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Excursion Review: The Lion & Safari Park!

I'm officially back from South Africa, and I survived! The entire trip was absolutely incredible from start to finish. I still have a few thousand photos to weed through, and I'll be breaking the trip down into several posts. I'm going to start with the end-on our last day there, since we had a flight that didn't leave until late at night and needed to kill some time, I booked us to visit The Lion & Safari Park, and it was one of the most incredible parts of the entire trip.

The Lion & Safari Park is situated about an hour's drive outside of Johannesburg, and they offer shuttle service from Johannesburg hotels to and from the park, making getting there easy. In order to book this in advance (which I highly recommend-more on that later), you should email them at info@lionpark.com and let them know what you'd like to do. You will then have to print off an invoice, provide credit card billing info, sign, scan, and email the form back to them. To see what experiences they offer, visit their website at www.lionandsafaripark.com for the full offerings.

When you're looking the other way and suddenly..... OMG there's a lion next to me!!

We ultimately booked the 2.5 hour 6am safari, the lion walk, the cheetah interaction, and the lion cub interaction. The giraffe feed we paid for on site, as they aren't always at the feeding platform.

A few pieces of advice for those considering the excursion. There were other people on our tour who did this excursion the day before. When I asked them what they thought, they didn't really like it.  Lions sleep most of the day-they're most active early in the morning! By booking the 6am tour, we got to see them not only awake, but active and playful. We were also the only two people on the safari-we had the entire vehicle and tour guide to ourselves, and it was worth every penny. We got to see three prides of lions on the drive, which was exciting because despite doing several game drives (including Kruger) during our trip, the cats are the hardest to spot. While we were fortunate to luck out at Kruger early in the morning with two lionesses chowing down on a fresh kill from a distance, nothing quite prepared us for this up close and personal tour. Dress warmly, as it can be quite chilly early in the mornings, and the wind goes right through the open vehicles.

To have them inches away from you is both nerve wracking and exhilarating. It was absolutely amazing.

Besides the lions, we were treated to a full safari, and saw a large host of different animals. The park itself is stunning. 

Cheetah selfie for the win!

We were also the very first safari group to see the newest addition to the hyena pack-a three day old baby! The mama was very protective of it, but we managed to get a few shots of it.

After the safari, we launched right into our animal interactions as we had a very set schedule and needed to be back at the hotel in time to shower before our flight from hell back to the states.

Other people complained that they were rushed, that they didn't get a lot of time with the animals, etc. The 6am safari takes place BEFORE the park opens at 8:30am, which means that by the time we finished the safari, we were still just about the only people in the park. This gave us a HUGE advantage as far as how much time we got with the animals and how much attention we got from the staff. I can't stress this enough-GO EARLY! Yes, it sucks getting up early. But this place is popular with school groups, and can get quite crowded from what we were told. By the time we were leaving at 11am, it was starting to fill up.

The first one that we did was the lion cub interaction. In case you were wondering, absolute, pure happiness is playing with lion cubs. Yes, they have a mouthful of teeth and paws full of claws. But they're so dopey and fluffy and playful. We weren't rushed at all, and were the only two people in there at the time. The staff happily took a LOT of photos with our cameras, and there is a professional photographer on hand to take shots for purchase as well.

In all her glory......

In case you haven't noticed....this activity requires you to get down on the ground....in the dirt to play with them. Don't wear anything that you're particularly fond of. It's dusty. Their paws will get stuck in anything they can get them on, and they nibble and slobber. 

After this, it was onto the cheetah interaction. I was expecting cheetah cubs like the lion cubs that we had just had. These were big enough to make me nervous when we walked in to meet them. They were all very sweet, especially the gorgeous one-eyed little girl who lost an eye to a thorn. They were more strict as far as where you were allowed to touch them, and the staff was awesome in taking lots of photos with our cameras again.

She literally had cheetah purring like a giant kitten....

Next, we headed over to the giraffe platform. This is hit or miss, depending on if they're hungry and feel like playing along. We lucked out and Katie the giraffe wandered over for us. Fair warning-they drool and slobber-a lot.

That perfectly timed photo....

Eyelashes for days.....

For the final part of our booking, we had a lion walk. In my head, for some reason, I pictured a lion on a leash-silly me. We were driven out to a remote, fenced in location for this part. Again, we were the only ones on it, so we had the entire tour to ourselves and got about an hour of time with them. This was hands down the most incredible part of the day. Maybe it was incredible because we didn't die or get mauled. But to be able to walk freely with two nearly full grown lions was pretty neat.

Because it wouldn't be me without almost somehow dying...this is what you get when you crouch down on rocks with two bad knees and a bad lower back. Probably the closest I've ever come to dying. Thankfully I managed to recover before I landed right on top of these two.

During the walk, some ostriches wandered too close to the bordering fence. Both of them went into full blown lion hunting their prey mode, complete with the belly crawl stalk. It was scary and completely fascinating to watch. 

Just watching them was amazing. They don't always have this available. A lioness only has four nipples. If she gives birth to more than four cubs at once, the first four to attach themselves are the "keepers", while the rest are usually killed. That's when the park steps in to hand raise them, as was the case of these two, Lilian and Zahara. Once they're more grown, they'll be placed into separate prides (to prevent inbreeding).

I can't say enough about our experience here. Book in advance. Get there early! Wear clothes that you don't care about. And have the most amazing time! Overall, including the transportation, we paid about $300 US total for the two of us. Not bad considering everything that was included. There's also a huge shopping area, and several restaurants as well.

Check back soon-I have probably about a dozen more posts on the way, from what to wear on safari to cage diving with the great white sharks, to a break down of what to do and see in South Africa and Swaziland and an overall review on our Gate 1 tour!

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