Mercedes’ Marvellous Mondays Drusillas Zoo – A Childs first Zoo come my parenting bolt hole…
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Every parent needs a bolt hole, and by bolt hole I mean a place where you can take the kids to let them run off some much-needed steam and let mummy or daddy chill for a while with a cup of tea or a cheeky hot chocolate. My bolt hole is Drusillas Zoo, a lovely and homely zoo and amusement park situated around a 20 / 30-minute drive from my home in Eastbourne, in a small village area called Alfriston (around 7 miles from Eastbourne).
But why do I love it so much there?
Because there is so much to do there, even when you have been a few times there is still always something else to do the next time. As the word ‘Zoo’ is in the name, it does suggest that there are animals there, and indeed there are from: Flamingos (Which is my youngest’s favourite animal that she likes to call Goosy Lucys, alongside a Giraffe but unfortunately, they don’t have those), Meerkats, Goats, Donkeys, Chickens, Ponies, Monkeys, Servals, Anteaters, Otters, Beavers, Camels, Penguins, Bats, Tarantulas, Lemurs, Lorys and so much more! Not only do they have animals which is their main attraction, but they also have a theme park with 6 rides, three in the ‘Go Safari’ section, a Hippo Ride, a Cheetah and the Safari train that travels around the park looking at the animals, splash park and animal jokes that are sign posted along the way and another three in the ‘Hello Kitty’ world. Which is a Hopper ride, car ride and tea cups. The splash pad area is especially a hit with my kids when the weather is warm, they can change into their swimming clothes and run around like Baboons splashing around and using the cemented in water guns to soak each other. Even I have been known to venture into it with them when the weather has been super-hot to cool my boiling feet down. Then there is the donut kiosk and the ice cream and sweet parlours, where the kids can eat e-numbers to their hearts content, get hyper, let off some more steam with their sticky, ice cream covered faces and noses then fall asleep on the car ride home once the sugar rush has left… Bliss.
Now I do have to admit I go there a lot (Obviously the bolt hole suggests that I do) but that would become quite costly right? I mean it’s a zoo and a theme park, those places don’t come cheap, and Drusillas for many is considered expensive, unless you get a membership. The memberships are around £70 per person for the year for a standard pass or £83 per person for the gold membership, but the gold one does include unlimited goes on their rock-climbing facilities, panning for gold, Dino Dig and a huge Penguin slide, where as without the gold one you would have to pay around £5 for each go! And another great thing with their memberships is that once you have paid the full fee, you don’t pay to enter again for the whole year, you simply flash your card and stroll on in. Some places that do memberships that I have experienced also get you to pay a discounted price each time you go, so I find this one great value for money and once you have been a few times it has literally paid for itself. Mine did within a few weeks, I tend to go at least once or twice a week, either on a half-term day or after school for an hour or two.
Another great attraction to the park is their character days, this is where a children’s favourite television show character will do appearances on a stage for special photographic occasions, and this is all included in the price of admittance. We have seen Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, PJ Masks, Ninja Turtles, Bing, Hello Kitty and Spiderman, which is great for making those precious memories. A word of advice though, if you are going on a day when a character is appearing be prepared for a crowd and a queue, one time and the queue looked a mile long, so I went and explored the park first then went back later on when the queue was smaller, but it is so worth it to see their faces with their favourite television show character.
Even in the winter Drusillas is great with their indoor soft play area, I get there quite often just as the park opens and I have to say how clean their soft play area is. Normally when I arrive they have usually just finished cleaning the floors, so it has that clean smell, and a member of staff has just finished wiping over the play equipment and hoovering. Which for me is a must, I have been to many soft plays where they are not as vigilant on their cleaning and my kids have been sick and poorly that night, but at Drusillas their cleanliness is spot on.
