When it comes to days out in the north west, Chester Zoo is probably one of the better known and more popular options. After our kids fell in love with watching ‘The Secret Life of the Zoo’ it is one which we have been meaning to explore for a while now but at over £70 for a family of four, it isn’t the cheapest attraction around. Imagine our ‘delight’ then when we finally got round to booking tickets for my sister’s 30th birthday, only to spend the majority of the day walking round in the torrential rain?! It was still a good day out but the wet weather was definitely the prompt for me to write this post. With such a high entry price, if the weather forecast looks grim is it better to don those wellies and waterproofs or head for an indoor attraction instead? Is it worth visiting Chester Zoo in the rain?
We visited in September so although it rained pretty much non-stop all day, it wasn’t too cold temperature wise. We bought Chester Zoo branded umbrellas on entry, after realising our coats probably weren’t going to cut it if we wanted to actually be able to see the animals which were out and about. As you might expect, there were fewer animals in the outdoor enclosures, and some we couldn’t see at all because access to their indoor enclosure was limited. Whilst this was a shame, I think we got to see a decent amount throughout the day.
I particularly enjoyed the layout of the Zoo itself; each section is set out in habitats which I found to be really interesting and unique. There were several indoor sections which was great for escaping out of the rain. Although the Zoo wasn’t particularly busy (more on that in a moment) these sections tended to be more crowded which was somewhat frustrating as inside was where the majority of the animals were hanging out!
When the rain got to be too much, we made use of the monorail which goes around the park. This is an additional cost (£4 per adult and £3 per child for an all day pass). Each journey on the monorail takes you halfway around the zoo so it’s a good option if you are visiting with children and need to rest those tired little legs for a short period of time. You can see some of the enclosures from the monorail although the rain obscured some of the view for us. It did offer a respite though and the chance to warm up a little before we headed back outside.
The biggest difficulty for us on the day with the weather was probably eating. We were on the Islands section of the Zoo at lunchtime so headed to the Manado Street Kitchen for something to eat. Initially this was the best option as there were 10 of us to please and there was a good variety on offer but all of the seating is outside. Most of it was covered with a roof, but the sides were exposed which meant we were basically eating in the wet and our food got cold pretty quickly. This was less than ideal and I think if we were to go again in poor weather we’d look at an alternative. I didn’t see any indoor picnic sections either so I think it would be even trickier if you decided to bring your own food along. That said, the food was fairly reasonably priced and as I mentioned, there was a good variety, with something even for our fussy kids to choose from.
On the flip side of this, the wet weather meant that the Zoo was a lot quieter than I think it could have been otherwise. There were a few traffic jams at the indoor enclosures but with a little patience, we got good views of the animals who had retreated inside. I think I first realised how quiet the Zoo probably was when we decided to take advantage of the free boat trip in the Islands section. We walked through the ‘queue area’ past signs which read encouraging things like ’45 minutes from here!’ right onto a boat. Okay, we didn’t get to see much as most of the animals were inside (see above, above above!) but we did see an Orangutan braving the weather and it was an amusing diversion, better because it was totally free and we had to queue for approximately zero minutes to enjoy it.
One of the major things which I simply hadn’t appreciated before we visited was how big the Zoo actually is. I’m pretty sure we didn’t make it around the entire thing because there was simply so much to see and do. I almost wish the Zoo offered two day passes as there would definitely be a market for it. Especially as you can find yourself spending quite a lot of time with one or two animals if they are being funny or interesting. We saw several examples of this from a chatterbox lion to a baby Orang who was acting the little daredevil right through to a monkey making music with a stick he had discovered. We spent a good deal of time in each one of these enclosures which limited what we saw in other places. The Zoo covers 125 acres in total which is a fairly big distance to cover in one day!
So, overall what did we think?
There were some animals outside and a possibility to see more in their indoor enclosures. The animals probably weren’t as active as they might have been had the weather been clearer but the Zoo was much more accessible than I imagine it would be on a sunny day. We barely had to queue or wait for anything, great when you have smaller kids who have no concept of waiting for anything. We used the monorail when the torrential downpours got too much, and I was pleased for the investment of a large Chester Zoo umbrella. If you don’t mind perhaps not seeing all of the 21,000 animals who call the Zoo their home and you don’t mind wearing waterproofs and wellies then I think you can still have an enjoyable day out despite the weather. Yes the price tag is high but I’d rather take a puddle or two over a massive queue to see a tiger!