Back in July we headed out to African Lion Safari to celebrate G-Girl’s sixth birthday. The first thing we did on getting into the park was book our seats for the Safari Tour Bus. You need to buy tickets for a particular time slot, and they do sell out. We bought tickets for a bus that would be leaving in one hours time, and then walked through the Kenya Gate and across the pedestrian portion of the park to where they hold the Elephant Round-Up show. The elephant show was impressive. Three elephants came out with their trainers and showed off their, strength, intellect and training. My only complaint was the complete lack of shade in the arena. My kids loved the show, and we adults were pretty entertained as well. At the end the audience was invited to come up to the fence and meet an elephant up close. This was a pretty cool moment, as we were encouraged to reach over and touch the elephant’s thick hide.
Then we hurried back to the Safari Bus loading area and got into line. It seemed like we were pretty close to the front of the line, but the reality was that each person in front of us represented a group of two or three sitting off to the sidelines. Soon the bus pulled up, we boarded, and I became extremely frustrated as I discovered there weren’t enough seats for us. I didn’t want to plop my three or six year old daughters down next to a stranger, but even if I had been willing to do so there weren’t enough spots to go around. Everyone of course wanted the window seat. So even if they boarded the bus together, they would split up, each taking a window. The part that had my blood boiling was that they had sold tickets for the bus so their should be enough seats for everyone, yet there weren’t because several people had gotten on, grabbed a window seat and then used up the aisle seat next to them to hold their napsack or camera bag, leaving not enough seats for everyone. I was seriously blown away by how rude and inconsiderate many of the other patrons were. It was a theme that persisted throughout our visit. I will say however that every employee I dealt with was pleasant, knowledgeable, friendly, and spoke nicely to the kids.
Anyroad, I took an aisle seat and my six year old sat on my lap. Further back on the bus my husband did the same with the three year old. Of course many of the people riding on the bus had expensive cameras in tow and were eager to take photos of the exotic animals up close. The fellow sitting in the seat next to me was no exception. He had a camera with a lens bigger than my kid’s head. He sat in the window seat snapping photos, and complained loudly when my child, in excitement, pointed at animals, marring his view. Meanwhile most of our view was taken up by his camera and his head pasted against the glass. Across the way a woman wearing a large straw sunhat had the window seat. Her thirty-inch diameter hat blocking the view out her window from anyone but herself. Despite the fact that the tour guide stated several times that we were to remain seated at all times, the majority of the other young children on the bus were running up and down the aisleway. Which of course means my kid wanted to get down off my lap and run up and down the bus too. Not happening. So I will admit I started out the ride extremely grumpy, trying to reign in an urge to knock a few heads together, and forty some pounds of squirmy six year old on my lap wasn’t doing much to improve my mood. My daughter didn’t care. She was enchanted. G-Girl was excited to see the various animals. She was eager to point them out to me, and ask questions about what she was seeing. My husband later told me that our younger daughter was equally excited, literally squealing with glee when she spotted an animal she recognized.
As much as many aspects of the bus ride annoyed the heck out of me, it was totally worth it to have a knowledgeable guide narrating, pointing out details and describing each animal. The tour bus was in tip top shape, with comfy seats and cool air conditioning. I think in an ideal world, I would ride the safari bus first, and then while all the extra info was fresh in my mind, I would ride through a second time in our own vehicle. In your own vehicle you can stop at whatever point you like for as long as you like, enjoy the view and take photos as you please, without having to try and aim around some stranger’s head. However if you were to skip the Safari Bus Tour and simply head out in your own vehicle you would lose out on the insight of the safari guides, and our guide had many truly interesting details to impart, making it well worth the additional fare.
African Lion Safari is home to over 100 different species. We saw so many animals; cheetahs, baboons, zebras, giraffes, lions, rhinoceros, antelope, bison, deer, and so much more. Many of which were quite close to the tour bus, as in if the windows were open I could toss a stone, or maybe that annoying lady’s sun hat, and hit one. At times it seemed like they were close enough to reach out and touch. Once I figured out how to balance my daughter between my legs and use the camera with one hand, I was even able to take a few cool photos. I could completely understand why other patrons, mostly sans kids, were enjoying taking photos with their big fancy cameras. I just wish they were a little less self-important and rude about doing so.
My tip to you: If you want to secure decent seats, line up early for the Safari Tour Bus. I would suggest 30 minutes before boarding minimum.
Upon returning from our safari tour we headed back through the Kenya Gate and got into line to ride the “African Queen” Boat. Several boats were in the rotation and despite how busy the park was the line up was short and we boarded within five minutes. Our boat took us for a tour around a wee lake, circling several small islands. In between repeatedly yelling at patrons to remain seated (Seriously, what is wrong with people?) the guide pointed out several interesting birds and monkeys.
