Top 7 Zoo Theme Parks In The World

Aside from being obsessed with theme parks growing up I was also very into zoos and animals - and that's something that hasn't changed now that I'm an adult. Whilst I definitely would like to see out more pure zoo parks for me to discover and explore, I'm naturally more lead to a park that is a combination of both theme park and zoo. And whilst there are many Resorts out there that offer some kind of zoo or animal experience alongside their park offering, I find the ones that are the most impressive are those that manage to blend their animal and conservation efforts with the theming of their rides and lands to create a seamless fusion of thrills and animal fun! So let's get stuck in as I count down my list of the top eight zoo theme parks in the world!

Whilst many an enthusiast will be aware of Kolmarden as the home of Wildfire, Europe's first RMC coaster, the park is actually the largest zoo in Scandinavia and began primarily as a means to revive the Kolmarden Municipality in the mid-late 60s. It wasn't until the mid-late 2010s that the park started actively invested in more amusement rides and attractions to diversify their portfolio and expand on the park's offering outside of just zoo animals.

Although of course Wildfire is great, the standout attraction for me at Kolmarden is definitely the Safari Gondola - a skyride-style attraction that offers a birds eye view of the animals in their sprawling enclosures. I adored this attraction so much that when it ended we got straight back on and went around again, it's just such a unique and exciting way to see animals in a zoo setting but really feel like there are no boundaries between you. And the setting of the park itself is absolutely gorgeous - whether from the lifthill of Wildfire or as the cable car glides over the safari below all you can see around you is lush forests, sparkling lakes and rocky, almost mountainous terrain. It really feels raw and wild in such a setting which only serves to amplify the gorgeous exhibits the animals reside in. Stunning.

Ocean Park is the oldest and largest theme park in Hong Kong and identifies itself as a marine mammal park and oceanarium as well as a theme park. Fascinatingly the park is set across two island areas and guests must use the park's in park transport systems to get from one to the other, including a cable car which offers incredible views across the city (if the weather is on your side!)

The thing that blew me away about Ocean Park was the theming. It's a bit of a disjointed park if I'm honest - there are areas which clearly are in need of some TLC and investment but others that are simply stunning and incredibly unique and innovative. Instead of going for generic themes for their animal enclosures, Ocean Park really think outside the box - for example their Australian animal habitats are housed inside a building themed to look like an old-school movie theatre, with retro movie posters used to advertise each exhibit. Or their extensive Chinese goldfish exhibit with its authentically Chinese setting that allows for a dignified and informative look at the history of the domestic goldfish in a gorgeous location that feels like more of a living museum or art exhibit than a zoo enclosure. The attention to detail in these exhibits is what sets Ocean Park apart for me and whilst the rides at the park themselves aren't necessarily the best in the world the setting of the park and quality of many of the animal enclosures mean this park is up there with the world's best.

The Blackstone Group certainly carried on the legacy that Anheuser-Busch started for its park by fusing high-octane thrill attractions with big and exciting animal experiences, and there's arguably none who do this better than Busch Gardens Tampa. Previously known as Busch Gardens Africa, the park features a series of different lands themed to fantastical areas across the African continent and showcases both the animals found in these locations as well as theming their big attractions to these settings as well.

Busch Gardens Tampa have been experts in really knowing their theme and sticking with it but still ensuring each attraction has its own differentiated identity and raison d'ĂȘtre. Importantly I love how the park have used the African setting as a flavour and culture to be inspired from and used this foundation as a springboard for creating a wild and vibrant adventure - as opposed to the more 'realistic' African theming one can encounter at Animal Kingdom down the road. The intensity of everything Busch Gardens does from its dynamic colour palettes and intense up-close animal exhibits and experiences lead to a high-octane experience at every corner whether you're on a roller coaster or coming face to face with your favourite animal. They've created a fantastical, mythical world where both coaster and animal lovers can get their fix and it's a park I've never found myself bored in - even when the typical Florida whether means we can't ride!

As I live about a ten minute drive away from Chessington and grew up visiting the park as a kid it's a park I always have a soft spot for. Having started out as a zoo when it opens in the 1930s, the park has identifies strongly with all things wild but it was the efforts of Mr. John Wardley himself in the late 80s that ignited its spark of magic.

Despite being all about Wild Adventures, Chessington manages to capture both the natural wildness of the animal kingdom but support it with a mystical, mythical narrative too. Alongside majestic giraffe, cheeky chimpanzees and elegant tigers we're also able to come face to face with a Gruffalo, take on firebreathing dragons and even take a flight with a vampire. I also love the way the animal experiences are meshed well within each land - to the point where we have attractions that literally go through animal enclosures! As if being on a ride wasn't fun enough we then come face to face with a real animal as we turn a corner. It's magic but also good, conservation-conscious fun. I'd be just as happy popping to the park and spending my day wandering down Trail of the Kings or hanging out with the capybaras as I would on the rides and that's not just because I'm an animal goon - the environments they're in are just so pleasant to be in, which is another huge plus if the rides are a little busy, you can simply go check out the lorikeets and wait for the queues to die down without feeling like you're wasting your day.

