Review: Chessington World of Adventures & Safari Hotel with a toddler
We headed to Chessington World of Adventures on a sunny Monday in May. It was a birthday gift to our two year old son and we paid for this package ourselves, costing £250 for a Wanyama View Room for two nights, with two days park tickets, breakfast and one night’s dinner at the Temple Restaurant. They didn’t know I was coming (and wouldn’t know who I was…) and I wasn’t compensated in any way for this review, but I have used a few of their photos (with permission) to highlight the rides. William enjoyed our overnight visit to Drayton Manor and Thomas Land when he was 18 months old, but there weren’t many rides he could go on. We chose Chessington World of Adventures because it has a reputation for being very toddler friendly – and because he loves The Gruffalo!
Chessington World of Adventures is located south of London, just off the M25. For my Cardiff readers, it’s an easy 2.5 hour drive from Cardiff if you don’t hit any traffic. It’s all the way down the M4 and then around the M25 and in a very accessible location just 2 miles off the motorway. If you’re not driving, Chessington is just 30 minutes from London and the train station is under 10 minutes walk to the park. There are three car parks, general, coach and hotel.
The first thing I’m going to tell you about visiting Chessington is that you need to download the app. This is a popular park that can get very busy and it does have ride closures throughout the day for maintenance (I assume). There’s an absolutely ton of stuff to see and do, including rides, amusements, zoo animals and a sea life center, and the last thing you want to do is walk to a ride to find out the queue is insane or that it’s actually closed right now.
The app shows the queue times for every single ride and whether it’s currently open or closed. This really helps an absolute ton when planning what to do next. Many of the rides do have a digital wait time display at the entrance as well, so you don’t walk onto a ride only to realize the queue winds around forever, but if you can avoid walking to a ride by checking the app first, you’ve saved time (and sore feet!). I really liked how much thought had gone into making sure people knew how long the waits were.
Chessington World of Adventure Theme Park Review
On with the review! We arrived at the park at around 10:30am on a Monday morning. If you’re staying in the hotel, you can use the hotel only car park which has its own entrance into Chessington World of Adventures. There was absolutely no queue at this entrance so we walked straight in, with our barcodes on our tickets being scanned. We headed to guest services to get our son measured. He’s 91cm so just above the 90cm minimum so we opted for a wristband. It turned out we didn’t really need it, as we only went on one ride that was for over 90cm but under 1.1m and to be honest, he didn’t enjoy it as I think at just turned two, it was a little fast for him. Learning from that, we decided to stick to the baby rides!
It was term-time, but the week before half-term and there were a few coaches of school groups in the park. It was bustling, but not too busy. The longest wait we had was 20 minutes for The Gruffalo River Ride, which was well worth it – but be warned, there’s a chance you’ll get a little wet! It’s a really fun ride which takes you through The Gruffalo story on a river raft. It’s very gentle and suitable for all ages, but does have a few “scary moments” with optics, fog and the Gruffalo statue that kept William wide eyed and pointing at everything.
Being rather more weighty than my husband and son combined, the raft leaned in my direction meaning I got the worst of the water, which my husband was extremely amused about.
The two biggest rides in the park, Vampire and Dragon’s Fury only had 10 minute queue times which was excellent, but if you’re there on a busy day with a toddler, I’d recommend getting the parent swap tickets from guest services (they’re free!). This means one parent can queue whilst the other watches the kids and then you can swap over and cut the queue for the second parent. Pretty neat! They’re not big thrill coasters, but they are still fun and can be enjoyed by anyone over 1.1m so would be ideal for older children and teenagers. I’m really looking forward to going back when he’s older as there are so many family-friendly rides you can all go on together.
Chessington World of Adventures with a Toddler
In addition to the Gruffalo River Ride which was suitable for all ages, there were tons of rides a toddler could go on. His absolute favourite was possibly one of the gentlest as he wasn’t strapped in and had a seat all to himself, which was Sea Dragons, but he also enjoyed Toadie’s Crazy Cars, Dragon’s Playhouse (soft play), Adventure Tree (carousel) and Canopy Capers. I thought there was a great mix of rides to suit families with mixed ages, and there were more rides that a toddler could go on than at Drayton Manor and Thomasland which we’d previously visited. Pretty much all of the toddler rides were walk straight on, or wait for a few minutes at most so if you have the liberty of going during term time with a toddler, take it.
I particularly liked the Adventure Tree Carousel, because it had a real mix of larger animals, smaller animals, and also open tea-cup and boat-type seats that parents could sit in with the kids on. There was plenty of space for parents to stand next to the kids as well, so it was really good for even the littlest of adventurers.
