Want to go?
WHAT: African Safari Wildlife Park
WHEN: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. (last car admitted at 6 p.m.) through Sept. 5
WHERE: 267 S. Lightner Road, Port Clinton
COST: rates vary per season-summer rates are $17.95/7 years and older, $11.96/4-6 years old, free/3years and younger
INFO: africansafariwildlifepark.com for more rates and hours
Vacations are expensive. That, coupled with the excruciating thought of listening to my sons, ages 4 and 5, cry, whine, and make me to replay “The Bear Necessities” for the 100th time, made my decision to do several day trips, or, as the hip kids call it, “staycations,” in the area, that much easier.
One of the trips on our agenda was the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton. The park’s big draw is the drive-thru “safari” experience, where you can navigate through herds of deer, buffalo, alpacas, zebras, giraffes, camels and some sort of long-horned cow thing that I later learned was a Scottish Highlander (it’s still a long-horned cow thing to me).
Based on our experience, I’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts to make your trip to African Safari as enjoyable as possible.
Go early. We arrived at about 9:15 and still with only two cars in line in front of us, we waited for about 8 minutes before we got our turn at the booth. As we left around noon, the two lines at the entrance were backed the whole way out onto the road. And that line doesn’t just come at the entrance; it continues throughout the safari drive-thru only it’s about 10 times worse since you’re not only battling other cars but animals as well. And trust me, you don’t want stuck in a line of cars sloshing through dusty, hungry animals when all you want to do is move 300 feet further so little Susie can see the giraffes. A friend of mine who went with her family recently called the line Ohio’s very own carmageddon.
Leave your windows down if you’re out of food and/or would prefer an animal doesn’t come to your car. A buffalo doesn’t understand when you tell him you’re out of carrots; he’s still plodding over to your open window to say hi, maybe drop a ball of slobber on your steering wheel, and scare the bejesus out of your kid. The animals are kind of like homeless people who want to clean your windshield; they won’t take no for an answer. So do yourself and that nice leather interior of yours a favor and keep those windows rolled up to keep out uninvited guests.
Bring a car that you don’t mind getting slimy/dusty/snotty/dented/scratched. Oh, or
covered with little bits of food, both inside and out. Don’t worry, there are several lovely car washes just outside of the park, and there’s even a car vacuum on the premises.
And while you’re at it, make sure that vehicle of yours has four windows that can roll down. One of the park’s rules is that minivan doors must be kept closed at all times (with good reason) so my friend and I ended up holding the kids on our laps so they could feed the animals. If you have children who are afraid of the animals (like my son was until he got used to the experience), it’s best to keep them in the backseat with their windows rolled up.
Bring in your own food for the animals. Signs explicitly state that no outside food can be given to the animals. While the food sold at the gates is pricey — think $6 for a 2-pound bag of carrots and $4 for a 1-pound bag — you do get a free cup of grain every time you go through. Still, that cup can be gone within a few seconds if, say, an overly ambitious buffalo knocks it out of your hand. I’d like to think that the “no outside food” thing is kind of like the rule that you shouldn’t bring your own Junior Mints to the movie theatre, but I don’t want you smuggling in a crate of carrots and getting a punishment of goring-by-buffalo (or worse-by that long-horned cow thing) for doing so.
Bring some extra spending money. While we had a good time looking at the animals, the highlight of the trip for the kids was the gift shop. They spent a majority of our non-car time perusing the aisles looking for trinkets. After many deliberations, my 5-year-old picked a small stuffed donkey (odd, since we didn’t even see a donkey during our visit) and my 4-year-old selected a stuffed giraffe, both of which were $7.99. Compared to other gift shops, the prices at African Safari were reasonable —
as reasonable as a souvenir shop can be, that is. There’s also plenty of food, ice cream and other goodies to be had.
Miss the walk-thru portion of the park. My kids weren’t that excited about this section, so the majority of the whopping 20 minutes spent there was just me running to keep up with two children who don’t care about the history of the rare white alligator and simply want to run past the cage and say, “There’s an alligator!” and move on to the next area. The park also offers pony rides (for an additional fee), educational animal programs, and the always interesting yet slightly disturbing pig races on site.
Hold your breath if you use the restroom. Even at 10:30 a.m., the restrooms were already a tad on the ripe side. Summer sun and outdoor facilities just don’t mix.
Forget that you can go through the drive-thru portion of the park as many times as you want. That said, remember you have to pay for food every time you go back through as well. Despite the free cup of grain and the few carrots I saved from our first go-around the food didn’t last long and the second trip was more of a race to the finish than a leisurely drive among the animals.
Overall, our time spent at African Safari was memorable and good for a few laughs (and a couple of stuffed animals). And, if nothing else, it forced me to finally clean my van.