Sunday, August 28, 2011

Taking Autism to African Lion Safari - an Accessibility Review

African Lion Safari

Price / Discounts
The cost for our day at A.L.S. was pretty steep; just under $100 for 3 tickets (children under 3 are free).  We got our tickets at CAA with a 10% discount, but we heard that Costco has an even better deal, if you are a member there.  I found out later that African Lion Safari extends a 25% discount on admission to people with disabilities and, if required, one accompanying support worker.  Awesome, African Lion Safari!  We will take advantage of this deal next time!  Also, it is easy to go to and from your car and there are lots of picnic areas available, so bring a picnic and saving some money on food is no problem. 

As far as physical accessibility, African Lion Safari was not too bad.  We didn’t have a problem getting around with our stroller; there were wide, well paved walk-ways.  The splash pad was accessible, with a 0 depth entry, and had lots of sprinklers at different heights to play in; People of all ages from baby to adult were using and enjoying this area.  The water “playground” for older children was not accessible. 
The train ride was not wheelchair accessible, and the “conductor” does narrate a tour over a loudspeaker for the entire ride.  Esme plugged her ears.  If you have train-enthusiasts who are sensitive to noise, you might want to bring the ear-plugs for this one!  The wait for the train ride was not too bad – about 20 minutes – and really it was the only time we waited for anything all day.  

A.L.S. is pretty old fashioned when it comes to its attractions.  Pony rides, a boat and a train ride, small playgrounds and a petting zoo top the list of things to do in the park.  The playgrounds were totally not accessible (they have been the same since I went to the safari in Grade 2.  I seriously don’t think they have ever changed the balls in the ball pit.  They are down to about 7 balls.), but the under 5 playground was totally fenced in.  A bonus if you have more than one little one with you, or have someone who likes to run!  It was also nice to have some activities that didn’t involve waiting or big stimulating noises.  Sometimes a good, old fashioned swing is just the thing.  

The safari portion of the park has wheelchair accessible buses (we weren’t in one, so I couldn’t see how it was) for the safari tour, but you can also use your own car, which is nice if you have excited kids who feel more comfortable in a familiar vehicle.
Even though there were a lot of people at A.L.S (it was a Saturday), it never seemed too crowded.  The playground areas were almost empty, and there was a lot of open space for Esme to run around and chase seagulls.  And elephants.

Overall impressions

We had a great time!  We were at the park from 10:30 am until 6:00 pm and didn’t do even half of the activities they had.  Even though it’s a small attraction, it was just the right speed for our kids. 

The safari was fun, but I think Esme would have preferred being in our own car.  She was anxious on the bus, but held it together very well.  She was bored and hungry by the end, and I was using all my self-control not to scream “Who cares about the goats!  Just drive!” at the bus driver.  But we made it  The baboons and the big lion were the highlight of the safari.  

Getting Esme-friendly food is always a challenge when we go out, so it was awesome that we could bring a picnic.  It was also nice to take a break and climb a tree.  Trust me, Esme was ready for lunch.  Seriously ready. 
Esme loved the splash pad so much (we easily could have spent the whole day there, it was by far the highlight of her trip).  Haven had lots of fun crawling around the exploring the sprinklers. 

The petting zoo was quiet, with lots of baby goats to pet.  Haven loved looking at the llamas.  Or alpacas.  I’m not sure what they were.  But according to Haven, they were hilarious!

A.L.S could really use some new playground equipment, especially some accessible stuff.  The park is laid out really well for people who use adaptive equipment, but the lack of accessibility in the park area and the train is kind of a let-down.  I found the park to be very autism-accessible – there wasn’t any piped in music, there wasn’t a lot of over stimulating things around, and there was a lot of space so it didn’t seem too crowded.  The atmosphere is pretty relaxed, which is a bonus for anyone with anxiety issues. 

Overall, we would give African Lion Safari a B+.  The park was pretty autism-accessible, and gets extra points for offering a discount to people with disabilities.  While the main attractions were wheelchair accessible, the park could update some of their smaller “attractions” to make sure that all children can enjoy them.  And seriously, I think some of that stuff is due to be replaced.  I am not kidding when I say I have a picture of me on that climber circa 1988. 

 Overall, a great place to visit… if you can handle the admission price!

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