“ Address: Salhouse, Norfolk NR13 6NY UK „
If you are in Great Yarmouth and have a fascination with all things reptilian, then why not pay Amazonia World of Reptiles a visit. We were recently passing this small zoo as we made our way to the Sea Life Centre along the sea front just past the Britannia Pier on Marine Parade and decided to drop in for a visit. The entry fees are fairly reasonable, being £5.99 for adults, £4.99 for concessions (children 3-15, Seniors, disabled and carers), £18 for family tickets (2 adults + children) and under threes are free. The really good thing about these tickets is that they are valid all day and you can return to take another look round as many times as you like during the day. Along with entry tickets, reptile experiences are also available at an extra cost, ranging from a couple of pound to hold one animal to £17.50 to hold four different reptiles and spend time with the meerkats in their enclosure, this extra fee is per group rather than per person and as we were on holiday we decided to splash out on the complete experience. This meant that for two adults and a two year old (Freddy), it cost us a total of £29.48.
Entry to the zoo is through a small shop area that sells a number of souvenirs at reasonable (for a tourist trap) prices, although there were very few souvenirs that were specific to the zoo. We bought a soft toy snake for £4.99 which was fairly good value and there was a wooden snake I had my eye on but didn't bother with. There were some really nice reptile themed ornaments for sale and what I found the most interesting were some shed snake skins that ranged from £2.50 up to over £10 depending on the breed and completeness. The ceiling above the cash desk (where you pay for entry as well as for souvenirs) is festooned with snake skins, which feel rather like tough paper.
On entering the zoo proper the first thing that hit us was the heat, it was a rather cloudy and somewhat chilly day outside, so the ambient temperature within the zoo came as something as a shock to the system. The second thing that hit us was that the pathways were covered in gravel, which made manoeuvring the little one's stroller a little difficult. There's no way that this zoo could be considered anything but compact, in fact it is definitely leaning towards being tiny, it takes little more than half hour to walk around and that's with stopping to look at the different reptiles and read the information boards. That's not to say that it's not an interesting and informative half hour, because it most certainly is, especially if (like me) you love all things reptilian.
Each of the reptiles is housed in a suitably size glass fronted enclosure and there is a handy information board beside each different species that includes such information as the food they eat, where they come from and their environmental status (endangered, etc.). Among the different reptiles on view are cayman, blue tongued skinks, tortoises and an alligator. A favourite of mine had to be the bearded dragons, I love these particular reptiles and these were so inquisitive and almost seemed to be watching us through the glass. The alligator was in a much larger enclosure and could be viewed from a bridge. Along with reptiles there are a number of snakes, ranging from the brightly striped Milk Snake to the impressively large constrictors. For those who prefer their animals to be of the fluffy variety there is also a guinea pig family that included a couple of very young babies and a pair of meerkats. While if spiders and insects are your thing there are also a few of these creepy crawlies including tarantulas, scorpions and stick insects.
As our tickets allowed us to return as many times as we liked during the day we decided to pay more than one visit. On the first visit we simply looked round, taking in all the different animals and I have to say I did find it enjoyable, as did my partner and my two year old son. On our second visit we decided to pay for the encounter and more specifically the "mega safari" would allowed us to hold four different animals as well as enter the meerkat enclosure. The animals were brought over to us by a member of staff who seemed fairly knowledgeable and was willing to answer any questions we had.
The first animal she brought over was a young tortoise, I don't remember which breed it was, but it was very cute and didn't feel anything like I thought it would. I'm not sure exactly what I thought it would feel like, but was surprised at how hard it's shell was. It did look very cute though and we were given plenty of time to not only take photos but also show our two year old (it's not recommended that children under the age of three actually handle the animals, for both health and safety reasons). The next animal to be brought over was probably my favourite and that was a bearded dragon, this little reptile was absolutely adorable, and while it didn't really like my partner holding it, loved being in my hands and was making itself perfectly at home. Again we had plenty of time to take photos, ask questions and even for me to give it a little tickle behind the ears.
Next came the snake, from what I gather it's not always the same snake that's brought out to hold, but when we were there it was Ruby, a Milk Snake that was brought out. This brightly coloured, striped snake is very used to being handled and holding her was far less scary than I first imagined. The first thing to realise is that snakes are not at all slimy, to me her skin felt cold, smooth and almost like plastic. The next thing to realise is that snakes can be very, very inquisitive and even the smaller snakes are pretty strong. We were shown how to hold Ruby and as with the bearded dragon she made herself very much at home on me, exploring over my shoulder and coiling around my wrist.
The final animal that we got to hold was advertised as being a baby crocodile, but in reality was a baby cayman. Yes, I know that's being a bit nit-picking, but it just doesn't sound quite as impressive to say that you've held a baby cayman or baby member of the crocodilian family, does it? This little reptile may have been small at little of 10 inches from snout to tail tip, but it was still very strong as it thrashed in an attempt to break free. As with the bearded dragon I really enjoyed holding this little creature and for the most part it seemed perfectly happy for me to hold it. There is something quite wonderful about holding an animal from a family that has out-lived the dinosaurs and it's eyes were perfectly mesmerising with their hypnotic stare and third eye-lid. For the obvious reason that these little creatures have a mouth full of extremely sharp teeth and a fearsome bite, we did not allow our little one anywhere near it.
After spending a good twenty minutes holding the different reptiles we moved on to the Meerkat enclosure, which is accessed over a wall that came up to my waist. Having mobility problems I had to give entering the enclosure a miss, but my partner spent a very happy quarter of an hour in here. He was given some meal-worms to feed the Meerkats with and once he was sat on a rock he soon found himself mobbed by the extremely friendly and not at all nervous pair. The look on his face made his day and even now a week later, he will tell anyone that the highlight of his holiday was feeding and stroking the meerkats while they jumped all over him. This particular encounter was fantastic and I can't help but wish that I could have managed to climb in to the enclosure to stroke the meerkats.
On leaving the zoo it is strongly recommended that you both wash your hands and apply alcohol gel. Hand-washing facilities are provided in a small room off the shop and alcohol gel is available at the counter. One thing that is missing from the zoo is toilet facilities, which is a bit of a shame, but there are public toilets located very close by.
All-in-all we really enjoyed our visit to Amazonia World of Reptiles and would recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area, is looking for somewhere to while away an hour and most importantly isn't traumatised at the idea of snakes, reptiles or creepy-crawlies. I would, however, say that adding the animal handling experiences makes the visit far more enjoyable and would say that the £17.50 for handling four animals and entering the meerkat enclosure is more than worth the money. My only niggles would be that the zoo is not particularly disabled or buggy friendly as the gravel paths making pushing wheelchairs and buggies quite difficult and you need a high level of mobility to enter the meerkat enclosure. But when everything is considered, I am quite happy to give this unusual little (and it is a zoo, it has it's certificate on display at the entrance) four stars out of five.