Mixed in between the rides are animal attractions and Chessington World of Adventure have really managed to create immersive themed areas. When you walk into Trail of the Kings, you don’t feel like you’re in a theme park anymore, with ambience all around to fit the Gorilla’s, Lions and other animals. The tiger enclosure in Land of the Tiger was really well integrated into the surrounding rides, with overhead paths the tigers could walk on above you to move to a different enclosure. The zoo-safari area was relaxing and quiet, and the sealife centre filled an hour as well and was extremely educational, with a walk through tunnel and small shark and stingrays. We watched the sea horses for ages!
There were lots of shows throughout the day as well, such as the sea lion show, various animal talks, animal feeding and entertainment displays and you could pay £2 per pot to feed the lorikeets, which we did!
As we had a two-day pass and were staying at the hotel, we didn’t feel rushed at all. You could do everything in one day, but I’d highly recommend a second day if you’re staying in the area so you don’t feel pressured to run around. However… we didn’t actually get to enjoy our second day because of a visit to A&E (toddler life!), so read on for that drama…
We didn’t eat in the park, but there were a variety of restaurants and food stands. We took packed lunch and had no problem finding a picnic table to eat on. We did get the £8 refillable drink, which to be honest I regret. It was made of very cheap plastic and the top constantly leaked and we only found one machine in the park that was open and working to refill. We asked in a few places that served food and they all said they didn’t do it and we walked past two drinks stations that were closed. It also advertised Oasis, as I wanted something that wasn’t fizzy and this was the only option, but when I filled it, it was just water and the staff member then told me they don’t do Oasis anymore, so I had Sprite Zero instead. But there were no child-suitable options. Even just a blackcurrant squash would have been a nice extra. Sadly, due to the leakage of the bottle I threw it away at the end of the day, which made me feel pretty bad as I’d been intending to bring it home and re-use it as it’s hard plastic. I asked a staff member if there was any recycling for them and they said no, which is a real shame. So I’d give that a miss if returning – I’m going to write to them and give my feedback on that as I think they should be stepping up their game in regards to waste. Either product a product people can actually re-use at home, or provide recycling facilities. Ideally, both!
At around 5pm (when the rides close) we headed out of the park and to the Safari Hotel, two minutes walk away.
Chessington World of Adventures, Safari Hotel Review
I absolutely loved this hotel and the decor in it. It was bright and airy, with lots of animal-themed decorations and massive windows with amazing views. There was an iguana exhibit in the main reception, and fish tanks in the Temple restaurant. The best part is it overlooks the safari enclosure of the zoo. We upgraded to a Wanyama View Room which is an absolute must in my opinion and right outside our window we could see Zebra, Ostrich and lots of other African deer/cattle as well as loads of birds. There was a pond just in front of our window too, which had a heron at the edge and some turtles swimming in it! Looking out of the window was just incredibly peaceful and we got to watch the sun rise over it the next morning.
Look at this view from our Wanyama View bedroom window!
I read some complaints about the view so was a bit worried, but all I can say is for us, on the first floor, it was absolutely stunning. I got up at 6am the next morning and the animals were all out and grazing already – early birds for sure!
The room itself was great – spacious and comfortable – and the bunk beds were very cute, although William is still in a cot overnight. It was spacious and had everything we needed except for a mini-fridge, that would have been a nice addition for families bringing milk for little ones. We had requested a cot as well and there wasn’t one in our room, but it was no problem to get one from reception. They offered to set it up, but we did it ourselves and it took 5 minutes. As is standard with cots, make sure you take your own sheet.
We did have a hiccup with the restaurant. We’d prepurchased the Temple Restaurant with our package, but this restaurant was closed. We were told we could transfer this to the Zafari Restaurant, but the fact is, £40 at the Temple Restaurant got us a buffet of unlimited starters, mains, desserts AND soft drinks for the three of us (as under 3s are free!). The cheapest kids meal in the Zafari restaurant was £7.49, with mains being around the £15 mark. There is no way we could have even had two mains, a kids meal and drinks for £40, so it’s not comparable value. On top of that, we arrived at 3pm and were told to go to the tablet to book dinner, and even though it was off-peak term time, the restaurant was fully booked until 8:30pm – far too late to eat with a toddler. When we left for dinner at 5:30pm the restaurant was empty, and when we got back at 7pm it was still half empty, so I don’t know what was going on there.
We headed to the nearby Beefeater called Puzzle Monkey, which is about a 15 minute walk or 2 minutes in the car down the road, where we got a kids meal, two adult meals and three drinks for £26! If you go before 6:30pm Monday to Saturday they do an excellent savers menu and honestly, the menu was far more extensive than at the hotel. It’s also directly next to the Premiere Inn, should you want a cheaper alternative to the on-site hotel. I can’t comment on the rooms, but the hotel was definitely within easy walking distance of the park.
