Days Out: Chester Zoo has more to offer than ever and is a superb family day out
For anyone with a love of animals there is nothing quite like the experience of being able to see majestic creatures such as lions, elephants, rhinos, and tigers up close.
Chester Zoo is home to all these incredible beasts, as well as a plethora of others including various other big cats and some of the great apes.
My last visit to Chester was three years ago. My oldest daughter was just one-year-old at the time, and was possibly a little too young to fully appreciate what the zoo had to offer.
Now she is aged four, with a younger sister about to turn two, and our latest experience at this wonderful attraction was much more rewarding for the both of them.
Having visited Chester Zoo on previous occasions, I knew it had a lot to offer, so we made sure we were there in time for the gates opening at 10am.
I was expecting it to be busy, being the height of the summer holidays, and it certainly was, but the sprawling expanse of the zoo means no matter how big the crowds you never feel claustrophobic.
The zoo has changed no end since my first visit as a child in the 1980s, and even since my last trip three short years ago the zoo has made some significant additions.
The biggest of these is Islands - the first phase of which opened this summer.
Islands allows you to explore Panay, Papua, Sumba and Sulawesi on foot, as well as the option to explore Islands from a unique perspective on the Lazy River Boat Trip.
Phase two is due to open later this summer, and includes Monsoon Forest and Sumatra.
Alas, during our recent visit we ran out of time to experience Islands, but early feedback from those who have been has been extremely positive.
My four-year-old's favourite animals are giraffes and she was desperate to make a beeline for them as soon as we got there.
But such is the wonder of Chester Zoo, what should have been a 10 minute walk from the entrance to the giraffe enclosure took nearly two hours, due to all the fascinating distractions we encountered along the way.
During the first part of our visit we encountered elephants, monkeys, giant fruit bats, and cheetahs.
We also stumbled upon one of the face painters that are dotted around the zoo, and my daughter was delighted to have her face painted like one of her beloved giraffes.
But she had to wait a little while longer before she got to see them.
Next was the chimpanzee enclosure, and my eldest went into hyperdrive.
"These are the best animals in the whole wide world!" she exclaimed, at which point I was considering claiming my money back for the giraffe face paint.
Indeed, all seven of us on this family day out were probably in agreement that the chimps were probably the highlight of the day, and we stood and watched them for a good 20 minutes or so.
We timed it so that we arrived at the giraffes at Noon, just in time for a talk on the creatures from one of the zoo's experts.
These kind of informative and engaging talks take place throughout the day at a number of the various animal enclosures, and are well worth scheduling into your visit.
We were all a bit peckish by this point, and we'd come prepared with a bumper picnic, and found a nice little spot to enjoy our feast.
The zoo has a couple of very pleasant picnic areas, and there are also a number of cafes and restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating.
Re-energised after our lunch, we then carried on with our exploration of the zoo.
Spirit of the Jaguar, was followed by the huge Orangutan exhibit, before we made our way to see the tigers.
We then went to the penguin enclosure where we caught the tail end of a talk about these flightless birds, before we went on to see the lions which were lazing around in the son.
The afternoon was rounded off with the zebras, painted dogs (which were ripping apart huge chunks of raw meat), meerkats, and rhinos.
By this time we were all exhausted and in universal agreement that we had had a fabulous day.
I had been worried that my not quite two-year-old might not get a lot out of it, but she loved it and was enchanted by all she saw.
You certainly get your money's worth, and if anything there is too much to see and do.
As well being a great family day out, it's also to remember that Chester Zoo is a registered charity, and a lot of hard and important work is done there in the way of research and conservation.
As a visitor it makes you appreciate how lucky we are to live in a world full of such diverse and incredible wildlife, and the need to protect these animals from the threat of any ever growing human population.
Chester Zoo has just passed the one million visitor mark so far this year, the earliest in the year they have ever reached this mark, which underlines what a popular attraction it is.
I for one know this great zoo will become an annual pilgrimage/day out for my family.
For more information about the zoo visit www.chesterzoo.org