Travel Review: San Diego Zoo Safari Park California

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Australian and New Zealand Disney Travellers, here is a great travel review from Dave Parfitt (from the Dis Unplugged Blog)about a theme park that many international travellers may of never heard of. San Diego Zoo Safari Park is in easy reach of Disneyland in California and is a great place to visit with the family. Enjoy Dave’s terrific review.

Our family has seen “The Lion King” countless times – in the theater, on stagein 3D, and at home.  We rushed to see Disneynature’s African Cats and help “Save the Savanna.” Therefore, when we had a chance to see the big cats during a sleepover experience at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, we couldn’t resist.  Continue after the break to come along with our family’s “Roar N’ Snore” safari sleepover.

We arrived at the Safari Park around 4:00 pm to check in for the sleepover, or as our family liked to call it the “pick your own dinner” safari.  We joked about driving along, pointing to what you’d like to eat, they’d catch it, grill it over a fire, and yummmm, yummm, dinner!

Upon checking in, everyone received a special t-shirt (included with admission), and waited to be led inside the park.  During our wait, one of the zoo naturalists introduced us to a Pygmy Hawk – a tiny raptor with a raging ”Napoleon complex” with his intimidating cry, razor sharp talons, and beak.  Just look at the fluffy killer…

Nearly 100 guests signed in, and we were taken inside the park to a camp ground overlooking the expansive African Plains field exhibit.  Seeing this enclosure for the first time was breathtaking.  Even Steven Spielberg once scoped out this area as inspiration for Jurassic Park, and it was easy to picture dinosaurs romping across the plain.  Our tent was on the front row, perched on a knoll, with unobstructed views of wandering giraffes, rhinos, and grazing antelope.

Dinner was already prepared for us – standard fare… hamburgers, hot dogs, and mac & cheese.  Alas, not one zebra burger or tiger kebab in sight.  While we ate, luggage was delivered to the tents, and afterwards we unpacked, organized, and settled in all while soaking in the views - an amazing spectacle.

Around 6:00 pm, we assembled and were divided into four smaller groups each with approximately 20 guests and two animal specialists/educators.  It was time to set off on the walking tour.  My wife has mobility issues, and the Safari Park was very accommodating to our needs.  The tour involved a great deal of walking – some places along narrow wooden bridges and steps.  The park provided us with a wheelchair and also drove both her and the chair to the designated stops.  Those in wheelchairs need not be concerned about missing out on any of the experiences.

First stop on the tour was Tiger Territory to view the park’s Sumatran Tigers.  The adults were tired of modeling and posing for pictures; so we were escorted around back where two tiger cubs were housed.  The cubs were born in October 2010, and can only be viewed on select days.  However, we were taken right to the cubs, watched them play with their mother, and asked as many questions as we wanted of the animal experts.

Following the tigers, we hiked up to Condor Ridge to see the once endangered California condor.  These birds have an amazing wingspan, but less refined palates.  Our group recoiled upon hearing about the carrion that made up the condor diet – to which Evie (our daughter, age 10) exclaimed, “We eat dead animals too!”  Yes, very true, very true… we just don’t eat rotting flesh on the side of the road.

Next, we met an ancient-looking tortoise and a springhare.  The springhare elicited many oooohs, aaaahs, and squeals – especially from our two girls.  The animal resembled a cross between a rabbit and kangaroo, with pointy ears, long tail, and large, powerful rear legs made for jumping.  All the kids were thrilled to pet the cute, fuzzy creature, and no one heeded my warning that it was a killer with a vicious streak a mile wide!  It’s a Killer Springhare with nasty, big, pointy, teeth!  Bring out the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!  Successfully surviving the springhare, we headed back to camp for snacks – s’mores!  Heaven!

Before retiring for the evening, there was one more optional walk to the Lion Camp.  This was my highlight of the whole experience.  We were led inside the lion building – where the large male decided he was not in the mood for visitors.  The hulking beast roared – a loud, bone-rattling noise that demanded respect - especially when heard from the same room - an experience not soon forgotten.  However, it was now time for bed where the lion roars were quickly drowned out by snores from the neighbor’s tent.  Definitely more snoring than roaring…

Morning came early on the savanna with a 6:15 am wakeup call.  That’s right, 6:15, in the morning, on vacation… whoa.  However, there were surprisingly few complaints, everyone woke with no problem, ate breakfast, and after a cup of coffee we were ready for more park touring - a hike through the African savanna we had admired since our arrival.

We were taken where guests are not normally permitted.  The only way to see this part of the park was via tram, but we were walked right up next to the enclosures and lingered as long as we wanted.  The animals were very active first thing in the morning.

We admired a herd of giraffes feeding alongside antelope…

cheetah were on alert, well… as alert as an animal that sleeps 16-18 hours a day can be…

and a black rhinoceros mother patrolled her paddock with her baby.

We spent 90 min to 2 hours exploring the African savanna, and the time absolutely flew by.  We exited past the Lion Camp where the male and 2 females investigated their environment.  It turned out the keepers sprayed perfume throughout the enclosure for the animals to discover.  On this occasion, the lions enjoyed Paris Hilton’s “Just Me” and were very active playing, sunning, and sniffing.

Before our safari ended, there was one last animal encounter with an American alligator, and then it was time for us to depart.

Our Roar N’ Snore camping experience ended at 9:30 am, we were escorted to front of the park to pick up our luggage and load it in our car.  However, we could then re-enter the park and stay as long as we wanted.

All in all, the whole family enjoyed our Roar N’ Snore sleepover at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and it was, without a doubt, the highlight of our Southern California vacation.  It was a unique experience that will be extremely hard to top.  Tickets for the experience start at $180/adult (ages 12+) and children (ages 3-11) $150.

For our family of 4, the price for this experience was ~$750.  That may seem pricey, but consider the experience includes all you can eat dinner, s’mores, and breakfast (~$150 for our family); overnight accommodations (~$150); and 1 day admission to the park ($150) – those items alone would total nearly $450.  Therefore, we paid ~$75/person for incredible behind the scenes access with experienced guides.  A reasonable expense for the access to animals, in-depth tours, and knowledgeable guides provided.  This was an experience our family would repeat in a heartbeat, and one we will not forget for a very long time.

For more photos from our sleepover experience, click on this photo gallery.

Original article and photos by Dave Parfitt. If you enjoy posts like this one, be sure to Follow Dave on Twitter or Friend Dave on Facebook.

AJ/Disney Traveller 

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