We’re lucky enough to have Merlin passes this year, and how better to use them than by checking out the new Gruffalo River Ride at Chessington World of Adventures!
Over the Easter holidays I braved Chessington World of Adventures on my own with our 3 children, aged 8, 4 and 2 years. Am I completely bonkers, you may well ask! Well yes quite possibly.
However, I am pleased to say it was a success! There were a few tricky moments like trying to take everybody to the toilet at once, and having to tell my 8 year old she couldn’t go on particular rides as the queue would be too long and the little ones might not manage the wait…but on the whole I think we managed to do a lot!
Of course it does help that we have Merlin passes, so there wasn’t pressure to do everything in one day, and I just needed to focus on enjoying (surviving) the day, doing whatever the children fancied. I’ve also got the benefit of familiarity with the place as we had annual passes (just for Chessington, not the Merlin pass) a couple of years ago and visited many times.
You may have been to Chessington World of Adventures before, so I’ll start off my review by talking about the Gruffalo River Ride and then I’ll talk more broadly about the whole theme park.
The Gruffalo River Ride
The first thing to note is that as the ride is new it certainly attracts big queues! Though the ride is quite fast-loading, meaning that the queue does not stagnate. I strategically left this ride till the end of the day. We started queuing at about 4pm and the queue on a Tuesday during Easter holidays was about 20 minutes long, which is lucky because my younger ones were getting rather fatigued with it all! So I can recommend leaving this ride till the end (or possibly, get there super early and leg it straight over to this ride).
Those of you who have been to Chessington previously may remember the Bubbleworks ride. Oh, I have been on that ride so many times and I must tell you, I did have a pang of…oh no, they really have replaced it! It’s GONE FOREVER! But fortunately I managed to get past my longing for the Bubbleworks and immerse myself in the new Gruffalo River Ride which now physically occupies the same space and as you may expect, structurally resembles the Bubbleworks ride.
Other than sitting in the same circular boats which wind their way around to a grand finale of beautiful fountains in a tunnel formation the ride is completely new and different, and any Julia Donaldson fans will not be disappointed. The characters from the Gruffalo story feature in larger than life form, and it is really done so beautifully. It even smells good! As my 4 year old son said, “I love that ride, it was amazing, I went INSIDE A STORY!”
This brings me to the final point I wanted to make about the Gruffalo River ride. Perhaps we are a little sensitive to the dark and anything that seems rather thrilling, but I think I would be remiss if I did not mention that I think the Gruffalo ride, perhaps as they are trying to appeal to the whole family and not just very little ones, is a little on the scary side! So if you have very little ones who may be very imaginative or prone to nightmares, you may wish to test out the ride yourself first. I actually spent much of the ride cuddling the 4 year old in order to reassure him that all was well as he had been worried while queuing that we would be entering a Very Dark Tunnel – which is the entrance of course, to the Deep Dark Wood), but in doing so found that the 2 year old who is normally quite fine and oblivious to these things was not a happy bunny by the end! Perhaps it was all the evil-sounding echoes of the snake’s voice! I don’t really wish to criticise the ride as it is so well done with lots of special effects, but it does seem a little odd that it is so theatrical that it can frighten children in the very age bracket I imagine the Gruffalo story is marketed toward. I did not find that to be an issue, for example, when we saw the Gruffalo stage show in the West End last year.
Anyway, it’s still a must-do at Chessington World of Adventures so hope you will get to check it out, with tots in tow, or not!
The other great thing to mention is that the Gruffalo film is now being played, several times a day, at the main stage in Chessington World of Adventures (where the Madagascar show was performed, previously). As my sons are big fans of the Gruffalo they enjoyed watching this, while my 8 year old went on the Treetop Hoppers ride which is located right next to it (minimum height 0.9m, under 1.1m needs adult to accompany). There is also a regular meet and greet with the GRUFFALO himself. So obviously, diehard fans will not want to miss this.
Other Favourite Rides and Attractions at Chessington World of Adventures
If you’re not tired of reading yet, here is a list of what else we have been up to at Chessington World of Adventures besides the Gruffalo River Ride (some of these we enjoyed last weekend, when we returned to the park with my husband for another visit! I didn’t do them ALL by myself with 3 children!)
- The ZOO – the kids really enjoy this, and at the moment there are lion cubs at Chessington. The gorillas are another hot favourite, the tigers, and the sea lion show.
