Longleat Safari Park and Thorpe Park are a must for a child’s first thrill
MY FIRST SAFARI
Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire “Me sit on daddy lap. Naughty monkeys.”
With these words and a happy giggle, my two-year-old, Isabelle, has greeted me every day since we returned from her first safari trip at Longleat, driving through 1,000 acres of rolling British countryside around the Marquess of Bath’s Elizabethan stately home.
It’s hard to say whether she and her brother Ben, five, were more excited to be sitting on our laps in the front of the car than by the sight of lions lazing in the sun, tigers yawning in a dappled glade or leaning out of the window to feed the deer.
The clear winner, over all of these, however, was the “naughty monkeys”. Sensibly, the Wiltshire safari park gives you the chance to skip the Rhesus macaques as the mischievous monkeys love to clamber over cars, ripping up windscreen wipers and number plates.
It’s worth the risk though as the sight of a large group of baby monkeys wrestling each other and jumping off a tree trunk is one that will stay with me for ever.
And seeing one casually sitting on our wing mirror and eyeing her intelligently, was Isabelle’s highlight.
Longleat Safari Park is in Wiltshire
We escaped the monkeys with nothing broken and passed Anne the elephant and, allegedly, cheetahs and wolves and headed on to the African Village and Walking Safari.
I marvelled at the giraffes and zebra while Ben and Isabelle marvelled at ice creams and did impressions of the wallabies. At least they didn’t copy the monkeys.
Longleat (longleat.co.uk). From £28 per adult; £21 per child.
MY FIRST ROLLER COASTER
Thorpe Park, Chertsey, Surrey Thorpe Park isn’t just for teenagers. Having bumped around in King Pig’s Wild Hog Dodgems and been squirted at and had my seat shaken in the cinema at the 4D Experience in Angry Birds Land, my son was thrilled to discover that at more than 0.9m tall (just under 3ft in old money) he could hop on to the Flying Fish.
Sitting side by side in the orange roller coaster with its smiling fish face, I was relieved it had a friendlier name than the resort’s larger rides such as Saw, Colossus and The Swarm (and thankfully didn’t loop the loop) but it still had me wondering if I should have written my will before we came.
As I gripped the handrail and wondered at which bend I had left my stomach, Ben put his arms in the air and waved happily at his mother and little sister while we whizzed past.
The Stealth ride in Thorpe Park, Surrey
Isabelle was also just tall enough to get on but changed her mind at the last moment so her first roller coaster ride will have to wait. My son charged round to the back of the queue again but, thankfully, being over 3ft 6in and full of confidence now, could go on alone.
Three times! My only hope is to stunt his growth in some way before he’s tall enough to get on Nemesis Inferno (4.6ft).
Thorpe Park: (0871 663 1673/thorpepark.com) From £29.
MY FIRST THEME PARK
Paultons Park, Ower, Romsey Parents often think having a second child will mean the youngsters will play together and give them some peace.
Or maybe that was just me. The reality is, particularly when they’re five and two like mine, that their needs and interests are so wildly different it’s a struggle to entertain them both at once, invariably leaving one bored while the other is having so much fun they don’t want to stop.
And that’s why we headed for Paultons Park (home of Peppa Pig World). Isabelle is just getting into Peppa while Ben has been a convert for years so the chance to see inside her house, meet Daddy and Mummy Pig and sit on a hot air balloon ride had them bouncing off the canvas of our tent in the New Forest when we told them where we were going that day.
Paultons Park is definitely a child’s first theme park
Their highlight was Mr Potato’s Outdoor Adventure Playground and the water park where they slipped into their swimming costumes and ran in and out of the water with other excited piglets.
After lunch at the Wild Forest Family Restaurant, we headed to the Lost Kingdom where we were taken on a Jurassic Park-style adventure, with the children “driving” the Jeeps past dinosaurs – some of which surprised them with spurts of water, leaving them cowering and giggling in our arms.
A quick whizz around on the Boulder Dash ride, where you sit inside giant eggs or rocks being whirled around as if in a prehistoric waltzer, and our two wet, tired and happy youngsters were ready to be carried to the car.
And they’d managed not to argue all day (well, until we started the drive back).
Paultons Park (paultonspark.co.uk). From £31 adults and children.