Family Days Out In Middlesex: Chessington World of Adventures

In the past five years I have never written an overly negative review.  Until now.  We recently visited Chessington World of Adventures as part of our role as Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors, and it was awful.  That sounds like a dreadful thing to say but, with just a few exceptions, we found the site run down, in ill repair and wholly inadequate, especially the areas where live animals are kept.

Let me start with the best bit of our day: the new Gruffalo River Ride.  We hotfooted it down there as soon as we got in as we knew the queues would be huge, and were lucky enough to walk straight on.  Sophia and Tatiana loved it, but Lara (ASD, SPD) found it rather overwhelming and a bit of a sensory nightmare.  (I wish these things were made clear before you went in!)  The other two were keen to go back later after we had met up with my friend Charlotte, but the ride was experiencing technical difficulties by then and we were unable to have another go unfortunately.

At the centre of the resort is a large main square where the girls loved the seaside-style amusements and the simple animal carousel in the middle.  There were also some paid ride-ons and other bits which they liked, but if I had paid to get in I would not have been happy to shell out for all these extras.

The animals seem to be publicised as a big draw with Chessington, but we were, quite frankly, horrified to see how they are kept in tiny, rundown areas little more than glorified cages.  If you thought this kind of zoo disappeared in the 1980s, think again. It was horrific.

The nice face of zoo horror

A whole family of lions lives in the tiny space below with hardly any grass, no mature trees, and very little enrichment.  We all had tears in our eyes.  I couldn't bring myself to photograph the tigers in similar conditions, or the magnificent gorillas, utterly wretched, being stared at and banged at through glass by their human cousins.

The filthy area below was where the otters are kept, with filthy surrounds, dirty water including a crisp packet there so long all the colour and writing has come off it.

The SeaLife centre was as elsewhere, some tanks perfectly sized, some over-filled and inadequate.

We opted for the Pizza & Pasta Buffet, which offers good value for money, but the garden area (where we opted to sit to avoid the lengthy wait time) showed just how rundown and grubby much of Chessington is.

The girls were happy to see the Gruffalo again in the outdoor area, although we missed the times he was appearing himself, unfortunately. Sophia adores all things Julia Donaldson, and the Gruffalo is one of her favourites, so she was in her element.

In the afternoon, the girls spent some time in the soft play which wasn't too busy considering it was a Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, there were very few other rides they could go on as most were height restricted to 120-140cm+.  We found it odd that there were so many other young children there, wondering what exactly they were doing all day as there were so few rides for them.  Tatiana did like the Viking river boat ride though.

We steeled ourselves to go and see the smaller animals later on, and found a farmyard area with some terrified sheep, goats and smaller animals.  A gate with no soft close banged every few seconds making them jump and shake, although other visitors seemed utterly oblivious to the din and continued to let it bang and bang and bang.

Further on were more animals, including this poor beautiful capybara whose water pool was filthy, trough empty, and grass virtually non-existent - apart from the patch of ghastly artificial grass he was sitting on.  Just appalling.  We couldn't bring ourselves to visit the giraffes and other animals, it was all too upsetting.

Even worse was to come with a large open space dedicated to sensitive, highly intelligent squirrel monkeys.  Great, at last a big enough space we thought, and plenty of enrichment too - until we heard children thundering across the walkways overhead.  Yes, there is a playground area built above their enclosure.  So these sensitive creatures have hordes of noisy, screaming, running children stamping and screaming across their heads all day every day.  My middle daughter was in tears.

Having mopped up the tears, we found these guys from the Madagascar films waiting for someone to have a photograph with them, so obliged.  We much prefer our captive animals like this!

Then the girls spent ages watching this funny dragon with some other kids, at least a nice ending to the day!


As you can tell, we found the way the poor animals are kept at Chessington very distressing.  Whoever runs this place could take some advice from Drusilla's or Woburn Safari Park, we might even hope they would sign their animals over to them to live out the rest of their captive lives in peace and relative comfort.

Otherwise, there was very little for young children to do; several of the rides were broken or not working; and the queues for any that were were horrendous by about midday and didn't seem to go down at all.

Would we go back?  For the Gruffalo ride, yes, and to see the Gruffalo, but for anything else, no way!

Would we pay?  No way.  Save your money and go somewhere better, for rides and for animals.

We have received complimentary Merlin Annual Passes which were used for the purposes of this review and visit.

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