centres where visitors can take a look at the animals, located in Essex, Warwickshire and two in Norfolk. The Norfolk centres offer tailored educational visits and all the centres have walking and guided tours, horse care demonstrations and regular events and birthday parties for the residents. They also have onsite cafes and gift shops.
All the Redwings centres welcome groups with open arms and recommend contacting them in advance so that visits can be tailored especially for a group. Entry is free to all the centres but of course adopting the horses and donations are encouraged.
T: 01508 481000
WEST MIDLAND SAFARI PARK
Voted ‘Coach Friendly Visitor Attraction of the Year’, West Midland Safari Park is in Worcestershire and has impressive facilities for groups of all sizes. The four mile self-drive safari covers around 150 acres and is packed with some of the most impressive animal species known to man, including Indian rhino, white tigers, giraffe, elephants, African rhino, African wild dogs and cheetah to name just a few.
There is also a variety of all-weather Discovery Trail exhibits that include Penguin Cove, Mark O’Shea’s Reptile World, Creepy Crawlies, Twilight Cave, SeaQuarium and a sea lion theatre, with performances several times each day. The African Village by the lakeside is the site of Walking with Lemurs - the largest walk-through lemur exhibit in the country and home to a collection of ring-tailed, black and white ruff, white-fronted brown and red-bellied lemurs. This is also the place to find Meerkat Mayhem – always a firm visitor favourite!
Education plays an important role at West Midland Safari Park these days, too. There is now a successful formal education programme, a designated learning team and onsite classroom, keeper talks, walking safaris, ‘creatures in the classroom’ outreach facilities and exhibit signage, all of which helps to inform visitors about the current situations faced by animals worldwide.
In addition to all the animal attractions, the park has an amusement area with a whole host of family-orientated rides, including two water rides: Zambezi Water Splash and Wild River Rapids.
Groups are welcomed with free onsite coach parking, excellent group rates and optional all-inclusive ‘fun package’ rates for great all day value. A free preview ticket is available for GTOs. West Midland Safari Park is open daily until November 8th for 2013.
T: 01299 400700
WILDFOWL & WETLANDS TRUST
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust is one of the world’s largest and most respected wetland conservation organisations, working globally to safeguard and improve wetlands for wildlife and people. Founded in the UK in 1946 by the late Sir Peter Scott, today they complement wetland conservation work carried out worldwide with a network of UK visitor centres comprising 2,600 hectares of globally important wetland habitat.
The WWT has nine wetland nature reserves located in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each one has its own unique natural habitat and wildlife. There's something for everyone in a group to enjoy at each centre, from avid birders to families looking for a fun day out. Some of the wonderful wildlife to look out for includes ospreys at Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in Dumfriesshire and otters at the Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Lancashire. The first common crane egg laid in western Britain for more than 400 years has very recently delighted the Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire and is currently under 24 hour guard. After enjoying all the wildlife, many of the centres have children’s play areas, educational facilities and programmes of events, and the centres also have well-run cafes and gift shops.
Discounted rates apply to groups and many of the centres offer a complimentary ticket for the group organiser, a free pre-visit on request for the group organiser and free coach parking. Guided tours, tailored to a group’s requirements, are also available at some centre.
T: 01453 891900
SOUTH LAKES WILD ANIMAL PARK
A safari and zoo in Cumbria, South Lakes Wild Animal Park offers visitors the chance to get up close and hands on with lots of the animals. Groups can feed giraffes, penguins, lemurs, kangaroos and emus, perhaps before enjoying a meal or snack in the Maki Restaurant themselves. A unique foot safari takes visitors in among kangaroos, wallabies, emus, free flying macaws, free roaming lemurs, squirrel monkeys, cotton-topped tamarins, and condors and vultures in the walk-through aviary.
Elsewhere in the park, groups can view everything from giraffes, rhinos, lions, tigers, jaguars, bears and hippos to penguins, giant otters, primates, reptiles and much more. As well as the amazing animals, there is a mini train, gift shop and indoor and outdoor picnic areas.
Special meal deals in the restaurant mean that families of four can eat for £15, and groups who book meal vouchers in advance get 10% off meals. Groups of 15 or more also get exceptionally discounted tickets – only £7 per adult down from the standard rate of £13.50 per adult. There is free car parking, free all day reserved coach parking and free admission for coach drivers. South Lakes Wild Animal Park is off junction 36 of the M6.
T: 01229 466086
YORKSHIRE WILDLIFE PARK
Another award-winning animal attraction, Yorkshire Wildlife Park runs a vast and varied programme of ranger talks and animal feedings every day. Different areas of the park feature different animals and different experiences; ‘Leopard Heights’, for example, is the biggest leopard enclosure in the world with a £300,000 design which incorporates an eight metre high viewing tower and a glass wall. ‘South America Viva’ is an exciting walkthrough where visitors encounter different species from the continent including mara, capybara, agouti, rhea and mischievous squirrel monkeys, while the brand new ‘Baboon Reserve’ features a custom-built, state-of-the-art enclosure - in full view of children playing in the new giant Monkey Play House.
Next to the play house is the café, but the dining options don’t end there. Groups can also choose from the Wild Café, Zebra Bar and iCaramba! South American food hut. The Safari Store carries a large range of quality animal-themed gifts and souvenirs. There are discounts available for pre-booked groups of ten people or more.
T: 01302 535057