Dad claims post-lockdown trip to Chessington Zoo ‘just not worth it’

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A dad, who couldn’t wait for a family trip to Chessington Zoo post-lockdown, says that the experience was “deflating”.

Matt Strudwick had been waiting for months to enjoy something different from the two miles surrounding his home.

The bloke was not alone in his boredom, as thousands of Brits have been seen going shopping or to parks and beaches.

However, he claims that his trip to the zoo was just not worth it.

Matt said: “it is safe to say that post-lockdown zoo days at the theme park belong like its animals on the day – firmly in the shade.”

Chessington Zoo re-opened on June 18 – much to the happiness of bored families.

Opening hours are between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Sunday.

Tickets cost £12 for children aged 3 to 11 and for adults.

Annual pass holders pay £1 and kids under three enter for free.

But, it seems it wasn’t everything Brits had hoped for.

Matt, content editor for Surrey Live, described his experience in an opinion piece…

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The Day Out

When Chessington announced it would be reopening its zoo, an audible gasp rumbled throughout our home. Hallelujah.

The mundane trudge of a daily 10.5 hour shift of sitting on a wooden chair, with my back creaking, at my dining room table, where the memory of weekends had evaporated, would at last be broken.

We could finally have a family day out.

The relief I felt was more for my 16-month-old son, as I am sure he was becoming increasingly puzzled as to why his father was spending more time looking at a rectangular bright screen than playing with him.

No sooner than it was announced had we swiftly, and quite easily, booked our tickets through the website. The empty calendar and crossed out planned events ruined by the coronavirus pandemic finally had a new entry; June 24 – Chessington.

The day had finally arrived. A Wednesday, but by now Wednesday meant as much to me as any other day. It didn't matter, and the sun's blistering heat, which was causing the mercury to edge towards 30C, only added to our enthusiasm.

With the theme park just a 20 minute drive from our house in Dorking, we decided it was best to head out in the afternoon after our toddler had had his nap and had a full stomach.

Our entry into Chessington felt like any other time we had gone – until the barrier lifted and it was evident the day would be anything like we had experienced before.

Cones taped together direct you, and red signs with bold white letters tell you to remain in your car where you will be temperature checked before being allowed to enter a car park.

All seemed clear and simple, but that was as much clarity we were greeted with throughout our day and the waters would become murkier with each added confusion.

If you're missing the thrill of the rides, then the journey to the car park takes on its own epic route, though it's lacking in any exhilaration.

We passed two unmanned empty tents and muttered to each other that surely this is where the temperature checks are supposed to take place?

With no-one in sight we continued our circuitous drive before alarmingly ending up at the exit barrier.

A security guard came to our aid and they seemed more in shock that we were arriving at 2pm rather than how we had become lost. We were kindly ushered into a near barren car park, with just a littering of cars cowering in the shade, used by Merlin annual passholders.

The bumpy start to our family trip was not going to dampen our suncreamed bodies, and we excitedly made our way up to the entry gates where the promised temperature checks were painlessly conducted by a PPE-kitted staff member.

Bag checks done, we entered the eerily quiet theme park, but with the added plus that there were no queues.

We were handed a leaflet explaining what was open, and informed of one eatery offering food that wasn't listed, as well as some handy safety tips as you make your way around the apparent one-way system.

One thing is for sure, you can't walk five metres without being met by a hand sanitiser dispenser, and signs telling you to "clean your paws" and to keep two metres apart.

The one-way system starts in Wanyama Village, and unless you're equipped with an inbuilt GPS or are a frequent visitor of the park, finding it is an added frustration.

After we walked through the Rainforest where the promise of tortoises was unfulfilled, we had to ask a friendly staff member to point us in the right direction.

It was here, too, where the unlisted food outlet was supposed to be bustling.

Instead, the shutters were pulled down with only the sad existence of a lonely barrier strap as evidence that it had been open.

We hastily found the Wanyama Village and were guided by painted yellow arrows on the floor, and passed numerous hand sanitiser dispensers and one-way system signs – as, confusingly, some families walked the other way.

It was only when we reached the enclosure where we were greeted by the magnificent sight of giraffes, zebras, and ostriches meandering in the field that we understood why people were walking against the one-way system, as there was an "exit only" sign directing to where we had just come from.

The two metre social distancing guidelines were also impossible to adhere to as you made your way up the ramp to overlook the vast enclosure, as, as expected, this is where most people were congregating.

After much pointing and with our anxiety levels heightened having come in close contact with other humans, we descended before continuing on the one way route.

Meerkats, Ankole Cattle, Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys, Sea Lions, and of course the Humboldt Penguins easily became the highlight, but it was to the Trail of the Kings and the anticipation of seeing the Asiatic Lions and Western Lowland Gorillas that topped our list.

Not for the first time, locating it was another matter.

Having sought the guidance from another helpful staff member, we made our way to our highlighted destination where it was pre-warned that limited capacity was in operation.

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There was no need to worry about the number of people, as pretty much like the visible guidance, it was minimal. Indeed, one employee told us the area had a capacity for 100 but at one point it only had eight people.

Any hopes our trip would suddenly springboard onto an upward trajectory were dashed in an instant, as we walked the past the squeaky clean windows with only vegetation to look at.

No doubt the hot weather had caused the wild animals to shy away, although we did see a lonely gorilla scratching his head.

The Lawn was open to sit and relax on, and unlike the ghastly pictures that emerged from Bournemouth beach, there was no need for a 'major incident' to be declared as there was ample room.

Perhaps tellingly, the biggest queue we encountered during our two hour stay was for a Ben and Jerry's ice-cream.

Walking through the park itself was a ghostly experience, and obviously a lot of planning had gone in to trying to make people feel as safe, reassured, and calm as possible.

As we left deflated, I couldn't but feel like those were the worst two hours I had ever experienced at Chessington.

A day that promised so much but delivered as much entertainment as the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it is safe to say that post-lockdown zoo days at the theme park belong like its animals on the day – firmly in the shade.

A Chessington World of Adventures Resort spokesperson told Daily Star Online: “This particular review does not reflect the positive feedback we have received from many guests visiting since the reopening of our Zoo only, after being temporarily closed for nearly three months.

"We are however pleased to read that our new hygiene and safety measures are clearly evident – from guests having their temperature checked on arrival to the readily available hand sanitiser – and are also delighted to hear about our helpful staff, who are working hard to ensure everyone has a safe, yet still wild adventure with us.

“Our Zoo Days are popular and it is quieter if arriving in the afternoon before closing at 4pm each day.

“With the hottest day of the year so far last Wednesday, both animals and guests sought shade (and ice creams!) as the temperature soared over 30C.

“We now look forward to the reopening of our Theme Park and Resort Hotels on Saturday and welcoming some of the many people who we are pleased to see have commented in support of businesses like ours at this time.”

  • Animals
  • Family

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