As we drove up Leatherhead Road a tingle of excitement arose in me at seeing the sign for ‘Chessington World of Adventures‘, this feeling developed during my childhood and has never quite left. Having grown up in the South East I visited CWOA on at least fifteen occasions. To me it meant; scaring myself silly, running at full pelt between rides in order to not waste a second of the day, planning my route carefully so as soon as the gates opened I’d run as fast as I could to ride the top attractions before a queue developed and all topped off with a bucket load of sweets! As a parent, I feel it’s time to pass the mantle onto my own children *sobs quietly at loss of childhood*. Unfortunately for us, the typical English Summer chose to rear its ugly head on the day we decided to visit (nothing like the last weeks of blissful sunshine) but fortunately, to an over-excited 2 and a half year old a little rain failed to stop play
We began with a leisurely trip around the SeaLife Centre, which was welcome as the rain really did start to pour. R really enjoyed seeing the rays and starfish. I personally loved the little clownfish (ok I admit it…I’m a closet Finding Nemo fan).
We then went to meet Captain Barnacles from The Octonauts. His appearance was 10 minutes later than scheduled so we ended up queuing for quite a while with a toddler who kept forgetting why he was standing there but finally his turn came to meet The Captain himself and…he got stage fright but did manage a shy “hello” from the safety of Daddy’s arms!
Given that I haven’t been on anything more frightening than a bus in the past couple of years we eased in gently with a ride on the Safari Skyway, an elevated monorail. The queue was short and R loved having a peek at the sealions and some of the activities in store as it toured us around the dizzy heights of Market Square and through the Zoo. Chessington Zoo was how Chessington first established itself in 1931 and is still one of the park’s main attractions holding over a thousand animals #FactOfTheDay
I needed to use the Baby Changing Facilities close to the entrance to the Safari Skyway and was quite disappointed. It wasn’t particularly clean and smelt of dirty nappies. I appreciate there must be a high volume of traffic in and out and all it takes is one baby just before you to create a stink but the nappy bin appeared to be full and could have done with being emptied. There also wasn’t a toilet in there, which is fine if you’re visiting as a party with at least two adults (so that someone can wait outside with the buggy) but if you were to visit alone with a baby/toddler I’m not sure how you’d go to the toilet as you can’t realistically wheel a buggy into the normal toilets.
Having built his confidence on the Skyway we headed for R’s first ever proper ride, The Jungle Bouncer. This was one of his favourites and we were coerced into returning several times throughout the day. He was sitting precariously on the fence somewhere between absolute terror and delight! This is a great ride for small children although R looked positively minute sitting on it.
By the time we’d met an Octonaut and R had been on a ride, it was time for lunch. There are plenty of places to eat and perhaps we were unlucky but our food left a lot to be desired. We ordered chicken and chips from The Fried Chicken Co. I wasn’t able to get the double buggy in so had to leave it outside (I love my raincover!). Sadly, the chips were lukewarm and soggy and the chicken very greasy. It was just under £18 for 2 soft drinks, chicken wrap and chips, 2 piece chicken and chips and a child’s chicken and chips which is on a par with KFC. Having said this, R loved his children’s meal and relishes any opportunity for the sort of food I don’t permit him on a daily basis. I understand there are healthier options available e.g. The Creaky Café that opened this year, so we should have made more effort to locate somewhere less ‘fast’ but as the park’s rather large, it was raining and I had a hungry toddler in tow we dived into one of the nearest outlets. Many food outlets also offer a bottle warming service, which we didn’t use but is a thoughtful convenience (poor Baby L is forced to take it as it’s served!).
Clearly lunch had fuelled me sufficiently to try my luck at winning a toy for the kids and as it transpires, I have some proficiency at ball throwing (useful huh?!) and managed to win a Yoshi character *high fives self*. R was suitably unimpressed and wanted to know if this meant we got to keep the ball rather than the soft toy! Baby L was however very interested in his new green friend…
Next on our list was a trip to Pirates Cove to ride Seastorm (very fast looking boats!). I remember visiting Chessington on a Toddler morning when R was under 90cm (children under 90cms can enter Chessington free of charge) and he spotted these going around and was desperate to join in but wasn’t able so this time he made the most of it!
A highlight of our day was the Madagascar Live! Show, the costumes were really impressive and the enthusiasm of the staff really quite contagious! It was genuinely entertaining, even for older members of the audience. You needn’t worry about smaller children losing interest halfway through as the show only runs for about twenty five minutes (the perfect length for a toddler whose attention span rivals that of a goldfish) and you can come and go without disturbing anyone else.
No amount of coaxing was going to get R to stand at the front with the other little ones. However I managed to capture some of his latest moves, once again proving that Gloria Estefan is right…the rhythm is going to get you. In case you’re wondering, the guy on the right is a Chessington employee, not a really enthusiastic audience member!
As we were leaving I couldn’t resist stopping off at Toadie’s Crazy Cars. R was absolutely convinced he was steering and I wasn’t allowed to touch the wheel, he has been in the car with me several hundred times so it was only fair.
