The three wolves pressed their glistening snouts up against the glass, licking their lips as their intense eyes locked with my little Kit’s excited face. She wanted a cuddle and squidged her cute toddler nose against the glass in an attempt to get closer, but I’m pretty sure they just wanted a meal…
Staying at Wolf Lodge at Port Lympne
A stay at Wolf Lodge at the historical Port Lympne is like no other. Whether you have children or not, it’s an unusual and special experience. I mean how often can you say that you had a stylish sleepover with a pack of wolves?!
If you haven’t heard of this place before, basically we stayed at a nature reserve that offers a selection of unique accommodation geared on your style of stay and/or favourite animal. We opted for a cosy cottage with wolves in our garden! As part of the stay we had access to out of hours fun in the park and our very own golf buggy to whizz about in. It was such a memorable trip and so much fun!
I’ve included my thoughts on our stay at Wolf Lodge at Port Lympne below. I found it very confusing when I was trying to plan our stay, so I’ve also included lots of pointers and tips on recreating your own visit. As ever though, if I’ve missed anything or you have a question please do just get in touch.
What is Port Lympne Reserve?
Port Lympne is a 600-acre nature reserve that’s home to over 700 rare and endangered animals such as howler monkeys, tigers and Kent’s only giraffe. It’s home to the largest herd of black rhino in the UK and it’s probably as close to an African safari as you can get in England. Sure, it’s less sunny but it’s still pretty special.
Animals roam in big, open spaces and the ones that are in more conventional enclosures are treated with respect. Yes, there are windows or platforms so that you can look at them, but they’re minimal and creative. There are no shows where the animals perform and the animals aren’t kept in a certain part of the enclosure so that you can view them. It’s kind of luck as to what you’ll see and how close up. It feels classy and a little more authentic in my opinion.
Whilst you can visit Port Lympne for the day, the real reason I think it’s so cool to visit is that you can choose to stay overnight in their hotel or one of their more unique accommodation spots. Thankfully despite the unique charm of this place luxury hasn’t been sacrificed. Port Lympne manages to balance the two in a very stylish way. It isn’t overly commercialised and perhaps it was because we travelled in offpeak season, but we found it to be extremely quiet.
Most of you probably know by now that I boycott zoos as they just don’t sit well with me. Here, the parks (Port Lympne and Howletts) are owned by The Aspinall Foundation, a registered charity and are devoted to saving rare and endangered animals and returning them to protected areas in the wild.
I’m not going to lie, prior to visiting I still had a little niggle about it; would it feel like commercialised exploitation? Would I regret making an exception to visit here? Whilst I don’t regret going, if I’m being truthful I still feel sad that the animals have to be in places like this, but that’s a debate for another time. I was actually pretty shocked at how low key the commercial aspect is.
As it was Nova’s birthday we wanted a little cuddly toy wolf as a memento of our stay at Wolf Lodge. We had to trek up a hill and almost out of the park to find the hidden souvenir shop and even then the selection was pretty limited. Other places we’ve stayed at are usually all up on that sort of thing, having various things for sale in the room, let alone shop and it’s almost pushed on you. A balloon, a toy, a special drinks bottle – you know what I mean. I kinda like it wasn’t like that though – it didn’t feel touristy.
We stayed in Wolf Lodge, which meant that the garden of our lovingly restored cottage backed onto the wolf paddock via a big glass wall. We could watch the wolves as much as we liked. We also got a tip off about one of their meal times (3pm if you’re wondering) so we made sure we were there for then. Nova still hasn’t stopped telling everyone about the rats they ate!
Inside the cottage we would lie on the bed, holding our breath to hear the faint howling of the pack. It was so surreal! Admittedly I was worried that it might keep the little ones up all night, but thankfully it wasn’t loud enough to disturb us.
Even if the wolves weren’t there a stay in the bijou cottage would have been right up my street. I spent an hour in the generous tub in our gorgeous upstairs bedroom, watched a movie in the snug and generally loved every second of our stay. Wolf Lodge has a downstairs double bedroom with a beautiful, generously sized en suite. Nova slept in this room. It’s right next to the front door, which always makes me feel a little uneasy but he was absolutely fine.
On the ground floor you’ll also find a super cosy living room where every single aspect has been lovingly decorated. There’s a roaring fire for those colder evenings. And through from there you’ll find a snug area with TV and a super slimline kitchen. There’s no cooker, but there’s a sink and kettle to keep you going until you dine out. We also found a hamper in the kitchen, full of chocolate, crisps, drinks and other snacks, but were disappointed to see that everything was chargeable. It seemed a bit cheeky considering the price tag of the room and in comparison to other places we’ve stayed at.
Where to Stay and How Much?
