The finalists have been announced for the Experience of the Year award at the East of England Tourism Awards 2023-2024.

This award recognises providers of truly memorable and immersive activities for visitors to participate in.

Hertfordshire Zoo

Hertfordshire Zoo in Broxbourne is home to over 800 animals, including a large collection of critically endangered species and the largest green anaconda on display in the UK.

Founded as Paradise Wildlife Park in April 1984, the zoo has grown into a popular destination in the East of England under founder Peter Sampson and daughter Lynn Whitnall, CEO.

The knowledgeable, passionate teams not only care for the animals at the zoo but raise vital funds to support wildlife conservation projects in the UK and across the world.

Hertfordshire Zoo is also home to the World of Dinosaurs with more than 40 life-size moving and roaring dinosaurs, educating all generations about the pre-historic era.

With the park rebranding to Hertfordshire Zoo in 2024, it continues to undergo dramatic site improvements.

Animal habitats, such as the newest habitats of Sun Bear Heights and Jaguar Jungle, provide a basis to raise awareness of conservation, human-wildlife conflicts and the illegal animal trade, as well as the critically endangered animals caught up in these wars. 

The judges said Hertfordshire Zoo “features a wealth of activities for children of all ages”, adding that the large glass windows and well-thought-out viewing platforms allow great views of animals throughout.

They described the keepers as “great ambassadors” who “actively looked to interact with their audience”.

Eastern Daily Press: Visitors can get hands on with some of the animals at Jimmy's FarmVisitors can get hands on with some of the animals at Jimmy's Farm (Image: Jimmy’s Farm)

Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park

Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park in Wherstead, near Ipswich, Suffolk, is home to 100 species and breeds, from capybara to crocodiles and even monkeys.

Visitors can hand feed some of the animals and get even closer with special animal talks and activities. In the butterfly house, visitors can see beautiful and colourful tropical butterflies gracefully flutter by. They can enjoy a taste of the great outdoors on the woodland walk.

For young ones, there are two bouncy pillows, a giant sandpit and adventure play area.

There are shops on-site too, including The Farm Shop which offers local treats.

The judges said the VIP experience at Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park was “fantastic” and that it allows you to “immerse yourself in a world of nature and animals”.

They also said: “The customer interaction from the head ranger stood out, providing exceptional customer service throughout the visit. introducing us to the animals, allowing us to feed and stroke them.”

The judges added: “His passion for the animals and the park came across clearly and it was infectious. He really made our visit.”

Eastern Daily Press: Eastwood Whelpton Sailing Holidays offers skippered day sailing and short break experiences on the Norfolk BroadsEastwood Whelpton Sailing Holidays offers skippered day sailing and short break experiences on the Norfolk Broads (Image: Eleanor Robinson)

Eastwood Whelpton Sailing Holidays

Eastwood Whelpton Sailing Holidays is uniquely placed in Upton at the heart of the Norfolk Broads National Park.

From this base it offers skippered day sailing and short break experiences on its fleet of beautiful, wooden, traditional sailing yachts.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) qualified instructors know every inch of the local waterways, so visitors can sit back, relax and enjoy the local landmarks and wildlife. Or they can come prepared to hoist the sails, take the helm and enjoy the thrill of sailing.

As part of the sailing experience, the business can offer afternoon tea and fizz to mark a special occasion, a crewman’s picnic or a treasure hunt activity for the children.

“The Eastwood Whelpton sailing experience was brilliant,” said the judges.

They added that this family business is run by people who “share a common love of all things river-related” and who want to “share their love and passion with their customers”.

The judges also said: “The magic was in their delivery of this passion – all aspects of the experience had been carefully thought out, and it was the little add-ons that also deserved praise and attention, from the activity pack for the children to the delicious pastries and rolls.”

The winner of the Experience of the Year award will be announced at the East of England Tourism Awards ceremony at Snape Maltings, Suffolk on Thursday, February 15. For more information, or to purchase tickets for the event, please visit

To see the finalists in all categories, click ​here.