Further: Chessington World of AdventuresCraigEasy to get to? ★ ★ ★Good for kids? ★ ★ ★Value for money? ★ ★ ★Worth a visit? ★ ★ ★303
The last time I went to Chessington World of Adventures was when it was still called Chessington Zoo -- that was thirty years ago. The only rides you could do then were the donkeys, but these days it looks more like Disney World. They've got rides and rollercoasters, shows and hotels, and the animals have been shunted off to a sideshow.
I'm not really looking forward to the rides, by the way. I am willing to give them a go, but I'm at an age now where the ground is my friend. I've had a quick look around and I can already see about twenty different ways to die. I don't mind ending my days in a theme park, but I'm not spending my last five-minutes on planet earth being whizzed around a tubular track in a plastic bat. If I'm going to die here today then it will be in the lion pit, or something like that -- or being mauled by tigers. Something manly. A man doesn't want to die with a smile on his face.
Why am I talking about death already? I've only been here for ten minutes! That's why I'm such a good reviewer, you see. If a place can break through my wall of doom and gloom then you'll know that it's worth a visit.
I've bought myself a two-day ticket because I'm not sure that you can get it all done in one. I am expecting big queues for every ride... but we will see how it goes. You can get something called a 'Fastrack' ticket which allows you to jump the queues, but it will make a big dent in your wallet. Check these prices out: if you want to jump the queue on every single ride then that's another 70 quid on top of your entry cost (no joke!). A Fastrack ticket for each individual ride is about 3 or 4 quid (depending on the ride), which could easily knock a £20 pound-sized hole in your purse over the course of the day. It seems like a bit of a swizz to me, so I will take my chances with the queues. It's not school holidays today, so it should be alright. But I can still see a load of kids though... why aren't the little blighters in class? They can't all have been expelled, surely.
I start off nice and easy, with a ride on the Monorail (the 'Safari Skyway'). Now this is my kind of ride... nice and gentle, not too high up, no loop the loops... just a nice waltz around the roofs and treetops. You go over a few enclosures too, past the gorillas and the tigers. It only does a quarter of the park though, so it's not much use as an overview. But it's a pleasant enough way to start the day. And it's safe too (very important). The chances of you dying on this one are very slim.
Next up is the Sealife Centre and Penguin Cove, which is like a mini-version of the London Aquarium. They've got a lot of jellyfish and piranhas, and some brightly coloured tropical guys from Finding Nemo. But that's about it. I couldn't see anything bigger than a dinner plate -- there are no sharks in there. But they've got a nice underwater tunnel with a sunken plane in it which you can walk through.
My first proper ride of the day: the 'Scorpion Express'. I remember this one from when I was a little kid (I still have nightmares about it). It used to be a runaway mine train, I think, but they've stuck a big Scorpion in the middle with flames coming out of a chimney pipe. The queue is about ten miles long around a rickety old wooden path, but thankfully it is empty. It's just me and a few happy couples wondering what is coming next (death). But it turns out it was actually quite easy. I used to be scared stiff of this one when I was a kid but I must have grown up or something, because I hardly even broke sweat. No tears. No screams. I didn't even wet my trousers -- it was easy! Next up was the 'Rattlesnake' which was a little tin cart rolling around on some old iron pipe. You start high up and then roll your way down, rocking and rolling from side to side, pitching quite violently too... I was worried that the cart was going to break free and launch me into the nearest tree. I didn't seem very tightly secured to me, but I am still alive so I guess it was okay. If you've got some kids with you then you might like to test it out on them first, to make sure it's safe. If you've brought your mother-in-law along, then that's even better. Send her up first. She is expendable. If she comes back crying then you can make your excuses and move on to something else.
'Tomb Blaster' gets the prize for the worst ride of the day. On paper it sounds quite good: it's an Indiana Jones-style trip into an old Egyptian tomb, filled with mechanical snakes and robot mummies; and you have to zap them with your ray gun as the little cart trundles past. But in reality it is very slow, the robots are about as scary as a fairy, and it does your finger in pulling the trigger ten-thousand times. After two minutes I thought sod it -- let the mummies kill us, I don't care.
If you've been to Chessington any time in the last twenty years then you will definitely remember 'Dragon Falls'. This is your standard water ride, sitting in an open-top coffin as it bounces down a raging torrent of bright blue water. They've got one little jump halfway along, and then a big one at the end which will soak you to the bone. It's quite a nice gentle little ride until you get to the drop, but it's alright for the kiddies. 'Dragon's Fury' is probably the scariest ride in the park. They stick you in a little four-seater turntable which spins around quickly as it loops and drops around a tubular track. It's a real twisty and turning one, up and down and round and round, and it's pretty relentless. I would still have happily had another go through, if the queues hadn't been twenty minutes long.