Drusillas also has quite a history, with even a connection to another great zoo and theme park, Chessington! Drusillas was founded in 1925 and has changed drastically over the years from when it first opened as a tea garden, to become the huge successful zoo theme park it is today. A man called Douglas Ann opened Drusillas with his then wife, Drusilla (Hence the name). The growth of the motorcar back in the 1920’s called for places for the drivers to stop and have tea, and Drusillas become quite a household name in the Southeast, especially when they upped their game to decide to have a ‘Baby Zoo’ as competition grew. The first animals there were a Chimpanzee called Tarzan, a Kangaroo, a ring-tailed lemur and a Kinkajou.
As its success grew people wanted in on it and Drusillas began to run courses on how to run a successful tea garden. One person who jumped on the bandwagon and sought the advice of Douglas Ann was a Mr. Goddard, who farmed land and wanted to create something similar at his home, the name… Chessington!
When World War 2 hit, Douglas closed down the zoo part and rehomed the animals for their safety as the Eastbourne area was always one of the most bombed and hit seaside towns as when the planes left the country to return home they tended to drop their leftover bombs. He had also divorced Drusilla and had met and married a zoo assistant called Elizabeth and they had a son together who one day would take over the park. After the war Douglas returned and re-opened the zoo adding to the animals a Badger, a Kangaroo, Rhesus Monkeys and a Mandrill, they also built the first children’s play area on the site, which in the years to come would be refurbished to the play area we all know and love today.
In April 1954 Drusillas suffered a huge fire destroying the tea rooms, ball room, kitchens and Butterfly display. Then in November 1954 the ballroom re-opened with its restaurant. Then sometime after the swing boats appeared which although they have been refurbished many a times over the years they are in fact still there in the play park and are now Banana swing boats (Even my mum remembers those being there as a child).
In 1958 Douglas died and his son took over the park. In the 1960’s safari parks were all the rage, but Drusillas land was not big enough to accommodate that. So, Douglas’ son decided to make it huge by being small, and the motto ‘A Child’s first Zoo’, appeared and stuck with the zoo. The Zoo began to grow even more with Flamingos, Penguins, Marmosets and Tamarins calling Drusillas home. Then in 1970 the local council backed the zoo and announced it great for educational purposes and encouraged school children to go and visit it.
In the 1980’s the first Drusillas membership was introduced followed by in 1989 a new entrance being built making way for the zoo route we all follow today to view all these amazing animals.
In the 1990’s around 5,000 people had memberships and Drusillas decided that their success should not only be for them and set up a programme to raise money for ‘Drusillas in Africa’ and so far from 1993 to now over £70,000 has been raised. They also wanted to show people what it was like in Africa and built a replica Maasai house out of mud, and at this part of the park you can learn all about the tribe and how they live.
In 1997 Drusillas was taken over by Laurence and Christine Smith who later spent a lot of pennies refurbishing it and making it the theme park it is today, they added panning for gold, the Fruit Bats, the Café and a toddler play area before in 2006 – 2008 giving it a major face lift with getting rid of the old play barn (Which I played in as a kid and my cousin broke a limb in there but later went to work at Drusillas as she loved it so much), and building my much loved soft play area ‘Amazon Adventure’ and then building the outside play area ‘Go Bananas’.
Since then many other attractions have come and gone such as: Thomas the Tank engine which is now the Safari train, Go Safari, Hello Kitty, Eden’s eye maze and the redesigning of the old paddling pool in exchange for a posh new splash pad in a slightly different location.
Drusillas never ceases to expand and grow, and it never ceases to expand and grow children’s animal knowledge and imagination.
Myself and my children love Drusillas and even though we have been there a good few many times we still get excited and love going, whether it is just us or if family and friends come along for the ride too. There is just so much to see and do, and I’m pleased to call it my bolt hole. The Zoo keepers there are all extremely friendly, and some even do talks whilst feeding the animals such as the Penguins and the Otters, and if it’s a special occasion you can also become a keeper for the day and help to feed and look after some of the animals. They even have creepy crawly days to try and help people get over their fear of say, spiders. Which actually I could do with trying as I am petrified of them and if I ever do give it a go you will all be the first to know how it goes!