At Port Lympne you can pick your accommodation based on your favourite animals; choose from wolves, bears, rhinos, giraffes and tigers and lions.
You don’t just need to think about which animals you want to stay with. The accommodation style varies depending on what animals you opt for and so does the price, so you may want to consider what works best for you. I’ve listed an overview below, in case you want to plan your own trip:
|Giraffes||Giraffe Lodge||£800||Massive lodge sleeping up to eight people. Near to zebra, giraffe, rhino, ostrich and more. The décor is no where near as nice as the others in my opinion.|
|Tigers||Tiger Lodge||£1000||Two-bedroom lodge with glass wall looking out to the tiger enclosure and views of the sea.|
|Lions||Lion Lodge||£1000||Manhattan style loft set within the lion enclosure.|
|Bears||Bear Lodge||£300||A tent that sleeps up to eight people with views of the reserve and the sea. Hear the bears growling from your bed!|
|Wolves||Wolf Lodge||£400||Historical cottage right next to the wolf paddock (glass wall at the end of your garden).|
|Rhinos||Rhino Lodge||£400||Historical cottage right next to the rhino paddock.|
|Hogs and deers||Hog Deer Creek||£299||A stylish, lux wooden cabin overlooking a watering hole.|
|Tigers||Pinewood’s Shepherd Hut||£199||A super snuggly, lux shepherd hut about 50 yards from the tigers.|
|Tigers||Pinewood Pod||£159||Basically a wooden camping pod 50 yards from the tigers. It’s worth noting you’ll have to use the shower and toilet in a separate block.|
If you’re not fussed on animals, but want a unique experience try staying in The Bubble. It offers 180 degree panoramic views over the 600 acre reserve. Alternatively you could stay above the reserve in a treehouse or for something a little more conventional, the hotel.
So how did we pick? We prefer experiences over things, so we opted for a one-night family stay (two adults, a one year old and three year old) in Wolf Lodge to celebrate Nova’s birthday. We ruled out the tiger, lion and giraffe options straight away because of the price. I ruled out the tent options because I’m not a fan of camping. Nova is obsessed with all animals, but at the time was loving wolves, so that’s how we picked. We don’t always spend that kind of money on a one-night stay, but we don’t mind splashing out a little for a special occasion. And my usual tight-pursed husband loses all concept of money when it comes to our two little ones!
How to Make it Cheaper
The prices soar during the warmer months and during school holidays, so if you’re looking to keep it as cheap as possible visit in off-peak season (colder months, outside of school holidays etc).
We went in November as it was near Nova’s birthday, but honestly it was also because we couldn’t justify the price during the peak months. It was almost double the cost! On the plus side, we found it to be extremely quiet. Yes, it rained on one day, but we were bundled up so it was fine.
Have a play about with the booking tool on their website to compare prices. If you have your heart set on a particular spot or date book as early as possible. As you can imagine it’s pretty popular.
How Many Nights?
We stayed for one night due to the price. We left home as early as possible with two little ones in tow so that we could maximise our visit and then we left late on our check-out day for the same reason and to co-inside with Kit’s afternoon nap. No one wants to drive for three hours with a screaming baby!
Check-in is between 3pm-5pm, but you’re welcome to visit the park from 9.30am. We arrived around 1pm and our lodge was available for us to check-in early, which was great. Check-in is an amazing experience in itself, but more about that later.
It’s recommended that you allow four-five hours to enjoy Port Lympne. Your stay also includes entry to nearby Howletts and it’s suggested you spend three hours there. We didn’t bother with the latter because we didn’t want to scrimp on our Wolf Lodge experience.
So, we didn’t have any meals included in our stay. Not even breakfast, which seemed a little unfair given the price bracket. So, what are the onsite options?
Babydoll’s Wood Fired Pizza
You can choose to eat in here or get it delivered to your room. We drove down in our golf buggy and I’d highly recommend doing the same – it was an adventure! The buggies are pretty slow, especially uphill. When you’re scooting through an animal park in the dark, listening to the strange noises and occasionally spotting little eyes starring at you it can be a little unnerving.
Babydoll’s is also right next to the dinosaur area. I wasn’t expecting to see a big dinosaur face when I hopped out of the buggy, so that was interesting. If you have little ones who are easily scared it’s something to be mindful of.
Babydoll’s serves tasty Italian food and was actually a lot nicer than we were expecting. We ate at 5pm and were the only ones in there. Judging by the phone calls I think the take-out service is popular!
Port Lympne Hotel Restaurant
We didn’t use this restaurant so I can’t vouch for the food, but it sounds nice. Mains include pheasant, cod and butternut squash. There’s a ‘Cubs’ menu too, featuring meatballs, grilled chicken and more. You can also get breakfast here, including hot and cold options.