Since we couldn’t get a table at all, I asked for a refund on my pre-purchase which they were very accommodating and understanding about it. The staff were all extremely helpful. We even had a phone call after we left to let us know the refund had been processed and to check everything was okay so top marks for customer service. My tip here is to book the restaurant earlier than your arrival if you want to eat at the hotel. If not, there are plenty of options in the surrounding area.
Just remember that when you leave the car park you need a free exit ticket from hotel reception. These only work once so you need to get a new one when you want to leave again. It took 15 minutes for 8 cars to get out of the car park because three people didn’t have a ticket and got wedged up to the barrier. A staff member released two, whilst a third legged it into the hotel whilst we all waited. So just grab your ticket when you walk past reception so you can get out – the car park is totally free for hotel guests but it is barriered on entrance and exit. I think this is something that the check in staff need to make clearer, as we specifically had to ask about it rather than being given the information when we checked in.
Breakfast in the Temple Restaurant at Chessington World of Adventures
Breakfast the next morning was excellent, served in the Temple Restaurant. It was buffet style but with a ridiculously large amount of things to eat. Sausages, vegetarian sausages, bacon, hash browns, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, fried eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, yogurt station with fresh strawberries, raising, berries and apricots, loads and loads of fruit, ham and continental meats, cheeses, cereals, pastries, muffins, three different types of bread to toast, as well as 5 different types of juice and a serve-yourself coffee machine that made excellent cappuccino and hot chocolate well as lots of different tea bags and regular coffee. The staff were super at clearing away quickly and making sure food was put out immediately when needed. Breakfast being included in the price was a big bonus, as these days a lot of hotels have started charging £10-15 per person for breakfast!
It was busy even being in term time, so I would recommend booking. We booked for 7:45am and it was about half full then, but by the time we left at 8:30am people were eating in the bar area and outside due to a lack of tables. I’d say 8-9am is likely to be the peak time and breakfast was running from 6:45am to 9:45am.
The best bits of Chessington World of Adventures:
- Fantastic selection of family-friendly rides
- Loads for toddlers to do as well as older children
- Animal exhibits very immersive and well designed
- Beautiful hotel with amazing views
- Fabulous breakfast
- Good value holiday packages
- Lots of toilet facilities and baby changes that were clean
The things that needed improvement:
- Poor quality plastic refillable cup and few refill stations
- Safari Restaurant was fully booked, despite seeming empty
- Temple Restaurant we’d pre-booked was closed
- Some confusion with the car park exit for some guests
- No mini fridge in rooms
- No room service
Who would I recommend Chessington World of Adventures to?
I’d recommend it to families primarily. It doesn’t have any massive thrill rides so doesn’t really compare for adults to theme parks like Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. But for families, this is definitely the one to choose – especially if you have younger children or a family with a mix of ages. It’s also ideal for animal lovers, fans of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo and for those wanting a unique hotel experience with the themed rooms or safari view.
Would I recommend it over Drayton Manor?
Drayton Manor has Thomas Land which is ideal for toddlers and Thomas the Tank Engine fans. We really like Drayton Manor, but I have to say I think Chessington World of Adventure has more immersive animal exhibits and more rides suitable for toddlers. It also has those amazing hotel views. But who can choose just one? If you can, visit both!
Why did we go home early?
Unfortunately, as you’ll know if you follow me on Twitter, we had a bit of drama. William fell over in the hotel room and rolled very badly on his ankle. He tripped over his own shoes so entirely his fault! He has a condition called irritable hip which has unfortunately made his walking a bit unstable, and I blame myself for letting him walk so much during the day, but he was running everywhere like a mad man and it’s hard to keep a toddler still. We decided that if he wasn’t putting any weight on it the next morning we’d consult a doctor and indeed, by 11am the next day he still would not stand or put any weight on the leg and was being very unhappy and crying when it was touched. We called NHS Direct and were advised since he wouldn’t put any weight on it at all, we should get it checked out. We headed home a night earlier than planned which I’m gutted about – but these things happen.
You’ll be happy to know that after a 2 hour visit to A&E and X-rays he was diagnosed with a sprained ankle, instructions to rest up and take calpol, and the next day had started to walk again – and no more carefully than before! In retrospect we could have continued to enjoy our stay by taking him around in the pram, but of course retrospect is a wonderful thing, and I know I’d have felt guilty and not enjoyed my day worrying about whether he’d injured himself or not. I know I’m a bit over cautious, but I think we made the right call given the information we had to hand.
We didn’t quite get to see and do everything since our stay was cut short, but we will definitely visit again!
We love visiting family friendly attractions, zoos and theme parks, so if you have a suggestion for a good family day out, please leave it in the comments!
You might like to read some of my other zoo reviews.