We then headed for my old favourite, the Bubbleworks, for a good soaking! On the way out we spotted a face painting station (not included in price of entry ticket but a wonderful extra) and I couldn’t resist giving R his first face painting experience as…Spiderman! To be honest this was more for my benefit than his but we were both suitably pleased with the results
OH couldn’t resist a sneaky ride on The Black Buccaneer but wasn’t brave enough to raise both hands at its highest point. Unfortunately my photographic abilities didn’t stretch to getting a good picture of his terrified face to embarrass him with *sighs*. We then headed to Mexicana so that R could ride the Runaway train (one of my childhood favourites) but alas it was closed. We would also have like to have ventured through the Monkey & Bird Garden but sadly buggies aren’t permitted.
I felt some areas of the park looked a little tired (The Bubbleworks looks almost the same as it did when I was a child!), which probably explains why there’s a £5 million upgrade ongoing during 2013 and 2014. This results in a few of the rides being temporarily closed (including the Runaway Train and Rameses Revenge on the day we visited) and some thoroughfares out of bounds. We didn’t find the park map very easy to use, both in terms of navigation and in locating the rides that were suitable for us. It also doesn’t reflect ride closures, although you will find this information on their website. You can now also access Chessington’s mobile site during your visit to see show times, queue times and special offers.
R also got to ride the Sea Dragons, Jungle Bus and Tuk Tuk Turmoil during the day. Needless to say he was very reluctant to leave, until he feel asleep in the buggy!
Towards the end of our visit (we waited until we’d worn the kids out!) we made use of the Parent Swap Pass to ride Dragon’s Fury, which was totally exhilarating! The Parent Swap Pass is a card you can claim which allows both parents to enjoy the height-restricted rides but only one of them has to queue. The first parent joins the queue for a ride, their card is then stamped for that ride whilst the other parent waits by the ride exit with the children. Once the first person’s finished on the ride they hand their stamped card over to the other parent, who then enters via the ride exit so there’s no need to queue again. This is a fantastic idea but I felt it wasn’t publicised enough and you should be able to request it upon entering the park. As it currently stands you have to visit Adventurers Services (AS) office to obtain one so it’s an extra and unnecessary trip to have to make.
As R is only 93 cms tall, the ride attendants kept measuring him with their special metal poles to ensure he was over the 90cm minimum to ride. This was very reassuring in terms of how seriously Chessington takes safety but this happened at virtually every ride. We then saw on the back of our map that AS offers height-checking, where a wristband is issued that confirms a child’s height so there’s no need for it to be verified at each ride. I wasn’t sure why this wasn’t communicated when we went into the AS office to collect the Parent Swap Pass, alternatively this could have been done upon entering the park as this would have saved everyone’s time.
There really is a huge amount to do at Chessington, there are 18 rides that children under 1 metre tall can enjoy. There were so many activities and rides for toddlers that we simply didn’t get time to try (Hocus Pocus Hall, Temple of Mayhem, Dragon’s Playhouse, Canopy Capers, the Runaway Train, Flying Jumbos, etc.) and also plenty that OH and I could have enjoyed (Zufari, Vampire, Kobra, Rattlesnake, Dragon’s Fury and Dragon Falls) but probably better without the kids! We also didn’t get a chance to visit the zoo, unless you count peeking at the animals from the Skyway. Having visited the zoo with R previously, he loved seeing all the animals but if your little one is anything like R then currently he doesn’t understand how seeing a gorilla is any more special than seeing a goat (!) so his activity preference was definitely to “Go on more rides Mummy…pleeeaaassse”. An idea that Chessington could explore further is to put more toddler-friendly rides in a single location e.g. “Toddler Tokyo” (in keeping with the Country/Continent theme!). Currently there’s at least one ride toddlers (between 0.9-1.0m) will be able to enjoy in each themed ‘area’ of the park, which is great if you have an older child and a younger one as they’re not left out but also means parents have to trek around the park all day to revisit rides.
R thoroughly enjoyed his day and we enjoyed seeing him so delighted. Looking at our visit with my ‘parent of a toddler’ glasses on *yawns* there are a some improvements that could be made to; communication of and ease of use of services, the quality of our food, placing more toddler rides (90cm+) in a single location and the cleanliness and convenience of the baby changing. All this would help to make parents lives easier and maximise everyone’s enjoyment. If you’re planning a trip to CWOA with a toddler I recommend that you plan your visit in advance. Have a look at the Parent & Toddler page of their website for information on the rides your child is eligible to enjoy and where they’re located, what food options are available, etc. This way you’ll get the most out of your visit as there’s almost too much information to process whilst on-site.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend visiting with toddlers as they’ll have a fantastic time. I’m still being asked almost daily “Can we go to the Bubbleworks today?”, just be prepared for a lot of walking. There’s obviously nothing that CWOA can do about the weather, much as I’m sure they’d like to, but be mindful that the majority of activities are outdoors so I recommend packing for every eventuality. I’d love to come back when R’s a little bit taller so he can enjoy even more of the rides and those we missed this time. I’d also ensure we had Fastrack tickets to reduce queuing time, as OH queued for about 40 minutes for Dragon’s Fury. I’d definitely consider staying in the Safari themed resort hotel, even though we’re relatively local, as there’s simply too much to accomplish in a single day trip. I’ll keep you posted with a follow up review if we do!
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Little Rascal Reviews was provided free entry to Chessington World of Adventures for the purpose of an honest review.