For obvious reasons, Sea World had to do a bit of a 180 on what their primary focus would be in recent years, and it seems like that choice has paid off for them immensely. Aside from the fantastic conservation efforts that Sea World Orlando contributes to, the park offers some of the best thrills the Orlando area has to offer - a very specific choice in an effort to distance themselves from Blackfish related negativity, continue to promote their message of marine life conservation and provide a differentiated enough offering from Disney and Universal that tourists visiting the area will consider them as a day out.

Plus the park is simply stunning and takes that gorgeous classic Key West vibe and brings it to life across the entire park with lashings of muted yet bold colour palettes for its core rides, stunning landscaping both in animal enclosures and around the park itself and generally chilled out vibe despite the high octane thrill rides. I adore the uniquely 'Sea World' style the park has developed for themselves in recent years and the way they use colour, lighting and graphical design to allude to the ocean without having to be too on the nose about things. I also adore that the park are always innovating and looking for something one-of-a-kind and different to offer their guests - I'm talking the aquarium-cum-queueline for Manta, the barrierless penguin enclosure post-ride in Empire of the Penguin and VR on Kraken. Sea World aren't a park afraid to take a stab at something different and nine times out of ten they seem to nail it!

Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China is one of those parks that should only exist on paper or in some simulation in RollerCoaster Tycoon or something. Since its opening in 2014 the park has gone from strength to strength, becoming the 10th most visited park in the world according to the 2018 TEA reports and seemingly very on track to achieving Chimelong Group's ambition for the resort to become the 'Orlando of China'.

Everything about the park is larger than life, as is the fashion with these new wave Chinese parks, but where others overstep the line into tacky territory, Ocean Kingdom manages to keep things in balance with the gigantic gaudy theming pieces balanced out with gorgeous landscaping and backdrops which helps to take the edge off of things. The park offers incredible thrill attractions like B&M wing coaster Parrot Coaster and Mack SuperSplash Walrus Splash - all impeccably and impressively themed to the hilt. Each attraction also makes a special effort to incorporate the animals into the ride experience - the Mack water coaster Polar Explorer literally sails directly through a bear enclosure and riders on Walrus Splash are treated to an underwater tunnel view of sea lions before ascending the lift-hill. It's all just so ridiculous and over the top, but fantastic and high quality at the same time. Perhaps the biggest draw of the park is the world's largest oceanairum which houses, among many others, whale sharks and manta rays and guests can board a dark ride which has a section that takes riders through the tank itself.  On top of this, the park also offers outstanding world-class shows and entertainment including a huge nighttime spectacular featuring dancing drones, light up fountains and fireworks. It's absolutely bonkers but so, so excellent at the same time.

Of course, how can we have a list of best zoo theme parks in the world without talking about the grand daddy of them all that is Disney's Animal Kingdom. This park is an absolute marvel of design and Imagineering - the way they've managed to carve such a natural and wild setting synthetically out of the Florida swampland and have it feel so true and real is proof to anyone who needed convincing that magic exists.

Where the likes of Sea World and Busch Gardens take a more avant garde approach to bringing the natural world to life, Animal Kingdom opts for the opposite in favour of a hyper-realistic approach that is nothing short of breathtaking. Every environment you step into in Animal Kingdom feels like an active eco-system where humans and animals co-exist harmoniously, and it is from this symbiosis that the magic comes. There's never a quiet or dead spot in Animal Kingdom and the soundscape itself is just one of many incredibly clever tricks the Imagineers play on us so it's impossible for us as guests to know where the true animal noises end and the fake begin. And the entire park is like this, even in areas focussing more on the mystical, extinct and even other-worldly. This is another park I could happily wander round for hours without ever actually riding anything, instead just soaking up the 'natural' settings and all their majesty. It's an extraordinary feat when a park has so expertly designed their animal experiences that they are seen as 'must-do' attractions alongside the classic e-ticket coasters and dark rides instead of as a supporting act. When visiting Animal Kingdom I am truly just as excited to embark on a Kilimanjaro Safari or explore the Maharajah Jungle Trek as I am to race around on Expedition Everest or go dino-hunting on Dinosaur - there's a reason why it's one of my favourite parks in the world!

What are your thoughts on zoo/theme park combos? Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!

Talk later xoxo,