African Lion Safari – More than Just a Wildlife Game Reserve!
With over 1,000 exotic birds and animals roaming free in a huge drive through reserve and a walkable area African Lion Safari offers a unique viewing of wildlife that is both entertaining and educational. Conveniently located 90 minutes from Toronto and Niagara Falls, it makes for a great family day trip.
With nothing planned for the upcoming weekend I put my daughter in charge of picking our outing. After studying her globe, Addison decided a trip to Ethiopia would be the perfect weekend getaway. Hmmmm… With only four days to plan, we comprised and decided on a trip to African Lion Safari in Hamilton, Ontario. Currently we’re in the Niagara Falls area, so a 1 ½ hour drive seemed much more practical.
Our plan was to be there when they opened up at 10am. Running a little late, we arrived around 10:30am. A small crowd of cars had already formed at the entrance gates. Only about a 10-minute wait – not too bad. You pay to enter the park while still in your car. At the booth a booth they’ll hand you a park map and daily presentation schedule.
Official Guide Book
While in line, before paying for admission you’ll be approached by staff to purchase a guide book for $5 CAD. We usually decline these offers for programs and such, finding them to be a waste of money. After seeing her flip thru the magazine, we felt it would be perfect for our little reader in the back seat who’s always eager to share new animal facts. You’ll need cash (no credit cards) if you want to buy the program, and we were in luck they took American money at the currently exchange rate – yeah only $4 USD.
Discounted Admission Available
At the booth, they took our Buffalo Zoo membership card and charged us a discounted rate. They also offer an AAA/CAA discount. Keep an eye out for admission discount coupons, they seem to be all over the Niagara Falls area; check out brochure displays around town and those free attraction newspapers and magazines. We received a 15% discount with our zoo membership card and paid $97 CAD after tax for our family of three.
Where to First?
The park is divided into two areas; the drive thru game reserve and “Safari Oasis” a walk through area. Once past the admission booths, staff is there to wave you on to enter the queue for the safari game reserve area. You don’t have to do that first. In fact, I would recommend parking and saving the game reserve for later. With cars being directed straight into the reserve, it seemed very crowded while the walk through area was relatively empty.
African Queen Boat Cruise & Nature Boy Scenic Railway
Lines for the boat and train rides are at their shortest when the park first opens. I recommend going on these early before the que builds. If you ride these before noon, it seemed to be about a 5-10 minute wait. If you wait until later in the day to ride the train, you’re likely to encounter a wait time of over an hour. At 5:30 our train wait time was 90 minutes, we passed on the train this time (we’ve done it before.)
The “African Queen” narrated boat cruise was about 10 minutes long. You pass by a few small island seeing a variety of primates and birds. There’s not that many animals to see, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Get a seat upfront for the best views.
Another reason to save the game reserve for later – the vulture feedings. These are once daily at 11:30 and not advertised on the schedule handed to you at the admission booth. Head over to the Birds of Prey area at 11:30 for an amazing presentation. The crowd was fairly small so finding a good spot to see was never an issue. The keeper guides discusses each bird’s feeding habits as another keeper is inside the cage giving them their meals (dead rats.) The presentation last about 20 minutes and the keeper sticks around afterwards to answer any questions you may have.
Then it was time to start heading over to Recreation Lake to see “Elephant Swim” at 12:30. having never saw an elephant swim before, I was truly excited for this. The elephants did not disappoint; it was amazing! If you miss the 12:30 swim, you’ll need to stay until park closing time to see another presentation; they only swim twice a day.
Not surprising, the elephant swim draws a large crowd. People start lining up about 30 minutes early to ensure a good view. The largest crowds seem to form near the center of the fenced off area, where there’s a gate, thinking the elephants will enter there (they don’t and they don’t usually even swim down that far.) For the best views, once you reach the fenced area, keep walking… to the end of the fence. The elephants will enter the lake on the right, past the end of the fencing and they’ll spend the majority of their time swimming on the right side of the gate.
If you don’t mind missing the elephants walk into the water (Warning: it is the cutest thing ever! The elephants are bursting with pure joy- so cute!) don’t bother queuing early, especially if you have little ones that can’t handle standing in a crowd for 30 minutes just waiting. The crowd thins out considerably after about 10 minutes. My daughter went from not being able to see anything unless she was on dad’s shoulders to having free range along the fence with no viewing obstructions. The elephants swim for 30 minutes.
Time for lunch. The dining options were plentiful throughout the park. We chose to eat at the Mombasa Market Restaurant. It offers multiple counter service options in a mall food court like setting. I opted to stand in the hamburger line while my husband went to the pizza stand. They also carry salads, wraps, chicken fingers, ice cream, pretzels, popcorn, and many more that I can’t think of. You won’t have a probably finding something to eat. Addison chose the kids cheeseburger meal that came with fries and a juice in a take home reusable plastic lunch box. Only $8 CAD for lunch and a souvenir, can’t beat that.
