In December last year (2019), we visited Drusillas Park for the first time. We’d heard about it shortly after moving to south east England three years ago, but for various reasons (including cost, as well as it’s being a bit of a journey for us to get there) we hadn’t managed to visit the place before. Now that we’ve seen what it’s like and what it has to offer, I’m wishing we’d gone sooner!
Drusillas is located in East Sussex, north west of Eastbourne, near an old village called Alfriston. It started off as tea rooms, established in 1922 by a Captain Douglas Ann, and was named after the captain’s wife, Drusilla. They had the idea of adding animals and other attractions to bring in more visitors, and with time it expanded to become what it is today.
Nowadays, Drusillas Park is mainly a zoo, but it also has some great play areas and fairground rides, as well as facilities for food, snacks and drinks etc. The play areas are aimed at children aged 12 and under, so our Penguin is already in his last year of using them, which feels a little sad. But there are plenty of other things to enjoy, and there are lots of educational displays, animal feeds etc, which we can learn from and incorporate in our boy’s education. So from that perspective it’s still a great place for us to visit, and we’re hoping to get good use out of the annual membership we’ve decided to invest in.
We’ve already made a second visit, in January, and I’m thinking that now would be a good time to share with you about what we’ve experienced at Drusillas so far, when visiting during the winter!
In case you’re new to our page, I’d like to explain that our son Penguin is autistic and non-verbal. Aspects of this play part in everything we do, while at the same time, much of what we do are the same things as any parents (or grandparents, carers etc) would enjoy doing together with their children. Our experience is just a little different sometimes due to how our son processes his surroundings etc.
For example, when we visit a place that is new to our boy, he will generally want to move through it quickly to see what the whole place is about. He needs to get to grips with the new surroundings and familiarise himself with them. If he’s interrupted and slowed down to much during this phase of familiarisation he can get very anxious and frustrated.
So, on our very first visit to Drusillas, Penguin hurried through the first part at great speed and we barely caught a glimpse of what was there, but on our second visit, we could take it more slowly, and found some impressive reptiles (like the large iguana pictured here) as well as an interactive display about a few different animals and their habitats around the world, which Penguin stopped at for a bit to explore.
On our first visit, after moving very swiftly through the first parts, Penguin paused in his tracks when he spotted the Teletubbies, as he’s liked them a lot since he was tiny. Around the corner from this little Teletubby hill are the penguins, and they also caught our Penguin’s attention enough for us to stop and enjoy them for a little while. We saw that they were going to have a feeding there later in the afternoon, so we went back for that as well towards the end of our day.
At Drusillas, there’s a main track to follow around the place to see everything (though a couple of optional short cuts are available as well), so we did pretty much everything in the same order on both our visits.
Not far down the path after the penguins, there’s another type of bird which Penguin really likes: Flamingos!
Psst, if you love flamingos too, you might like to check out our flamingo craft, HERE (opens in new window).
Across from the flamingos there are beavers and capybaras, and after them follows a section including otters, red pandas, and a few other creatures. The otters have got little ones at the moment, super cute and very noisy!
If you follow the main route around, like we did, you’ll soon reach the play areas, which offer a lot of opportunities for various kinds of play. I was quite busy chasing Penguin around, and didn’t think to check if there were any play equipment accessible for wheelchair users. My impression is that Drusillas is a pretty accessible place in general, but I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled on our next visit so I can report back more on that then.
The play areas are followed by an area which includes a shop, picnic tables, station for the little train ride (which we haven’t been on yet) etc. On our first visit in December, there were plenty of Christmas decorations there, including a very large tree.
The next section of the park includes a selection of rides as well as a mysterious maze, which we really enjoy. It surprises you with things like sound effects and water squirts as you make your way through it. We haven’t been on any of the rides, and I’d say most of them are aimed at young children. Penguin was very excited to watch the large ‘Hippopotabus’ (we’d recently been learning more about hippos at the time of our first visit, so he was happy to see one, even if it was in the shape of a flying bus), but he hasn’t dared to go on it yet. Maybe next time.
So far, I’ve presented things in the order they appear around the main path around Drusillas Park. One part that I’ve left until last though, despite it actually being quite near the entrance, is the farmyard section. On our first visit, Penguin quickly gathered there would be chicken in there, and they are pretty much the most terrifying thing in the world to him. Thankfully that didn’t put him off exploring the rest of the park, but he anxiously hurried past the entrance to the area where the farm animals are. Once we had gone around the whole park, we suggested taking another look at the farmyard bit. Penguin likes all the other farm animals, so it seemed a shame if he wouldn’t be able to see them because of a the chicken. With a lot of time and patience, we eventually made it into that section, and we found that the chicken were kept well contained and not running about freely, which I’m sure helped a lot in keeping Penguin’s level of anxiety manageable.
We found the farmyard section really great from a learning perspective, and I was particularly impressed with the part that explained about milk production. We were also charmed by the gorgeous cows, as well as the funny goats and donkeys.
On our second visit, the farmyard part was closed for some maintenance work, but Penguin didn’t seem TOO anxious walking past it despite knowing of the chickens in there, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make it back in there on future visits!
Getting back to the subject of accessibility, there were some fantastic news from Drusillas just this week, that their brand new Changing Places facility is now open! This is a fully accessible toilet facility with hoist and adult sized bench, which is something that many disabled people, both young and old, really need in order to be able to spend a day out. It’s actually a bit of a mystery to me how this type of facility isn’t already more common, but thankfully more and more places are now realising the difference it makes, and that it also makes business sense to make vital accessibility investments like this. A big thumbs up to Drusillas, the new Changing Places room looks amazing!
If you’re considering a trip to Drusillas, you can find all the info you need on their website: drusillas.co.uk. And if you have any questions or comments on this post, please let me know below, your input is always much appreciated!
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