Location: Hamilton, Ontario
Highlights: Elephant swim, Lion cubs, driving through the Baboons
Children Friendly (7): Great size zoo for young ones – the walking area is basically one strip. Has a wet play area as well as a petting zoo where you can also feed the animals. A number of shows are put on throughout the day, which are geared more towards the children. Points were lost due to the drive through portion which I feel most children would be impatient during the drive or would not have the best views.
Animal Diversity (7): Having the name African Lion Safari you would think it would have large African animals and that’s about it – but the safari actually has a larger number of species than you’d expect. With a variety of animals from different parts of the world you do get not only the major African animals but also some others including kangaroos, bison, and a variety of birds of prey.
Animal Viewing (6): With the main attraction being the drive through portion, this is actually where most of the points were lost. With the animals free to move around your vehicle this makes it both great for viewing the animals if they’re close, but when they’re hiding you are not able to manoeuvre to different angles as you are not allowed off the path. On slow days animal viewing is great…but in the summer when most people visit it is difficult to change lanes to get better views and you end up missing quite a bit.
Animals Happiness (7): The safari does get major bonus points for the style of the exhibits, with the animals being ‘free-roaming’ and the visitors being ‘caged’ in vehicles. This is excellent for most animals such as the antelope, baboons, and bison; they have more room than most zoos to move around and interact with other species. Some species (especially the cheetah) exhibit a lot of pacing behaviour showing boredom. As well certain sections do not provide a lot of shade during hot summer months.
Photography (7): With some animals coming right up to your car, the proximity to the animals can be great depending on the day. However, being inside a vehicle is a difficult challenge (even more so if you haven’t cleaned your windows before hand!). Throughout the drive through portion all windows and doors must stay closed so you are constantly fighting the glare or raindrops depending on the weather.
Layout/Map (8): The layout in the safari is slightly miss-matched due to changing of animals over the years…but it does make sense generally overall. Having a one way path through all the sections it also allows you to skip sections you don’t wish to drive through which is nice. The rest of the park is also spaced well with minimal probability of guests missing exhibits. The map however is slightly confusing especially through the safari section. The proportions are off making it confusing.
Hours (7): The hours are generally good during their open season. Extended hours during the summer months and on weekends during the spring and fall. Also the main park area is open later than the safari as well which is a nice feature. This zoo is only open from the beginning of May until Thanksgiving.
Price (6): I feel this zoo does have a very high admission price – especially when it doesn’t include anything else! If you do not wish to take your own car through the safari you have to pay to be on a tour bus, and even if you do take your own car you still have to pay for gas! The seasons passes are worth it even if you just go twice, but I still feel they are a rip off.
Food (7): Standard fast food options. I don’t feel there are as many healthier options here as other places I’ve been to.
Website (9): Overall the website is great. It sticks with the theme of the zoo very well and provides videos and pictures of the type of experience you will have. It has lists of animals you will see and has great directions for visitors coming from every which way (even the US). A couple other features could be added such as if there are any babies or events.
Gift Shop (8): Larger than some other gift shops I’ve been in, and has quite a bit of specialized souvenirs. Also having two gift shops across from each other is nice to help traffic flow through them and prevent over crowding.
Quiet Areas (7): Outside of the safari there are quite a few areas you can sit and regroup. A lake along the one side of the parking lot provides a great spot for picnics and lounging after lunch. Throughout the safari however there is no rest stop or area to exit the car and stretch or use the washroom – so make sure you’re all set before entering!
Safety/Cleanliness (6): There a couple reasons I give this a lower rating. First is the nature of the park in general. IF (and that’s a big if…) all customers follow the rules of keeping windows and doors closed at all times while staying on the designated roads throughout the safari then yes I feel it is a safe and enjoyable experience. HOWEVER, due to the photography issues mentioned above it creates the temptation for many customers to disregard safety in favour of a slightly better photo. As well the elephant swim portion I find a huge liability as well. Although the elephants are well trained and are used to the routine – the public are not. The elephants walk right through the parking lot and entrance way to the small lake where they have an afternoon swim in the water. The viewing is again amazing, however if they were ever spooked or a guest was not paying attention to their surroundings this could be extremely dangerous.
Extras (7): The safari does have extra shows and displays besides the safari portion. Elephant and bird shows as well as the elephant swim take place a number of times each day. As well there is a boat tour of islands which showcase lemurs and monkeys. As far as events go it seems there are very few scheduled throughout the season – and those scheduled are for companies.
Overall (7.1): Overall it is a fun place to go which has a nice twist on the typical zoo experience. Potential up close views of some great species is a major draw if you’re willing to spend the money. With your own car it is suitable for all age groups – but I highly suggest taking the bus if it’s the summer and you do not have air conditioning!