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Lions, and tigers and bears, oh my! -- Family day out at Fota Island and luxury nights stay at the Garryvoe Hotel, County Cork

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April, Collum and Sadie with the giant giraffe at Foto
Ireland is just beautiful when the weather turns out. Taking advantage recently of a sunny few days my husband John and I decided to take the kids to one of Ireland’s most popular outdoor attractions, Fota Wildlife Park in Cobh, County Cork.

Although I’d like to say that our five-month-old little girl, Sadie, enjoyed it, it was our 20-month old son Colum who beamed from ear to ear at the mere mention of animals. The life-sized giraffe statue that greeted us before entering the park was full of youngsters eager to have their picture taken in front of it. Some of the kids, including my own son, felt the picture would be much more vivid if they attempted to climb on top of him.

The park is home to 30 mammals and 50 bird species
The park is home to 30 mammals and 50 bird species
The park didn’t disappoint. In fact it was bigger than I remember. (My last trip to Fotawas 22 years ago). We had the option of taking a train around the whole park or walking. We firstly opted for the on-foot route – Sadie in her stroller. We were glad we did. Because several of the animals are free to roam around the park (inside paddocks with unobtrusive barriers) children got to experience first- hand the roar of a lion, the feeding habits of a monkey, the lazy stroll of the giraffes and the sprint of a cheetah. Parents could relax knowing the animals were at a safe distance but yet extremely exposed in a natural environment. Colum couldn’t take his eyes off the giraffes.  The Park was opened in the summer of 1983.

It took us about two hours to stroll aroundthe park (we had lunch half way around which took about another hour) and when we completed the loop John took Colum on the train back around again. The train is a big hit with the kids, it’s safari like colors makes it attractive and since our trip to the park Colum has become obsessed with all things train.

Read more about traveling and vacation activities in Ireland

The park has been listed as one of Ireland’s top ten visitor attractions and is the most popular tourist destination in Cork. It’s easy to see why. The park is situated on 75-acres, is home to 30 mammals and 50 bird species.

In the afternoon a trip to Cobh  (the final port of call for the Titanic before she set out to sea) was on the cards but the weather was so beautiful we decided to check into our wonderful hotel a little early and take advantage of the beach directly across from it. We stayed – because it came highly recommended- at the Garryvoe Hotel in Ballycotton Bay, Castlemartyr, County Cork. It’s about 20 minutes from Fota Wildlife Park and it’s the perfect location for kids.
Garryvoe Hotel in Ballycotton Bay
Garryvoe Hotel in Ballycotton Bay

The hotel marries charm and elegance. It can be described as a beach hotel ideal for family vacations and also one that’s perfect for a romantic getaway. We were lucky enough to secure a room facing the Atlantic Ocean. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore was more than relaxing when we checked in.

After a stroll along the promenade John took Colum swimming in the hotel pool. I grabbed a book, put Sadie in her stroller and spent over an hour sitting in the over-sized lobby catching up on some me time. Guests meandered through the hotel, some on their way to the bar for an afternoon drink, others to the restaurant for a meal. Everyone looked relaxed and happy. I understood the Garryvoe has that effect on people. You’re worries are checked in at the door.

Every now and then a little boy or girl would run excitedly through the lobby door, donning a beach towel and sandals. Some would be carrying a bag full of sweets that they purchased five minutes earlier in the beech shop across the road. Most retired to their rooms for an afternoon nap or to get ready for a family dinner in the hotel’s fine restaurant. 

An expansive dinner menu had something for even the pickiest eater. There was more than enough kids options and while John and I tucked into a steak dinner, Colum had his own meal accompanied by ice-cream when he was done.

When we finally dragged ourselves away from the dinner we retired to our spacious bedroom for the night. There were two double beds and one single (twin beds) and still there was enough room for a crib for Sadie. We all slept soundly- must have been the sea air. Unfortunately the rain was upon us the next morning but that was okay. We had to go back home to Limerick early anyway so we didn’t mind.

We have already penned in (with friends) a trip back to Fota and the Garryvoe next summer.
Be sure to visit both if you’re in Ireland.

Fota Wildlife Park- www.FotaWildlife.ie

The Garryvoe Hotel, Ballycotton Bay, Castlemartyr , Co. Cork. +353 21 4646718. www.GarryvoeHotel.com

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