What’s trending right now in tourism? Safaris. What’s the easiest safari to access? African Lion Safari, located on 750 acres of farmland between Cambridge and Hamilton.
Dedicated to the conservation of declining wildlife species, this is home to over 1000 animals comprised of over 100 species roaming freely throughout seven distinct drive-through Game Reserves. No cages here—except for us visitors in our vehicles—and nowhere else can we get so close, and share such appreciation, of these beautiful wild animals. In terms of value-for-money, there is not better family day-trip.
Today, we’re on a mission. My son is going to ride an elephant. First, we hop on the safari bus to drive through the Reserves. There’s a lion, laying regally in the shade. And white lions strolling through the grass. And Cheetahs, capable of running up to 120km/hour, lazing in a tree. A rhinoceros is having lunch, and in the distance, ostrich eggs lay on a mound, each one the size of 30 chicken eggs! Did you know “Giraffe” means “graceful one” in Arabic? We learn this from our guide as a graceful one dips down to kiss the window where my son is sitting! The cameras flash, and my son delights as the window steams up from the giraffe’s nostrils.
I vaguely remember visiting here with my parents when I was a child, but there’s no greater joy than observing my son observing all the moving animals he’s only ever seen in puzzles, cartoons and picture books. Bouncing on his seat and tugging my arm, he shouts, “Daddy, look at that one! And look at that one!” Of course, what draws the most excitement is watching the baboons grooming each other in the shade, or hitchhiking on the passing cars slowly driving through. We are awestruck.
Next up, we embark on the African Queen Boat Cruise to meander around islands of exotic primates like lemurs, gibbons and spider monkeys. My son is beaming watching these animals swing between branches. It’s easy to forget where we are. We’re a world away.
All aboard! As soon as he hears the whistle blow, he asks, “Can we ride the train, too, daddy?” It’s a miniature replica of an 1863 C.P. Huntington Steam engine. Seated right up front on the Nature Boy Scenic Railway, we pass through 16 hectares of native Southern Ontario animals and birds. At one point, a line of reindeer parade by, up close and personal. He can barely contain his excitement.
At last: the elephant. Her name is Jenny. It’s a short ride, but as the park staff member helps my son onto the saddle, and I, behind him, holding him in place, we could not be more enthused. With every step we can feel the musculature of this giant animal gently moving forward. “Look daddy!” He shouts as the trunk curls upward. It’s very peaceful and slow. “I like this,” he sighs. As we dismount he sweetly caresses the elephant, and says, “Thank you Jenny.” How better to share and impart appreciation and respect for animals than this.
The Children’s Playground looks like a toddler version of American Gladiators with a climb up and down into a massive ball pit to wade through for a climb up and over a net and down a slide. Over and over again, waves of children zealously charge through with ear-to-ear smiles. The piece de resistance for this toddler, however, is the oasis, Misumu Bay Wet Play. This is the greatest splash park we’ve ever seen. I am jealous of my four-year old son, who, like a fish, dives right in. There are ropes from which to swing, and a jungle gym to climb and slide-down. This attraction, alone, is worth the price of admission.
I roll up my jeans to wade into the pool, just a little. “Come on dad!” He cheers. In the distance I see a staff member gesturing to me. I ignore her while I’m negotiating with my child. “No, I don’t want to get wet.” At that exact moment, a massive vat tilts over from above, emptying a torrent of water right onto my head! I am soaked. The staff member—the one I just ignored—shrugs. My son is bursting in laughter. We spend the next couple hours here in the splash pad. “Chase me. Chase me.” He shouts. And I do, without a care in the world. We splash and play for the rest of the day.
I glance at my rear view mirror as we’re exiting the parking lot to see my little giggling boy fast asleep in dreamland, with a smile as pure as his day’s adventure.
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Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.