Saturday, March 22, 2014

San Diego Zoo's Safari Park in Escondido, CA

When we originally planned our trip, I had been excited to see the San Diego Zoo, Seaworld and Safari Park.  When we arrived here at Champagne Lakes, I was exhausted.  We had the stress of one of the slides not working, the coolant system on the truck needing repair, the unexpected cost/replacement of the awning, and then the frenetic energy here in Southern California.  Kim had agreed to go, but only because I wanted to.  It just seemed to be too much.  I made the decision just to pick one of the parks, and the one I was most drawn to was Safari Park.

We researched the various options and selected the Caravan Safari.  This allowed us to ride Safari Trucks into the field exhibits to meet giraffes and rhinos up close.  It was a 2 hour tour.  The cost was $95 per person over and above the entry fee into the park which was an additional $46 per person.

Let's get my one criticism about of the way:  For the two of us, the total came to $282.  To me, that was a lot of money for a one day excursion.  The park is non-profit and I understand that is probably a fair price.  If I were independently wealthy and did not have to maintain a budget, it would be another thing.

The rest of the story:  We picked a great day to visit the park, at least if you are from the Pacific Northwest.  The weather was perfect for us.  It was in the mid 60s when we arrived, and in the low 70s by the time we left.

Of note, we followed our GPS instructions to the park.  Their website says to take the exit that we also took and to follow the signs.  We never saw any signs.  I'm guessing there was a more direct route than the one our GPS took us down.  We got there, and that's what counts.

First up - They have restrooms right at the entrance - even before you go through the gates into the park.  This is nice for us older folk, and I imagine the same could be said of people traveling with small children.  The restrooms were clean, always a plus!

Safari Park is immaculate.  The signage is good.  The exhibits we saw were well marked.  We were scheduled for a 10am Caravan Safari which gave us an hour to look around.  Be prepared to walk.  It is a big place.  We elected to walk up to Condor Ridge.  We hadn't done our morning constitutional before leaving the RV park, and this certainly made up for it.  The walk took us up through native vegetation.  They were working on the Tiger Territory exhibit which is due to open after Memorial Day.  There were orange cones and warning signs all over, and we weren't really sure which paths (some paved, some note) we were to take.  That said, it was a delightful walk up with many of the different types of trees and bushes identified.

This beautiful guy was injured in the wild.  He was brought to the park and rehabilitated.  Unfortunately, his injuries left him unable to fly.  I have never seen a bald eagle up this close.

We eventually made it up to the Condor Ridge.  These pictures are for our friends Janet and Winston who have been hiking recently around the Santa Cruz area, hoping to see a condor.

I wish I could have seen well enough to get a better picture but the sun was shining on the camera screen.  He is sitting in the middle of the picture toward the top.

Who knew there were so many types of condors?

We headed back down the trail to sign in for our caravan safari tour.  Restrooms were right by the check in area.  Everyone was encouraged to "just try just in case" as we tell our grandsons.  We would be driving around for 2 hours.  The main highlights of this tour were the opportunities to feed giraffes and rhinos and see them up close.

We were asked not to reach and pet the giraffes.  One, because you don't want to get slimed - some of them are heavy droolers.  Second, because they could do serious injury to your head and neck if they decided to nudge you or be aggressive.  It hasn't happened, but they do warn you about it.  I did get to pet/touch the rhinos though.  It was kind of cool, but they feel like they look.  Hard and rough.  Think the heel of your foot with 100 layers of callous.

We were lucky the rhinos interacted with us.  Ours was the first caravan tour of the day, and apparently rhinos like to sleep in.  If you are considering doing this tour, I would take the second or third one of the day.  We later saw what I think was the third tour, and there were only three people, other than the guides, in the truck.  We had 14 in our truck.

We drove by other animals but did not have the up, close and personal experiences with them that we had with the rhinos and giraffes.  Our guide Stephanie and our drive Barb were quite knowledgable on all the animals.

After our tour was over, we went back to the truck to have our picnic lunch.  Be sure to get your hand stamped for free re-entry.  I had read reviews of the park where the majority held the opinion that the park food was just so-so, and was expensive.  We brought our own sandwiches and drinks and just enjoyed them (and the nice breeze) while sitting in the truck.  After lunch, we went back into the park, and headed for the African Tram, which was included in the $46 entry ticket.  I really enjoyed this tram ride.  It took you around the park to see many of the animals.  The driver was very, very informative.

I almost enjoyed the tram ride more than the caravan tour.  We have a great zoo in Seattle, and you can feed the giraffes there for $5.  The extra $95 for the caravan tour was wasted on me.  It was interesting, and I'm glad I did it, but once will be enough.  If you are on a budget, you will definitely enjoy the park without taking a caravan tour.

Below are pictures I took from the walking tour and from the tram (sometimes a challenge because they only stop here and there for pictures).  We were toward the back and it often seemed like there was a tree or bush blocking any shot I wanted to take.

All in all, it was a good day.  If I go again sometime in the future, I'd probably just stick with the African Tram which comes with entry fee; maybe I'd spring for the Asian Tram; and if I was feeling particularly brave, I might even try the hot air balloon (which I thought was reasonable priced at $12).  I see they have an overnight camping option which got really good reviews, but was way outside my budget right now.  Maybe I will go buy a Power Ball ticket and see what happens.......

1 comment:

  1. Great write up about San Diego. We really enjoyed the Timken Museum and the orchids. If you do go back to Balboa Park, there is a model railroad museum there that is fascinating. I'm not a fan of model railroads, but ended up spending about three hours and enjoying all of it. There is a lot of American history tied up in railroading and it's all there in scale models with excellent explanations about why and how things were built.