Family Fun Days: Dinosaur Adventure Park
ANGI KENNEDY There will come a time, I know, when the children have outgrown the Dinosaur Adventure Park. I must admit, it's not a time I'm particularly looking forward to.
There will come a time, I know, when the children have outgrown the Dinosaur Adventure Park. I must admit, it's not a time I'm particularly looking forward to.
Our annual family trips there have been a regular fixture on the calendar for the past seven or eight years.
You'd think we would have had our fill of the place - but every year it brings the same chorus of excitement from the children and with that sort of a reception, you know you're on to a winning family day out.
What makes it so good then? Of course, the biggest attractions (quite literally) are the dinosaurs. The children are fascinated by them and hunt them out from the moment they spot the first one on the brown road signs, until they have ticked off every familiar face dotted around the park.
There are always new Dino-facts to be learned, from the toddler days when our little ones formed their own delightful attempts at the dinosaur names, to nowadays and our nine-year-old's lengthy lectures on the peculiarities of each prehistoric creature!
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Unsurprisingly, there is a dinosaur theme to much of the play equipment such as the huge Climb-a-Saurus, a 23-metre climbing frame constructed within the body of a vast metal sauropod.
One of the joys of the park is that it is simply so big. Even on busy days in the height of the summer holidays, there is plenty of space to roam and for the children to burn off energy.
There is a more peaceful play area especially for younger children, but most enjoy testing their bravery and their balance on the various wooden play equipment around the park.
From the large play area, most families tend to head for the woodland and the Dinosaur Trail. This meandering path takes you past all manner of dinosaur models complete with distant roars and growls.
In recent years, the Dinosaur Trail has been made more interesting with the introduction of a series of messages en route from “rangers”. Children get quite into the spirit of this game, listening to recorded messages about dangers up ahead and leaving chalked notes for other rangers on the blackboards.
It's a delight to see how this trail always gets their imaginations fired up as they dash along, looking for the next prehistoric head peeping through the trees.
The trail leads you down into another part of the park where you can easily spend a couple of hours, and here is a café and ice-cream stall to cater for any hunger pangs that might have developed during the walk through the woods.
As well as a pleasant grassy field and more climbing frames to play on, this area is also home to the park's Secret Animal Garden.
This has been expanded and improved over the years and now features regular farm animals like sheep and pigs as well as a special area housing some amazing insects and reptiles including stick insects, cockroaches, bearded dragons and iguanas.
You might be lucky enough to catch a feeding or hands-on session, when the park staff share interesting information about everything from snakes to hedgehogs. There is even a field of ostriches and wallabies to watch.
Also in this area is the boarding station for the deer safari which takes passengers across the parkland to get up close to the deer herds.
New this year is the Dinosculptor. In a specially converted barn next to the Secret Animal Garden you will find award-winning metal sculptor Tony Pusey and some of his work.
Tony has a remarkable talent for transforming metal into mysterious monsters, dinosaurs and dragons. You can see him at work and talk to him about how he creates his amazing works of art.
When you're ready to return to the rest of the park, it's an uphill hike through more woods littered with prehistoric peoples and animals.
Don't worry about all this walking for little ones - around the park are dotted numerous stamp-posts where they can collect another coloured stamp in their free activity booklet. This certainly keeps them on the move, hunting out every single one so that they can proudly claim a lollipop for their efforts at the end of the day.
The Dinosaur Adventure Park has put a lot of thought into catering for children of different ages and interests.
There is everything from Raptor Racing on frantic go-karts and the Assault-o-Saurus for the energetic to the more gentle Jurassic Putt crazy golf course. For those young would-be archaeologists happy to while away the afternoon looking for fossils, there is a great tent-covered sandpit complete with cement “fossils” to discover.
And there is an education centre with more fossils on display and stories about how they were discovered, as well as a shop selling fossils and crystals.
You can choose to take a picnic to eat in the park - there are plenty of tables indoors and out - or to eat at the newly-refurbished Dippy's Diner. There is a wide choice on the menu, from sandwiches to full meals, but it can be a little pricey for a family meal on top of the entrance charges to the park.
Of course, there is the souvenir shop at the exit, where the children can relieve themselves of some pocket money by choosing from shelf upon shelf of dino-themed toys and merchandise.
Whichever choice of dinosaur-ware mine leave with, it always becomes the treasured memento of another really good family day out.
t The Dinosaur Adventure Park is open 10am till 5pm daily until September 11, then Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from September 12 to October 23 and open daily from October 24 to October 30. Admission is £7.25 for adults, £6.50 for a child and £6.50 for seniors.
t Allow at least four hours to enjoy the Dinosaur Park, as there is plenty to do and a large area to cover. If your visit coincides with lunchtime or you need a bit of a snack or drink, you can visit the newly-refurbished Dippy's Diner or Gardener's Cottage. There are also other outlets for food and drink on site, such as ice-cream stalls. But picnics are also welcomed at the park, with plenty of space and seating indoors and out.
t The Dinosaur Adventure Park won the Berry Savory award for tourist attractions in Norfolk, as well as being named the county's Top Family Attraction by the Good Britain Guide 2004.
t The Dinosaur Park is at Weston Park, near Lenwade, north-west of Norwich. Follow the brown signs to Weston Park from the A1067 or from the A47. There is plenty of space for parking.
t For more information, telephone 01603 876310 or visit the website www.dinosaurpark.co.uk