If you want a casual bite to eat, head to this café. You can also get breakfast here.
Is it Worth Staying With Young Kids?
Yes, definitely! Nova had just turned three years old and Kit was around 14-months old when we visited and they both absolutely loved it. Months later Nova was still telling people about his sleepover with the wolves and the rats they ate.
He also loved watching the ‘naughty’ monkeys who had started ‘fighting’ when we watched them. Kit couldn’t tear herself away from the wolves at the glass wall in Wolf Lodge. It was so lovely and worth every penny watching them both enjoy Port Lympne so much. Nova didn’t want to leave at the end of our stay and has asked a few times if we can go back. How lovely is that?
The golf buggy was also a highlight in itself, with Nova holding the ‘treasure map’ and directing us to the various enclosures (or so he thought).
Sure, the lodge wasn’t particularly baby-friendly, but it didn’t bother us. There were no stairgates and we moved some of the decorative pieces out of reach, but other than that nothing major. Nova slept in a big bed. We’ve never bothered with bed guards, but I just put the extra pillows on the floor in case he got disorientated and fell out.
We took our baby cot with us and Kit slept in that in our room. Other than sleeping we weren’t really in the lodge, which seems crazy when you think of the price tag but it was too fun in the garden watching the wolves or out whizzing on the buggy!
Things to do at Port Lympne
Aside from watching the animals, there are other things that make it quite exciting; some free and some not so free if you catch my drift.
Hear me out – it’s so much fun! The check-in experience is up there with one of my favourites. You arrive at the check-in lodge, hand in your bags and then hop on board a small safari truck. As you make your way to the check-in tent you pass some animals, or at least we did, which results in lots of excited squeals (from me, as well as Nova and Kit!).
Stepping inside the check-in tent is like entering a magical base camp. We enjoyed a complimentary glass of prosecco and our mini-explorers couldn’t believe their luck when they got to eat a freshly toasted marshmallow. We had to prise them away from the firepit and goodies!
Enjoy the Golf Buggy
When you stay in a lodge you get the use of a golf buggy for your stay. You can whizz around the whole park, hopping on and off as you wish. It’s so much fun! Our two absolutely loved it. The drive back from our evening meal was uphill, in the dark and past the dinosaur forest. It was such a funny part of our stay, where we joked about feeling like we were in Jurassic Park.
Check out is quite late and you can use the golf buggy until 1pm, which I think is really generous.
Overnight guests can spend time in the park outside of the regular opening hours. It was really quiet when we visited anyway – we only saw a couple of other people during our stay.
If you have cash to splash consider adding on an animal experience, such as feeding the gorillas (from £45) or getting close to a leopard and learning about them (from £75). There are other options too, such as being a keeper for the day (from £250) or a giraffe safari (from £75). You can view all the experiences here.
We didn’t bother because our two are so little. How well something goes can be down to their mood on their day, hunger, the weather – who knows what – so we didn’t see the point of risking it! Plus, as we had such a short time planned we didn’t feel like we had any free time that we needed to fill.
Enjoy the dinosaurs
Yep, you’ll find a massive dinosaur park inside Port Lympne. There’s no separate entry charge. It follows a loop trail full of every dinosaur you can think of. We’ve been to a fair few of these sorts of things – life with toddlers – and I have to say this may be one of the best ones.
Enjoy the views and wildlife
Head out at 8.30am to make the most of the lovely views and the animals getting active. Also find out what time your favourite animals usually get fed so that you can see them up a little closer. For the wolves it was around 3.30pm. A word of warning though – don’t expect the keeper to wait for you and to drag it out. Despite the keeper seeing we were trying to get out the door she didn’t wait for us to get there and she chucked the food in and went.
What to Pack (and What Not to)
Bring bubble bath if you want to make the most of the giant tub in your room. Although there are complimentary toiletries there isn’t any bubble bath. Go figure.
Bring a torch for those late night strolls or drives in the park. Don’t expect big beaming lights. Instead there’s minimal, dim lighting to accommodate the animals.
Don’t bother bringing a buggy for little legs. Ours got lugged from the car to the welcome desk, to the safari truck and then to our cottage and that’s where it stayed. We didn’t use it once because we had the golf buggy to get us wherever we needed to.
Pack as light as you can. If you choose to stay in Wolf Lodge it’s quite snug once you add numerous cases and bags. Which brings me onto my next point quite nicely; you’ll find one big case or bag easier than lots of little ones. The bags are taken to your accommodation for you and then back to the welcome desk along with everyone else’s.
Where is Port Lympne?
Port Lympne is near Ashford in Kent. It’s about five minutes from the M20 at junction 11. It’s a beautiful part of the UK, so if you have the time and money could make part of a bigger staycation.
Book Port Lympne
You can find out more on the official website and book here.
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