‘Mummy, why aren’t we allowed to go in?’ My children don’t say that very often to me and this was the second occasion they said it and it was followed my tears from both of them, with little Ned joining in because he could. Copying role models and all that. You see, this was the second time this week that they have been turned away from Hullabazoo at Whipsnade Zoo and they have been positively desperate to have a go on the new soft play experience since they received the advertising as part of their ZSL young explorers membership.
I must say I was very sceptical when I heard the announcement of a new soft play at the zoo. I’m a lifelong fan of the zoo and have been going since I was a small child. Myself and the husband have been members for a long time in fact prior to us having children (with a brief lapse when we simply couldn’t afford the membership and our mortgage). I love wildlife, nature and a good walk and Whipsnade Zoo provides the best of all that in a location 20 minutes from our house. Perfect. Needless to say, I think that soft play attractions detract from the experience for children, from experience they no-longer go to a local farm attraction to experience the farm, its purely for the soft play. I suspect for my children Whipsnade will go the same way; a soft play centre with a zoo attached. The magic of spotting a Tiger in the undergrowth of its cage lost somewhere.
What did we think of the soft play? Impossible to tell you, despite going twice in the last week we have failed to have a chance to have a proper go. To be fair we were allowed 20 mins on the first occasion, as we came ‘between hours’, this proved enough time to find seats, get our shoes off etc and for Ned to crawl through one tunnel in the baby area. The soft play layout is not congenial to having a baby and a three year old, I had to trust that Fifi wouldn’t run off and it was so busy it wasn’t practical to let her out of my sight.
I’ll be honest here, frankly, if you were tempted to go at the moment purely to have a go on the new soft play I wouldn’t bother. We are members and so it costs us nothing to get in, aside from our annual membership. However, it does cost a fair amount in petrol for us to go up to the zoo and so its been an expensive waste. On both occasions the children were so excited about going on the soft play, something which has been heavily marketed to them that they simply weren’t interested in seeing any of the animals. The refusal to allow them to have a go was a very bitter pill for them to swallow and I think the zoo has become a little bit tainted in their minds now. I must admit I am furious about it, I’ve never been to an attraction before which, once you get inside, refuses you entry after effectively promising you something. I have had to endure two afternoons in the cold at the zoo with screaming, disappointed, awkward children. I am very cross about this, especially as my children are too young to understand the reasons properly and now think that they have been singled out.
What improvements would I suggest? Firstly, since Whipsnade and London Zoo make good use of their website and Twitter channels I would suggest that they mentioned on there that you won’t be able to go in as part of your entry. Secondly, upon entering the zoo a member of staff should tell you there is no availability for play, this stops the disappointment once you have walked all the way through the zoo to get there. I’d be livid having paid full price for tickets and not being able to go in.
I’d suggest that it might be worthwhile for the zoo to make an additional charge for the soft play, this may reduce the numbers of people going and raise more funds for the society. How about the allocation of an entry time for play when tickets are issued?
I’d like to know how this has happened, the zoo has good data on their visitors as tickets are issued. Why build an attraction that is too small for the audience? Why heavily promote it as this just leads to disappointment! I’m cross with the way the staff at the soft play handled myself and other visitors who were turned away, an ‘its not our fault, here give your three year old a small badge’ attitude is not really good enough in this day and age. How about an apology and a ticket which guarantees entry for your next visit? I’m sure other visitor attractions have solved this issue.
As it stands, unless you are going to the zoo first thing in the morning you may as well forget about going to visit Hullabazoo.