On Saturday 16th November, I finally got round to visiting Longleat’s Festival of Light and experience the wonder of this event. After many years of wanting to go and always missing out on getting tickets, I planned ahead this year and got tickets booked for my birthday weekend. And if you’re a theme park geek like myself, this is a perfect closed season trip to undertake.
Longleat Safari Park is located just outside of Warminster in Wiltshire, right opposite Longleat Centre Parcs in Longleat Forest. I’m sure most people are aware of Longleat for its expansive safari drive through, and the cheeky monkeys that like to tear apart car number plates and wiper blades. There’s a lot to see and do at the park, and with the added addition of the Festival of Light event, it’s clear to see why it’s so popular among guests. Of course, any event has its high and low points, so let’s crack down on the highlights and lowlights of this event.
Highlights from Longleat’s Festival of Light…
I was in awe at the number of lanterns they had considering there were probably near 100 different lanterns in total. My initial thoughts before my visit were they had a dedicated area for all lanterns as part of the event, but nope, they were everywhere. This actually made it into an all encompassing event where you truly felt immersed in the park. Nothing impacted the areas near any animal enclosures which was fab. You can tell they’ve worked hard to ensure that this event flowed as well as it could. From 4.30pm, the lanterns were turned on and it truly felt like a winter’s event – without too much Christmas being in your face! The theme for 2019 was Myths and Legends, regardless of whether a theme is your favourite or not, you will still have a fantastic time regardless.
Safari Park & Animal Encounters
Not only do you have the Festival of Light event running on selected dates throughout November and December, there is lots to see and do for the whole family. The Safari Park is expansive with a wide range of animals to see from the comfort of your car (or from a VIP truck – extra charge for this) from Zebras, Flamingoes, Monkeys, Tigers, Lions, Cheetahs, Wolves and more. Try and allocate at least 3 hours for the Safari as not only does it cover a vast area of land, there’s a stop off point in the African Village featuring a shop, toilets, cafe and a Lemur walkthrough. Not only that but once you’ve exited the Safari Park and headed back to the main car park, your day doesn’t end there. There’s plenty of animals to encounter around the Longleat Adventure Park, from Crocodiles to Bats, Koalas to Lorikeets and many more. Plus if you get a chance, there’s a Jungle Cruise located towards the back end of the park. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to go on this during my visit as the queue was horrifically busy but if you get a chance, you’ll be able to see Gorillas, Hippos, Monkeys, Pelicans and Sealions.
The projection mapping on Longleat House is new for 2019, and boy, I’ve seen projection mapping done really well along my travels. This is up there as one of my favourites. The facade of Longleat House is beautiful enough on its own but the projection mapping at night really adds to the atmosphere. It can be easy to miss if guests aren’t heading towards the front of the house once the lanterns have been turned on – it isn’t very well signposted which I will go into more detail about below. Projections on the house included star constellations, mythical creatures and legends, something that was beautifully portrayed and I couldn’t stop watching (and taking photos). If you are heading to Longleat Festival of Light this year, do not miss this!
There’s plenty of eateries around the park which is very important when it comes to feeding the family. One place in particular that delivered high quality food, fantastic customer service and an all round great experience was Pizza Piazza. Now before I begin praising how amazing the food was, this place is quite hidden without the help of the park map. On your visit, walk towards the main Guest Services building and on your left is a small walkway which will lead you to the small but fab Pizza Piazza. Serving a good range of Pizzas including Meal Deals that are perfect for families on tight budgets. Average price is around £10 for a Margherita Pizza, £14 for a Texas BBQ or Meat Feast Pizza and £2.50 for either a soft drink or hot beverage. Meal Deals are also available from £15 to £25 depending on your group size. The food is high quality and incredibly filling – I’d put this at restaurant quality food! If you’re on the move, you also have the option to takeaway as well which I think is fantastic for families/groups on the move or if you can’t find a table to sit at during busy periods.
Lowlights from Longleat’s Festival of Light…
Now, I understand that this event has grown in popularity over the years but Saturday’s visit was very busy. Granted that a lot of people wanted to take photos or just enjoy walking through the different areas with the lanterns, it was difficult to try and enjoy the experience without getting in people’s way or trying to manoeuvre in the crowds. I’m not a huge lover of crowds anyway and can get very overwhelmed in these situations, but there was a distinct lack of crowd control. Having some more marshall’s in different places to help ease congestion would have been a huge help. There were a lot of moments with people standing in the way or stopping in awkward spots which meant us photographers couldn’t get the shot we wanted. If you are a family with young children, please keep in mind of how busy certain areas get and if you can, keep your children close at all times or try to wait until a quieter periods.
A lot to cover in one day
As someone who aims to plan ahead for any day trips I have planned, especially to new places, I did not do this and now realise that planning is key to making the most of your day at Longleat. Granted we arrived at Longleat around 12pm so didn’t get a full day on park (Longleat opens at 10am, Safari Park opens from 9.30am) however there is a lot to cover if you really want to make the most of your visit. Aside from the Jungle Cruise and Longleat House, we still covered at least 85% of the Adventure Park. It is something to keep in mind if you are looking to attend this year or in the future, try to plan out your day or at least make a note of which activities you definitely want to cover. The main event with the Festival of Light gives you at least 3 hours to walk around the park and explore the lanterns. From 4.30pm the lanterns are switched on which I believe is ample time to take photos and explore them all. With plenty of planning before your visit, you’ll be able to enjoy everything that Longleat has to offer.
Lack of signposts
For an event that becomes incredibly busy at this time of year, the signposts around this park are either too small to see or lacking in different areas. Whilst you have a park map to guide you, it’s still tricky to find what you are looking for. The layout of Longleat Adventure Park isn’t very logical in my opinion, as there’s a lot of different walkways that steer off the main path. Some places are particularly hidden so keep in mind, you’ll need that park map to help you navigate. Something that could help is temporary event signage to guide people around the park better, this would help with the crowd control as there were a lot of people stopping in the middle of pathways looking lost. Given the number of guests on park, this caused a lot of congestion and didn’t help with the flow for people who were looking for shops, toilets and food places.
Despite the lowlights, I had a great time and would definitely recommend this event for anyone who’s looking for a weekend day trip with family & friends. Travelling from afar, there’s plenty of places to stay in the area nearby including Warminster, Salisbury, Bath and more, to make this a weekend trip to remember. If this is your first time, enjoy it and try to tick off as many of the key activities including allocating at least 3 hours for the Safari Park – it’s big!
Longleat Festival of Light runs on selected dates from 9th November to 5th January 2020. Hurry, tickets are selling fast and you don’t want to miss out on this amazing event – buy tickets on their website or find out more about the Festival of Light here.
That’s all for now!