by Angela Oh My! A road trip review...
I recently managed to visit a place that just oozes childhood memories for me...
Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Quebec.
A few people asked me about it after I mentioned we were going, and I am more than happy to share our experience!
Now, it was a last minute decision and being almost 2 hours away (closer to 3 hours from Ottawa), we figured we would not get to experience the whole park ( as they are also on reduced opening hours till school ends ) but with the 10 year old and 20 month old in tow, we figured what the hell. So off we went. From Long Sault, going through Valleyfield, the trip took just under 2 hours each way. There is potentially slow moving traffic ( read: tractors and Sunday drivers and a drawbridge ) so be patient - the drive is just beautiful, touching on the luscious Montregie area again...apples, apples, apples.
Once at the park, the wait to get in was a little draggy. LOTS of people. So, as we are sitting in line, we decided NOT to take the drive through animal tour first, yes, the signature draw of the park, but rather park, eat, wander and then do the tour at the end of our day.
Good Idea #1 - Wait to take the tour till the end of the day. The drive through the animal reserve area with traffic ( and not just the giraffe and buffalo kind ) can take over 1.5 hours. Seriously. It was bumper to bumper through the drive when we arrived. At 2:45. there was just us in certain parts, allowing plenty of stress free time to feed the animals. The schedule will change as the hours are lengthened, but we went 15 minutes before they closed the park gate, giving us an hour and 15 minutes to get through the drive before closing, and it took us less than an hour, with lots of enjoyment time. The girffes and zebras were awesome. The rest of the animals were very Parc Omega like.
Note: They no longer have baboons running free, jumping on your car and peeing on your windshield, while scratching your paint. I wonder why? I have very vivid memories of my father losing his mind in french at the little cheeky buggers, as he threw food at them to get them off his car...
Good Idea #2 - Bring carrots and lettuce. The park food is cute and in little boxes and at 2$ not exhorbitant...but the animals prefer carrots and lettuce leaves - both the wild kind and the deers in the deer forest.
So, we entered the park and were surprised by a few things...bad first...
The water area - "swimming holes" as they refer to them - were closed. So no water fun - check on opening dates before you take the time to pack everything like we did. Sigh. Sad 10 year old. The mini golf? Needs to be retired. it sucked, lol. Sad 10 year old. Fun kid's climbing areas. Closed - looked like they were being dismantled. Sigh. Sad 10 year old.
Ride area? We ran out of time,lol. Guess what? Sad 10 year old.
Note on the ride area...for those of you from Montreal...this is where the rides from Belmont Park went after they closed that awesome park. But that was 25 years ago. The rides are still working...but even the Parc Safari spiel refers to them as "museum pieces". It is a great trip back to the amusement park of your childhood...but at the same time it is the same amusement park from your childhood. Rides are well maintained...but...old. Like me:).
Now, the good - and this is what makes it worth it... The walking paths are wide and sprinkled with water fountains. The elevated "jungle walkway" gives the kids a good chance to see huge black bears, chimpanzees, arctic wolves, hyenas, macaques and gorillas. Safely.
Good Idea #3 - Bring a video camera to capture the chimpanzees in action. They were a hoot and caused major giggles with their hammock antics. The "Lion's Tunnel" is what most amused the 10 year old though...these are glass tunnels that run around and through the lion and tiger habitats. The animals often lie right beside the glass or - GASP - walk on the top of the tunnels, allowing for a really neat experience. The kids loved this...
There is also a rest area above the glass tunnels allowing for shade and a vantage point to allow older kids to explore the tunnels safely while you easily watch them. There are drink machines and some park animation as well here. A nice rest spot. Which was nice since it was HOT. And there was no water fun open. Ooooops. Sad 10 year old again.
Good Idea #4 - Just a heads up - it is freaking hot in those tunnels on a sunny day. Seriously. The kids will need lots of water after this.
Right to the side of the tunnels is a cute little spot for photographs, where the kids can climb up elephant, hippo and giraffe statues and pose for dangerous animal shots;). BIG hit:). There is also another covered rest area, right near here and a path back to the water area ( cue sad 10 year old ).
Actually, that is the wonderful thing about this park...the pace is slow and there is a ton of room for the kids to run and just enjoy. Paths are everywhere, but clear, so you do not feel like you are losing anyone easily and if you are with little, little ones? Lots of benches for breaks and rests. There are over 700 picnic tables throughout the park and their use is encouraged ( just no charcoal bbq's allowed ). It is a very easy kid outing.
Good Idea #5 - Bring all you need...there are not a whole lot of stops after valleyfield to stock up on anything other than drinks. Trust me. We forgot diapers.
Okay. I forgot the diapers. There is also a big play structure that entertained both kids while hubby went to get drinks.
And there was more...there is a Bird Trail ( we saw none ) and Deer Trail( we saw tons ) that offer a perfect shady walk. The deer area is wonderful, with lots of deer and opportunities to feed them. This is where the lettuce came in handy ( we were given some by a lovely stranger to placate our hot, tired sad 10 year old). It is a gravel path, so parents of stone throwers beware. Or is that only us? The deers hungrily ate up the lettuce and scoffed at the paid for treats.
Oh! Hungry? Thirsty? Lots of stops for slushies (delicious ) and snocones and drinks. The food court area is big, with lots of casual seating and room to run, in front of a stage with regular animation put on by the park's mascots, "les Filouminous". Now, being the parent of a pretty allergic type kid, we ran into a bit of a communication problem trying to find out what would be safe for our little guy to eat ( no, we are not the uber prepared parents we should be - pack a lunch and you need not read this part ) but we finally got to the cook who was able to check everything for us, happily. They also offer fruit cups, a peanut/dairy/egg/soy safe bean salad, jello and other "healthy" ( read - non fried) options, all with clearly marked ingredients. There is a souvenir store, but it is not over commercialized at all...a refreshing change. the 10 year old totally missed the store, only asking about it on he way home. We told her it was closed like the water area. She bought it.
Phew. Like I said, we ran out of time and skipped the ride and game area. There are also pony and camel rides available but not the day we were there. There is enough here to keep everyone happy. And it is low key enough to not make you crazy while you are doing it. The charm that makes it feel so homey also makes the park feel like it needs a little more love...but if you tune into Parc Safari radio, all this is explained, including future development plans ( 91.1 on your FM dial;)).
Good Idea # 6 - Bring small change...you pay for all those fun extras like pony rides and mini golf and parts of the lazy river ( yes, I know. Sad 10 year old didn't get to find out).
Go, enjoy, have fun. I loved this place when i was a kid, with no swimming holes...and at the end of the day, so did my 10 year old;).
Old fashioned fun and all.
Angela is mom to a teen, tween and toddler, wife of an intrepid businessman, master of two big dogs and she loves her camera-baby very much. She is a displaced montrealer living in Long Sault, Ontario. She blogs at From the Dock.