There is plenty of inside seating (AC!) and lots of tables outside too. Outside food is allowed; many families had picnic baskets, coolers, and even portable grills. There are multiple pavilions with picnic tables or you can bring a picnic blanket and set up wherever you find a spot. Even better, set up your picnic alongside the “Elephant Swim” pond and enjoy your meal as you wait.
Wildlife Game Reserves
After lunch, we chose to go through the game reserve area. We spent about 1 ½ hour driving through the reserve along the 9 km trail. You can drive your own car or for an additional price you can take one of their tour buses. Tour bus tours last about 45 minutes. We drove our car thru the reserve. We weren’t too concerned about animal damage and really wanted the freedom to go at our own pace.
The high risk car damage area is the Wankie Bushland Trail with the baboons. The baboons may jump on your car, rear view mirrors, or grab at your car antenna. If you know how to remove your antenna you should before going in the reserve. The baboons clearly preferred white and silver cars and trucks; I think it may have something to do with the staff’s trucks being white and they know where their food comes from. There is a by-pass loop to get around this area but it really is one of the best parts and shouldn’t be missed. It’s not just the baboons that get close to your car. We had zebu, deer, and bison at our windows.
The reserve is divided into different loops; Nairobi Sanctuary, Cheetah Conservation Centre, Simba Lion Country, Timbavati Lion Country, Wankie Bushland Trail, Rocky Ridge Veldt, Eurasia, and the Americas. Simba Lion Country, Timbavati Lion Country, and the Wankie Bushland trail were the most crowed areas. Cars were at a standstill and you would slowing roll forward. Park rangers were always near by in their trucks waving cars on to encourgae the queue to keep moving. In the other areas you are able to freely pull over and stop whenever you want. The landscape is designed in a way that all the animals are near for great viewing.
If you go through all the loops you’ll probably end up seeing many animals that you’ve never saw before. The Watusi cattle, white lion, bongo antelope, wildebeest, and the Sichuan takin were all new to me. You are welcome to drive through the game reserve as many times as you want during the day.
Parrot Paradise and Birds of Prey Demonstrations
We made it back to the parking lot just in time to get over to see the “Parrot Paradise” presentation. It was about 20 minutes long; fast moving and very enjoyable. The show wasn’t just parrots, we saw a Kookaburra, a bat, and a few other non-parrot birds. Some birds flew around (including the bat – yikes I’m terrified of bats!) while Eddie the parrot showcased his speaking (and singing) abilities. The staff was very knowledgeable and stayed around after the show to answer questions. Seating is limited so arrive a few minutes early. The “Birds of Prey” flying demonstrations starts very soon after “Parrot Paradise” ends and it’s in stadium nextdoor. You’ll get to see a variety of owls, vultures, hawks, and eagles showcasing their flying styles.
After the bird shows, we checked out the rest of the animals on display; elephants, flamingos, snakes, bats, frogs, and Franklin the turtle. We even caught Maggie the pig out for a walk.
We spent about 15 minutes in the “Jungle Playground” area. There’s a separate area for children under five.
For an additional fee, there were elephant and pony rides, and face painting. We choose just to stick with the activities already included in the admission price.
Onto “Pet’s Corner,” the petting zoo area. There were goats, alpacas, and deer to pet and feed. You’re only allowed inside the goat enclosure but all the other animals hang out close enough to the fence to pet. There are animal fed machines through-out this are that take $1 CAD coins only. We didn’t have any Canadian change, so we fed them clovers picked from alongside the fence, which they seemed to prefer. Hand washing stations are available on your way out.
We decided to pass on the “Elephant Round-Up” show because Addison couldn’t hold off on the water park area any longer. Next time we’ll catch the Asian elephants showing off their skills. We’ve heard great things about the show.
Misumu Bay Wet Play
Saving the water park area for last, Addison changed into a swimsuit and played in the water park for about an hour. There are changing rooms available (no showers) and even a bathing suit stand in case you forgot to pack one. Kids under 5 must have a parent by their side the entire time. Older kids are free to roam the area without an adult at their side. There are many attentive life guards/first-aiders throughout the entire area. The water bucket dump area and a few of the slides have height restrictions, a staff member will measure the kids and give them a wrist band if they meet the requirements. There’s lots of seating along the side fence for parents. There’s also plenty of room between attractions for parents to stand without getting wet. This was a perfect way to end our hot summer day in Africa.
Wet and tired we headed back to the parking lot. The family quickly decided that African Lion Safari would be a must do for next summer also. Plus, we realized we missed the “Discovery Centre,” an educational hands-on area – next time. Plus next summer Addison will met the minimum age requirement for the the “Wake Up the Wild” behind the scene tour. Can’t wait!
Have you been to African Lion Safari? Planning to go? Ever been on the “Wake Up The Wild” tour? Let us know what you thought. Leave us a comment below.
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