21 July 2012

Party Animals

These days there are very few tourist attractions that don't occasionally open their doors of an evening to a more adult crowd than they might get during the day. From sex at the Science Museum (learning about the science of sex, of course) to games at the V&A, London's museums have realised they can supplement their incomes by opening late a few nights a month or so. The same is true for London Zoo, which a couple of years ago started to hold Zoo Lates on Friday nights in the summer. From 6-10 pm you can check out the animals, get your face painted, enjoy a silent disco or a comedy set, or just chill out with a glass of Pimm's while the penguins devour their fishy supper.

I haven't been to London Zoo since I was about ten when I went to visit my adoptive tiger, which I was disappointed to discover was not my own personal tiger. Last night, I went to Lates for the first time with a group of friends and I would heartily recommend it, although now that I know the system a little more, I would quite like to go back again and do things a little differently.

Top: otters! Bottom: golden lion tamarin (l), happy turtle (r)

1. Get there early. The doors open at 6 pm and it's best to get there as soon as you can because the animals start going to bed and arriving early means you have more chance to see all of the creatures you want to see. Normally, most of the animals are "up" until 9.30, but for some reason, we couldn't go to see any of them after 9 pm. Everything else (i.e. the bars, the food stalls and the silent disco) remains open until 10 pm. Being in a big group slowed us down too, although I suppose we could have broken off into smaller groups.

2. Review the map and prioritise. London Zoo is really big and you probably won't have time to see everything. I missed out on the big cats and some of the apes, but we did get to see the penguins, meerkats, otters, the rainforest experience, the Africa section and the Komodo dragons. The others in my group wanted to spend a long time in the reptile house but although I quite like lizards and turtles, I won't even look at snakes, so I would much rather have gone to see the monkeys.

3. If you want to see the penguins being fed go to the 7.30 show and go early if you want to get a seat. The second show at 8.30 is more of an educational show, with all sorts of penguin trivia, which was a little disappointing (the show could have been better tailored for an adult audience) but we still got a good view of the penguins, and who doesn't love penguins?

4. Bring plenty of cash. I don't think there are cash points inside the zoo and the drinks are really expensive. £5 for a pint or £7.50 for a glass of Pimm's. There was a street food market inside (with many of my eat.st favourites), so you can get a meal for about £6. If the weather had been better, we would have brought a picnic, but we didn't want to risk it.

5. Get involved. I would have liked to have my face painted or to try out the silent disco but the queues were always long and it felt like we had so little time, I didn't want to miss out on any of the animals. Another time, I might focus on a few key animal groups and then enjoy the "festival" side of Lates a little more. Another time, hopefully, the weather will be better too; it wasn't too bad last night and only rained for 30 minutes or so, but it was a little chilly and not what you want for an evening in the open air.

The zoo crew

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