Hey all you cool cats & kittens... OK, maybe we won't start there!
We took a trip to Dublin Zoo recently, the last time was the weekend before lockdown so in turn, they were two very different experiences..
Roll back around 4 months, and just as the dreaded Coronavirus was starting to hit our dainty little Island, we decided to have a Family day out and go to the Zoo.. one of our favourite pastimes over the years. We jumped in the car and headed for the Phoenix Park. Packed with a bag of sandwiches and snacks, along with a bottle of hand sanitiser.. things already seemed to be turning strange, but it didn't deter us once we knew we were bring cautious.
Anyway, arriving at the zoo it was evidently quieter than usual, but still fairly busy. We set out on our usual track, stray left and head straight for the African plains, that's where we know we'll get a good look at the giraffes, with the girls being so small, sometimes they don't get a 'proper' look at the animals, but up there they can see a lot better. It was a good day, but there was definitely an uncertainty in the air, still though, crowds gathered and people didn't really give much way to any kind of distancing.. not that it was in place at that point yet though. We had fun, a little more apprehensive than the usual zoo visit, but still fun.
Fast forward and after lockdown was lifted, we booked tickets in advance, something that was never even considered in the past. We booked the afternoon slot, which is from 2pm to 5pm. Within a few days closer to the date of the booking, we received an email from Dublin Zoo, informing us that we'd been allocated a time slot. We'd been set a 2.30pm time slot for entry (or as close to as possible) so they seem to be on top of things in terms of crowd control etc.
We arrived just before 3pm as the carpark was overflowing, we had to circle a while before getting a space.. the only downside to the restrictions (no street parking was available)
Upon entry it was all very efficient and fast moving, staff on hand to guide us through at a distance and so on. Once we were in, our usual plan was off limits as a one way system is now in place. This, for me, is where it has all actually changed for the better, in a way. Instead of veering left as we would have chosen, as I mentioned above, we were directed to the right, up towards the farm area. This is where you have two options, go through the farm, or head straight on. With a 3 & 1 year old in tow, the farm was a perfect start. With a good few other patrons heading straight on, we had a nice bit of space for the girls to explore safely, and get a good view!
After the farm we headed on to see everything else, and get to our old favourite 'the African Plains'. Everything was so calm along the path, but not in a weary way like before. I even managed to get some decent snaps of the ducks on a peaceful and relatively still pond, with the lack of 'rush' around the place it all felt very easing. From here, we found the new system to really work in our favour.
Previously, or back in the day as we now find ourselves saying, people would gather in groups at the viewing areas, usually not paying much attention to those behind and around them, making it a little harder to view for the little ones at times. Now, with indoor viewing houses closed and the animals are out and about, going about their day.. you actually get a much better viewing experience. People get to the best viewing spot, but rather than hog the area, they take a considerate amount of time, and move on. This lets little ones get a good view, and us older ones get the snaps etc. With the one way system, there's an unwritten queuing system in place, where people just seemed to respect and abide by it. The only area where there was any real queue or wait, was where the gorillas are. This is only because it's such a small and enclosed walkway.
On we went to the African plains, where there can be a slight delay if crowds get there all at once. I'm talking literally a couple of minutes though, as the staff efficiently moved people along, only closing off walkways for a couple of minutes if people, like us, had buggies or wheelchairs etc. This is all done with a very friendly approach by the staff, making the whole experience as easy as possible.
Up to the plains, where our little ones were the most excited to get to, to see giraffes! We seemed to have struck it lucky on the day, as with the combination of the time of day (where the animals had most likely just been fed before we got there) and the fact they houses are now closed off for the public, all the animals were out and about, and looking like they were having fun. The giraffes we'd been eagerly anticipating, seemed to be in great form and were prancing around showing off, much to our little ones delight. The zebras in with them were in a very playful mood, and almost put on a show for us by chasing each other around etc. This made our girls day, and the fact we could all get a good view of everything without feeling crowded, really made it a very enjoyable experience, and a day to remember.
Some eating areas are still open for business, tea/coffee etc is still available for take away, and some hot food is on sale to take to the outdoor picnic area. A good few kiosks are open along the way too, for snacks and the likes. Like many, we took along our own packed lunch, and the picnic area was still available to us for use, the only difference being it now has some tables closed off to ensure social distancing is kept in place, which is all very reassuring.
Last but not least when we head to the end of our tracks, it's always worth a trip to the souvenir store on the way out, to pick up a few cute keepsakes!
Fully recommending people to get in and experience the new way of life at the zoo, who knows, maybe going forward it will stay this way?
Visit DublinZoo.ie for more information and to book your tickets.