If you've ever met anyone who's been to Chessington before then I bet you 10p the first thing they'll remember is 'Bubbleworks'. For some strange reason everyone seems to love this one, but it's just a little kiddies ride (I was a bit embarrassed getting on it). You sit in a circular bathtub and then off you go, along a very gentle river of water, past all the plastic characters in the Bubble Factory. It's like floating past scenes in a movie... you will see them measuring out the size and strength of the bubbles, building all the rubber ducks, and your little kids will love it. At the end you go down the gentlest incline of all time ("Bath time!") and then through a colourful tunnel of dancing fountains, which spurt and spray water over the top of your boat. You will get wet -- but you'll also have a big smile on your face.
The good thing about Chessington is that they've made a real effort to theme the zones. You've got a nice medieval square with a castle gatehouse, a Wild West town with saloon-style shops and funfair games (including those rifle shots -- everyone loves those!), an old Oriental bit and an Aztec jungle too. My favourite bit is Transylvania... as you walk around the Dracula-style mountain shops and houses the air will rip with screams as the 'Vampire' ride soars over your head. This is also where you'll find the best restaurant -- 'Vampire's Burger Kitchen'. It doesn't look like much on the map, but when you go inside it's like a medieval dining hall with two indoor trees, with lights and lanterns strung between the branches -- check it out.
The 'Vampire' is definitely my favourite ride, I think. The seats are hanging from the rail so your feet are dangling down, and as it roars around the track your legs get forced out ninety degrees. Your feet seem to get awfully close to the treetops and rooftops (enough to make you raise your knees up!), and the quick whip through the tunnel at the end will make your stomach jump out your mouth. It has also got the best queue. You line up through a pine forest and later make it into the pitch-black tunnels of the castle. When you get to the big hall you are greeted by a demonic Beethoven guy pounding out his scary tune on a smoking, glowing organ.
Once you've had your fill of all the rides you can check out the animals. The old zoo does still have a few left. In fact, they've got quite a good collection -- they've got some lions, tigers, a gorilla, a children's zoo, plus the penguins and aquarium that we saw at the beginning. But the biggest surprise of all is the 'Zufari' ride. What they do is stick you in a safari-style truck with open sides, and ride you through a desert terrain of tall grasses, dusty mud and water. Your truck rumbles right into the animal enclosures so you can get up close to the zebras, giraffes and rhinos. And here is the unbelievable thing: there are no fences! Three big rhinos were standing twenty-feet from the side of the seats, with nothing between them and us -- not even a ditch. If one of them was in a bad mood then I would have been a goner, for sure. The giraffes wouldn't have cared. The zebras wouldn't have given a stuff. He could have charged across in a blind fury and you would now be seeing pictures of me on the evening news -- "Tourist mauled by mental rhino". My truck was full of little kids and old ladies, so it would have been up to me to fight off three ten-tonne rhinos single-handedly. I'm not saying I couldn't have done it (I could have if I wanted to -- easily), but it's not the kind of thing you want to do on a day out. And then the truck then drives into a cave with a waterfall in it, and you get soaked too!
Now that I've spent a whole day here, I can confirm that it IS possible to see the whole place in one day. But there is plenty of stuff here to fill up a second day as well, if you really wanted. But if you want to do it all in one day then you have to get lucky with the queues (which might be a bit difficult to do during the school holidays). You can easily spend 30-minutes waiting in line for the big rides. They had some scary signs up suggesting that 60-minutes isn't out of the question either (although I didn't have to wait any longer than thirty, myself). So stock up on cans of coke and sweets and try and do the best rides first. I managed to go on all the major rides once, the 'Scorpion Express' and 'Vampire' rides twice, plus the monorail and zoo animals too, in a little under 5 1/2 hours (plus I had some dinner as well). And that still left 1 1/2 hours until the park shut -- so a whole day should be plenty.
Now that I come to think about it... I would probably rate this as one of the best attractions in London (technically it's not in London -- but it's only 35-minutes on the train from Waterloo to Chessington South). When you consider that Madame Tussauds, the London Dungeon and London Zoo are all practically the same price, and don't last anywhere near as long, whilst this one includes a zoo, an aquarium and loads of rollercoaster rides too, it should probably be near the top of your list.
Now, this is my old stamping ground. I lived in Chessington many moons ago when this Adventure Park was called Chessington Zoo. I worked my last school Summer holidays in a kiosk selling ice creams and sweets for about one shilling and threepence an hour!
A couple of years back I took my Grandchildren for the two-day deal, staying in Leatherhead where I also used to live. I was pretty worn out after the first day let alone the second. The newest ride then was the Kobra.
I agree with Craig that it is good value compared to other places with exorbitant prices.
From the author: “The best thing about this book is that I’m a local, and I’ve been to all of these attractions myself (all 200+ of them – honest!). And I don’t just regurgitate the same old spiel that you find in 95% of guidebooks. It’s not the kind of book where I just tell you the address, how much it costs, and leave it at that. I take you inside each location and share my experiences with you. Maybe I enjoyed them, and maybe I didn’t, but I’ll always give you an honest opinion – alongside a chapter full of Top 10 lists, two weeks-worth of example itineraries, and a guide to using the buses and trains.”