Bristol Zoo during the Pandemic – COVID19 Experience and Review

We’ve had an annual pass to Bristol Zoo for three years. We have been going regularly since William’s first birthday, but even before that I’d been at least a dozen times with my mother and grandmother when I was younger. With COVID19 causing Zoos – and everything else – to close, my annual pass hasn’t had much use so far in 2020. We visited at the end of July and here is an overview of what was available, what I thought of the Covid19 safety measures, the brand new Lego displays, and whether I’ll be returning any time soon.

It’s super important for you to check Bristol Zoo’s website for up to date information about their safety measures and what’s open in the zoo, as this could change at any time in line with current best practices and government requirements.

What was open for us at Bristol Zoo during COVID19

The main zoo gardens are open with the outdoor exhibits. The aquarium was open as well as the seals and penguins and gorillas. Most of the toilets are open and there were several kiosks selling snacks, drinks and ice cream. The main gift shop is open, and there was a young children’s merry-go-round operating.

What was closed

As Bristol Zoo is a small urban zoo that packs in a lot of smaller species into it’s indoor houses, a large amount of the zoo was closed during our visit, including the nocturnal house, walk in bat exhibit, the reptile house, walk through lemurs, pygmy hippo house, butterfly house, walk through aviary, the restaurant and the big outdoor playground. Two of the toilet blocks were closed.

What COVID19 safety measures did we observe?

We had to book tickets in advance (annual members can still visit for free, but you must still book an entry ticket and then your pass is scanned on arrival ). The entire zoo has been changed to a one way system with a large amount of signage. There are markings on the floor to show distances for people to stand. There were staff members waiting at points that could be confusing, to answer questions or direct people on the correct route.

Masks for over 11s had to be worn in indoor sections such as the admissions booth and gift shop, aquarium, gorilla house and seals etc. This is signposted. Everyone we saw were adhering to this.

There were queues for toilets with signposting and plenty of hand sanitizer stations available.

Annual Pass Changes

At the moment the annual pass no longer gives entry to partner attractions which makes us sad as we had planned to visit some of the other zoos on the scheme. I don’t like to complain, but it does feel right now annual pass holders – who support zoos like this year in year out, spending hundreds of pounds – aren’t being prioritized. We hope that this will change before our pass expires so we can still use them, but we’ll see!

The annual member priority queue doesn’t exist anymore, so you do have to queue with regular ticket holders which isn’t a big deal right now since queue times are gated anyway. The money off food only applies to the main restaurant and not to any of the open kiosks, but you do still get a reduced parking charge. Bit of a downer for the rest of the summer not being able to use the pass for West Midland Safari Park and Chester Zoo this year even though these attractions have re-opened, which is what really gives it value to us, but we will still renew our pass and continue to support this zoo and hope for better value next year. We’re grateful we can use it for Bristol Zoo at all.

The Bad

The toilet system was very difficult to follow if there was no queue. The signage said, wait here – one family maximum in the toilet block (regardless of whether there were 3 cubicles or 10!) If there is a queue, you know to wait until the person before you comes back out so it’s easy to follow, if a little awkward.

The problem was most of the time there was no queue, so I didn’t know if there was anyone in there. Once I went in and there were 4 people in; once I waited for a bit and no one was in there. There’s literally no way of knowing if anyone is in there if there’s no queue when you arrive, without walking in and actually checking if any of the stalls are in use, and then what do you, walk back out again? Pretty cumbersome, but it’s an awkward situation and I’m not entirely sure how it could be fixed without some indicator of whether a toilet block is in use from the outside, but I also think that the larger toilet blocks can accommodate more than one person whilst correctly social distancing, but that’s obviously the zoo’s call.

The Good

Almost everything! We felt that the majority of things other than the toilet signage were well organized. We felt very safe and all of the staff were smiling and helpful. Whilst we didn’t see as many animals as we would have on a normal visit, our son still got to see lots of different things and was very happy.

He was so happy the aquarium was open and went around twice.

It’s a beautiful space to have a picnic and run around in.

The fact that the merry go round was open near the exit was just a perfect ending for him (It was £1.50, you can pay by card), and the masked attendant wiped down every seat the children touched with sanitizer after each use and felt very safe. I almost cried watching him on it, as it was a simple moment of joy and normality.

One of the positive things about the covid changes is that the zoo felt very peaceful and quiet, even though it was a beautiful sunny Friday in the summer holidays. There’s no more crowding and not being able to see animals as there’s tons of space and very strict visitor numbers. Ideal for anyone who isn’t keen on crowds as it really felt almost empty, even though tickets for the morning were sold out in advance.

Finally, the Lego animals were a fun addition and brand new!

The Lego Animals at Bristol Zoo

BRICKLIVE Ocean is at Bristol Zoo for Summer 2020 and adds a bit of fun to the gardens. There are some very large Lego animals as well as some smaller ones dotted around the zoo and a few scenes here and there. Very cool!

Will we return any time soon?

Yes absolutely. We’ll be back in a few weeks! Obviously it sucks that a lot of the zoo has to be closed which has an impact on the time you can spend there and the value that people get from the ticket price; but that’s simply the reality of days out right now and the zoo was quiet, peaceful and safe, which is by far the most important thing. We felt it was a very enjoyable two-three hours out and will definitely be back. I think the ticket price is very reasonable when you consider both your entertainment, and the importance of supporting conservation and organizations like this right now.

The annual pass still offers good value for money if you’re thinking of visiting multiple times and hopefully the partner zoo scheme will be back up and running in the Autumn.

So we’ll be back soon!

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