Overall score: 4/5 (3/5 if you don’t like animals)
We came to visit on my daughter’s first birthday – reasoning that after a year out of the womb, she might now be on a comparable level with any newborn animals we might see and therefore not a total embarrassment. Check-in was easy and socially distant, so off we went around the park.
There was a one-way system in place that seemed to work well, and enabled you to see all of the gardens and animals – though on occasion if you wanted to see a particular part of the park you’d have to take a specific fork in the one way system and then travel all the way back round again. I didn’t mind this as it made me feel like a steam train.
The swimming pool wasn’t open, but the cafe was selling snacks and drinks, as well as larger meals. We purchased my daughter’s first Mini Milk ice lolly, in which she proceeded to show as much interest as she had shown in the lily pond – which is to say, none at all.
We had great fun looking at all the birds – my daughter loved watching them bathe, walk around, and occasionally fight with each other. She did however lose interest in the explanation offered by a friendly member of staff when I asked about a specific type of bird, leaving me with the socially awkward decision of whether to chase after my ambulatory daughter as she headed towards the bee enclosure or to continue being polite and listen to the birdkeeper who seemed unaware of my dilemma and continued telling me about some spindly-legged birds whose name I have now forgotten. Sadly, the bee enclosure was closed when we got there. I’m not sure why – perhaps the bees were all having their hair cut.
After the birds we looked at the animals, including the mammals and the monkeys. These again were wonderful and great to look at – especially the lemurs, who seemed very appreciative of my spot-on impression of King Julian from Madagascar. We also enjoyed the meerkats, who were by far the most inquisitive animals we saw, and debated whether the horned animal we saw was a goat or an ibex (I thought it was an ibex, but my wife was proven right once we’d spotted the sign that confirmed it was a goat. She had the good grace not to be smug about it).
Finally, we headed to the train ride. It’s hard to say who was more excited, but only because it’s difficult to admit that a grown man is more excited than a toddler by a train. The train was supposedly running at 30-minute intervals, but additional rides were also done on a “does the driver feel like it” basis. Thankfully we caught him in a generous mood and on we got.
Do not be fooled into thinking that the train is a method of moving around the park; it only has one stop, and just does a loop that lets you see some of the animals. We were a little disappointed to find out that it didn’t give us a great view of the animals at the far end of the loop; we’d put off going to see them on the assumption that we’d have a far grander view from the train. Also my daughter seemed to get bored of the train ride about halfway through, and had to be reminded on several occasions not to attempt to jump from a moving train. I, however, had a splendid time the whole way round.
In an exciting twist at the end of our day, my wife confided in me that she wasn’t that impressed with the park as she isn’t much of an animal lover. We agreed that this wasn’t really the park’s fault, as they hadn’t tried to hide the fact that they are big on animals in their marketing materials.
In conclusion, Beale Park is absolutely worth a visit – but if you aren’t that interested in animals, you should absolutely be aware that the park is mainly about animals. So consider taking a book and wandering around with that instead of looking at the birds or something. Or sit on the train all day.