- The SEA LIFE centre – I find this rather magical still, even though I have been many, many times now! Sea life is just so colourful, isn’t it? One thing my daughter always enjoys doing here is allowing the shrimp to “clean” her nails! Watch out for the gift shop at the end…hard to make a speedy exit but it can be done.
- Tiny Truckers – Oh my goodness, this ride is VERY slow-loading. Bring something to entertain little ones if you plan to queue for this. But they do love it, pretending to drive little trucks (under 1.1m needs to be accompanied by an adult)
- Dragon’s Playhouse – Soft play – You’ll need to bring socks for this one. Good for the little ones to burn off some energy and it’s all indoors so head here if the weather goes sour (it has a maximum capacity, but they let another group in every 15-20 mins, maximum height 1.40m)
- Sea Dragons – this relaxing merry-go-round style ride was just perfect for the 2 and 4 year olds. It’s located right near the Dragon’s Playhouse. Adult has to accompany children under 1.1m.
- Canopy Capers – fun for the 4 and 8 year old, it’s a play area that’s outdoors and above ground. Under 0.9m needs to be accompanied but to be honest our 2 year old is above that height and I would want to accompany him as not all of the play area is within view from the ground.
- Tuk Tuk Turmoil – this is basically bumper cars – our 8 year old was able to drive her own and my husband accompanied the 4 year old – they all loved it! By the way just a footnote about the actual tuk tuks they used to have at Chessington which children could climb in and out of – these seem to have gone! It’s a shame for us, as my 4 year old used to love playing in those.
- Flying Jumbos – lovely ride that all 5 of us were able to do together (we sat in 3 separate elephants)
- Hocus Pocus Hall – we haven’t done this one since we visited a year ago, but it was great fun then. It is a little spooky but not as bad as I expected! Probably again not one for very little ones (though it was actually fine with a baby aged 6 months, as he was quite oblivious!)
- The Vampire – I haven’t been on this hanging rollercoaster ride for years! But I had to mention it as I used to love it so much as a teenager, many many moons ago…
There’s much more that I haven’t mentioned, including a penguin talk, a nice new safari-themed carousel (called Adventure Tree), the Zufari ride (which I still haven’t been on!), a petting zoo (called Children’s Zoo), and Amazu which has lots of lovely spider monkeys located in and around one of the play areas. There’s also a Madagascar meet and greet with characters near the SeaLife centre, and an Animal Antics show which takes place on the lawn outside Hocus Pocus Hall which is a great place to relax with an ice cream.
With all these activities I can safely say you could fill 2 whole days at Chessington World of Adventures. If you want to stay overnight they now have a glamping area which I haven’t checked out but it looks interesting! There is also the Chessington on-site Hotel.
It might be worth mentioning there is a constantly updating electronic board in the Market Square that tells you how long the queues are for most of the popular rides, so that can be helpful for planning where to go next. You can also download an app which apparently allows you to keep this information at your fingertips. There are fastrack passes available, for a price, if you do not wish to queue. You can actually buy a fastrack pass which can be used for all rides, or buy a pass for just one specific ride or group of rides (the pass for one ride has to be bought from a kiosk at the park, on the day, but the pass for a group of rides can be purchased online in advance). If you don’t plan to get fast passes and you’re visiting at peak times make sure to bring something to entertain little ones in queues, and take lots of breaks to do other activities that don’t involve queuing like attending a show, having a bite to eat or checking out the SeaLife Centre.
Food and Drink
With regard to food, the Fried Chicken company is a place we keep returning to. It is easy and the kids and I both like it. We also tried out the hot dog and nachos stand in the Market Square this time, they were quite generous-looking hot dogs! I’m afraid I can’t really comment on the other food places as we usually try to bring a picnic to keep costs down! But there are many places to eat at Chessington World of Adventures. Of course you can feed your family to your hearts’ delight on doughnuts, ice creams, and slushies. But healthy food I haven’t managed to find yet, though there has to be some somewhere! You’ll have to let me know in the comments, if you find anywhere you’d like to recommend.
Read more on the Chessington World of Adventures website, link below to the opening times.
Be sure to look out for buy one get one free vouchers to save on ticket costs (often to be found on cereal boxes).
Have fun if you go to Chessington! We love it.
If you haven’t been to Kidzania London, read my review of our visit and top tips for enjoying this “mini city for kids” here:
If you fancy a trip to Legoland you might like to read my blog post below: