We started off the Easter holidays with a few days at Chessington World of Adventures and then moved on to Legoland Windsor.
It was our first visit to Chessington and we really loved it. The park was a lot smaller than I expected but that isn’t a bad thing when you are visiting with small children who don’t want to be walking miles between rides.
We visited with Izzy (8), Clara (4) and 6 month old Josie. Izzy was tall enough to go on all but 2 rides, and Clara only missed out on a few more. This page on Chessington’s website has a full list of attractions with height restrictions, so it’s worth checking what rides your children are tall enough for before visiting. It’s a great place to visit with young children, but those over 90cm would get more out of the visit.
It was school holidays for us in the north, but still term time in the south of the country which meant that it wasn’t very busy and it was cheaper for hotels during that week. I expected it to be much busier than it was – the week before we had been checking queue times on the Chessington App and some rides had estimated queuing times of 45 to 75 minutes. This wasn’t the case for us at all; in fact, I think the longest we queued was about ten minutes. Even the Gruffalo River Ride was empty, we just walked straight on without queuing.
During peak times (weekends and school holidays) I imagine it would get very busy. We had 2 full days in the park (9-5) plus a couple of hours on the day we travelled down to Chessington. Given how quiet it was we could have done everything we wanted to in one day at a push, but having more time meant we got to go on most rides more than once (8 times on the Gruffalo ride!) and we could keep swapping over so one of us could stay with Josie while the other went on rides with Izzy and Clara.
As well as theme park rides, there are zoo animals, a sealife centre and various animal talks throughout the day. There is also the Gruffalo Groove show (Clara loved this) and you get the chance to meet and have your photo taken with the Gruffalo.
We stayed in the Azteca Hotel at Chessington World of Adventures, in a Monkey Temple themed room.
The girls were delighted as they got to sleep in bunk beds which was an adventure for them. In the room, there was a puzzle to solve which gave the code to the safe, where they found ‘treasure’ (two badges). On check in, the kids were both given a lanyard to put their badges on, which was a nice touch; they then collected further badges when buying a kids’ meal in the hotel and park restaurants.
There are two hotels – the Azteca and the Zafari – although they are two connecting buildings. They are directly attached to the park, and we could see the monkey cages from our window. The hotel room itself was a bit on the small side, especially with a cot and pram in there, but it did the job for the three nights we were there. It helped that the girls had their own space with their bunk beds in and a TV, so at least they could watch cartoons in the morning while we were all getting ready. The hotel also has Gruffalo and Room on the Broom themed rooms, which look amazing.
Hotel guests have their own entrance to the park and can access it from 9am – an hour before day visitors. During that hour only some of the rides are open, but it includes popular rides like the Gruffalo and Room on the Broom so it’s a good way to get there early and avoid the queues.
The swimming pool is available for hotel guests to use; it is advised to book an hour slot in advance although we just turned up on the first day and it wasn’t too busy. There is a small pool which is quite deep (our 4 year old couldn’t touch the bottom but our 8 year old is a confident swimmer so she was fine), a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and best of all the splash pool. This has a small slide and lots of water fountains/squirters and is only ankle deep. The kids loved running around in there (I wasn’t as much of a fan at being squirted with water!). Josie has only been swimming a couple of times before but she really enjoys being in the water. As she spent a lot of our time there in the pram I wanted to do something that she would enjoy so we went to the pool when we first arrived from 6-7pm after travelling all day, and then on our last day after we had checked out. On that day, the splash pool wasn’t due to be open until 12 (although they did open it for 20 minutes for us while they checked the water in the other pool) so you might want to check if there are any times during your stay when the splash pool isn’t available to avoid disappointment.
There are two restaurants within the hotels – the Temple and Zafari. Both have views over the zoo so you can see zebras, rhinos and giraffes in the distance while you eat. The Temple Restaurant and Bar is buffet style; we had the choice of roast carvery or curry, plus fish fingers, chicken nuggets, pizza etc for the children, along with a salad bar and a large selection of desserts. The girls especially liked decorating their own ice creams. The price includes unlimited soft drinks and with a Merlin Annual Pass you get 20% off. For 2 adults and 2 children, with the annual pass discount, it came to £45.
The Zafari Bar and Grill serves from a different menu, including burgers and steaks, and works out more expensive than the Temple Restaurant, although the food was nicer. Menus are available on the Chessington website.
Breakfast, which was included in our hotel package, was served at both restaurants and consisted of the usual buffet style full English and continental.
Even though the hotel wasn’t too busy, the Zafari restaurant was pretty fully booked for both breakfast and evening meals. As it was off peak, the Temple Restaurant was closed on the Tuesday and we couldn’t get a table at the Zafari Bar until 8pm. That evening we went to a Beefeater restaurant which is just a few minutes walk from the hotel.
I would definitely recommend booking breakfast and evening meal before your visit if you wish to eat in the hotel.
In the park itself the food options were typical theme park fast food fare – we ate at Vampire Burger Kitchen one day which was fine and had a snacky lunch of Dirty Fries another day. There was a Chicken fast food place but the fish and chip shop was closed as were many of the food kiosks as it was off peak. We took plenty of snacks and drinks with us, and you could take a packed lunch if you don’t want to buy food there. Merlin Annual Passes also give you discount off food and drink in the park.
Like most theme parks, there is the opportunity to purchase photographs from some of the rides and attractions, including the meet and greet with the Gruffalo. £30 will get you a one day Digipass, which is a wristband that you can scan to receive digital copies of all your photos.
As we were spending a couple of days at Chessington and then at Legoland Windsor, we decided to get an Annual Digipass which can be used at several (but not all) Merlin attractions for a whole year and gives you unlimited digital photographs. It costs £60 for one person – that person has their photo on the pass and the pass is only valid for photos that individual is in. We chose to have the card in Izzy’s name as she was most likely to be in the ride photos (given that Clara was too small for some and Paul and I would have to take it in turns to go on rides). That meant we could get all the photos that had Izzy on, whether she was on her own, with Clara or with all of us. You get a discount when buying a pass for more than one person at the same time, but in our case it wasn’t worth it for the sake of a couple of photos.
Visiting Chessington with a baby
Josie is 6 months old, so too little to do much at a theme park. However, she enjoyed going in the swimming pool and was able to go on a few rides, like the Gruffalo River Ride, the Sea Dragons and the Room on the Broom attraction. She also really enjoyed the Gruffalo Groove show and was kicking her legs to the music. She liked watching the fish at the sealife centre and seeing the zoo animals.
The park is mainly flat and not too big for pushing a pram around all day. There are also places to leave buggies outside of the rides and plenty of baby changing facilities.
The hotel provides a basic travel cot, the kind you get in most hotels. There is no mattress just the fold out base of the cot covered in a sheet so it’s not very comfortable. We do have a travel cot mattress at home so if I’d thought in advance (and if we had space in the car!) we could have brought that.
If you are staying in the Chessington Hotels, you get 2 days entry to the park. However, we used our Tesco Clubcard points to buy Merlin Annual Passes as we needed them for Legoland the same week. The annual passes give you money off food and drink as well as off items in the gift shops (10-20%), plus there are other perks like half price entry for friends and family who may be visiting with you.
If you are not staying in the hotel, then tickets are cheaper to buy online in advance, and there are often 2 for 1 vouchers on Kellogg’s cereal boxes. However if you are likely to be visiting for a few days, or visiting more than one Merlin attraction over the course of a year, then the Merlin Annual Passes could work out cheaper. There are also annual passes just for Chessington which work out cheaper than paying for two days entry.
As it was still term time for schools local to Chessington, we got a good deal on a themed hotel room – £400 for 3 nights including breakfast and 2 days park entry. However for the following week, during school holidays, it was almost £1000 for 3 nights in a standard room.
It’s worth checking if there are any differences between your school holidays and the local ones, and if your child isn’t at school yet then definitely make the most of going during term time. Visiting off peak does mean that not everything is available; some rides were closed for planned maintenance and some restaurants and food kiosks were also closed; there were next to no queues though which was a huge bonus.
Overall, it was a great couple of days and the girls really enjoyed it. There’s a nice mix of rides for Izzy and Clara; Izzy’s favourite was the Vampire rollercoaster and Clara loved the Gruffalo River Ride. It’s a long way for us to go (over 300 miles) but hopefully we will get to visit again, maybe in a couple of years when Josie is big enough to go on a few more rides, but before Izzy is too old to have outgrown it.
*This is not an ad. It’s an honest review of a trip we paid for ourselves and is not sponsored in any way. However in the interest of full transparency I have previously worked with Merlin to review the Legoland Discovery Centre and Sealife Centre, both in Manchester.*