Next up was the Mombasa Market Restaurant, were we had pizza for lunch. The restaurant was busy, but with plenty of seating. It was large, open, brightly lit and clean. There were several different kiosks to choose from. We opted for pizza, which was chain-food from Pizza Pizza. The kids meals came with a slice of pizza, a bag of animal cookies, a small plastic case and a pop (we subbed for apple juice). The pizza slices were huge, bigger then my kid’s head. The little plastic cases were a hit with the girls, as were the animal shaped cookies. Cookies shaped like the creatures we spent the morning spotting? Too perfect!
After lunch we went for a ride on the “Nature Boy” Scenic Railway. The line up was a bit crazy, and we waited for over 40 minutes. The ride itself was quite enjoyable, one of my favourite parts of the day, and if it wasn’t for the lengthy line up we would likely have gone on it a second time. The track looped through part of the safari grounds, outside of the pedestrian area. Just as when we where on the safari bus or the boat ride, the guide was quite knowledgeable; not merely reading from a script but adapting their spiel for whatever animals we happened upon as we rode along. The highlight of the train trip is when we spotted a large herd of fallow deer, following behind an African Lion Safari vehicle (hoping for a late lunch perhaps?).
Next we visited the Birds of Prey show. This was a treat, and not even a few rude patrons in the audience could ruin our enjoyment of this amazing show. (I actually lost my temper and had words with an older gentleman, and I am using that term quite loosely, after he threw my three year old daughter off the bench seat to make more room for himself. Seriously, what is wrong with people!?) Several of the birds flew circuits out over the audience. The trainers explained details of their diet, habits and training quirks. It was both educational and entertaining.
We stopped it at the Discovery Centre. My girls loved this little nature museum. They were excited about the various animal exhibits, and intrigued by the taxidermy animals and skulls. They loved touching the various pelts on display and comparing the textures. My husband and I mostly loved that it was air-conditioned, making for a nice cool break.
The day of our visit was quite hot and sunny. Throughout the day, as we walked back and forth through the pedestrian half of the park, my girls stared in rapt enchantment at the Misumu Bay Wet Play area. As in, I had to steer the six year old to keep her from walking into people, as she was turning her head, craning to look off to the side at the water play area, as we walked along.
The day went by surprisingly quickly, suddenly it was almost closing time, and we had yet to check out the splash pad. I regretted passing up on the Elephant Swim show, but knew the kids would never forgive us if they didn’t get to play in the water. So we booked it back to the van to grab their swim suits, did a super quick outfit change and let them loose in the water play area. I should probably mention this was one of the nice things about the way the park is set up, you can go to and from your vehicle with ease throughout the day. Which for example, would give you the option to easily stow away a stroller, or haul it out when needed.
The kids absolutely loved the Misumu Bay Wet Play. They are still talking about it weeks later (and asking when will we go back). It was by far the nicest splash pad we have had the pleasure of playing on. It was quite large, with several different play areas, each with plenty of extremely patient staff on hand. There was a bigger, taller play structure, with some bigger crazier spouts of water, and a slightly deeper wading area, which seemed perfect for older kids. My six year old briefly checked it out and decided it wasn’t for her. There were a handful of open play areas to splash around in. There was an area reserved for baby and toddler play, and an employee there enforcing the age limit. There was an area with water slides, with one employee at the top helping the kids to cue up properly and safely take turns going down, and another employee at the bottom who was happy to help kids stand up after landing, and head them away from the bottom area to clear it out for the next bunch. I was incredibly impressed with the staff. It was an extremely hot and sunny day, this was right near the end of what must have been a long shift for these folks, yet they were smiling, pleasant and extraordinarily patient with the kids.
G-Girl did a short vlog about our day at African Lion Safari, which mostly consists of her babbling on about how much she loved the splash pad. Frankly, as nice as the Misumu Bay Wet Play area was I was a bit surprised that it beat out seeing giraffes and zebras up close. Go figure.
Overall, we enjoyed our day at African Lion Safari. If we lived closer I think a season past would be a must. As it was our day was well worth the three hours of “Are we there yet?”-ing down the 401, and we have already talked several times about going back again next year.
I was also reading up on the new behind the scenes tour they are offering this year. If my girls were just a little older I would seriously consider booking a Wake Up the Wild VIP Experience. It’s crazy expensive, but you get to enter the park early in the morning before it’s open to the public and go behind the scenes on a private tour, doing things like watching the animals enjoy their breakfast and going off road in an open air buggy out on the savannah. Once in a lifetime experiences that would seriously tempt me to splurge, if it wasn’t for the ages eight and up limit.
What do you think? Am I nuts, or would you consider going on the Wake Up The Wild experience? Have you been to African Lion Safari? What was your favourite part?
good for two adults and two children (a $133 value).
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Disclosure: We were invited to spend the day at African Lion Safari. As always my words and opinions are my own.