Chessington World of Adventures
Surrey, England

Until recently, Chessington completely lost all focus offering an unfulfilling day whether family or thrill seeker. This season, with new and more encompassing rides, offering more universal appeal, Chessington has once again found it’s footing and is now a good, going-on great day out.

It starts off well with the car park receiving far more attention last year with a veritable legion of staff doing their best to ensure that you at least end up in a car park with spaces remaining. The free-for-all scrum in the morning as people head to their favourite spaces is gone, and drivers are routinely forced (and rightfully so) in an Alton Towers style to fill up all spaces.

The entrance remains one of the worst park gates I have visited. Cluttered queuing is somewhat eased by the park opening up the over-flow car park before the main one so that the original entrance can be used by people who travel by bus and train. You buy tickets from wheeled sheds before the hundreds of people pass though just a few turnstiles.

Once in, there is no feature demanding your attention, no iconic landmark, just a dull gravel path taking visitors into the park past Burnt Stub Mansion.

It is no secret that Chessington is becoming a family park. Whilst I have no problem with the park adopting a new family mentality, it simply could not rely on rides like Berry Bouncers and Toadies Crazy Cars. These are not family rides – they’re childrens rides, and not poorly presented ones at that. To offer a complete day out for the family, Chessington need family rides.

Chessington is moving in the right direction with rides like Tomb Blaster, rides that a vast breadth of generations can genuinely enjoy. More like this, please, and Chessington will continue to rise in my expectations.

Of course, it would be wrong to think that Chessington was all rides. Chessington has strong roots as a zoo, and these still show. Attractions like Trail of the Kings have recently been upgraded from the point of view of the visitor, whereby you follow a winding path through such animal enclosures as gorillas (which are highly recommended), tigers and lions.

Although the enclosures have been upgraded, they are still sub-standard housing three-or-four lions in an enclosure smaller than a football pitch. The park has a lot more land around the back, so I sincerely hope that these animals can be presented in far better enclosures, as at the moment they are virtually spoon fed lumps of meat, hardly exercising them to their full potential.

Theming at Chessington is fundamentally great, although in places patchy. There is a marked difference in older areas like Mystic East and Forbidden Kingdom which have been themed with wholehearted care and attention, where areas like Beanoland seem to have been done with the best of intentions, just on the cheap.

There is a clear distinction between themed areas, something that in an older park is surprising. Areas do not peter out, nor do they have hundreds-of-yards of pathway between each. From area to area, the difference is crisp, often marked with an archway, always marked with Chessington’s unique marker signs.

Navigation around the park is not far short of blissful. Gate maps are fairly clear, but it is signposting that the park excels on, complimented by a good overall design. Each area has the aforementioned marker signs, featuring a map of the themed land and a list of facilities, rides and attractions.

With a near-consistent level of theming, and a complex plethora of pathways meaning minimal dead ends, Chessington appears a modern park. On the whole, the park is clean and graffiti rarely escalates beyond the limits of acceptability.

The park is clearly attracting more families than teenagers this season, with new attractions like the Vampire and Tomb Blaster having a strong family leaning and rides like Colossus and Vortex down the road at Thorpe keeping the teenage generation away. This simple fact should see a marked change in the level of vandalism and queue line horrors that until recently we regarded as normal.

Toilet facilities are spread throughout the park and seem well situated. They’re well kept, although can become dirty as the day progresses.

Chessington has a fair amount of good rides well presented, although of late their originality has been compromised for the sake of budgets. For example, in it’s original form, the Vampire was a first for Europe and incredibly pioneering, and whilst Chessington are stuck between a rock and a hard place with regards to planning permission, rides like Samurai and the Rattlesnake although good and average respectively, don’t jump forth and have the stand-out factor that the old Chessington used to excel in.

The most recent rides have been low-capacity fair rides with minimal theming (Samurai for example) or mere re-vamps of existing rides (Tomb Blaster for example).

Overlooking this decline in quality, Chessington have a great selection of family rides such as the better-than-average log flume, Dragon Falls, and two fantastic dark rides.

Thrill seekers may feel somewhat thwarted, however, as until the park finds it’s clear focus, rides like Rameses Revenge and Samurai are essentially support rides for the major coaster that doesn’t exist.

With these rides, thrill seekers have a reason to re-visit, but alone these rides fail to offer a full days entertainment. Ironically, rides like Tomb Blaster have - although family rides - universal appeal, and should mean that whilst their quota in high-adrenaline thrills exceeds that of what Chessington can offer, entertainment can be found elsewhere.

Having grown from a zoo in close to residential areas in the suburbs of London town, planning permission is near impossible to get. Rides like the Vampire are now frowned upon by residents, and it is safe to say that the park will never get another major coaster.

However, this fact shouldn’t excuse the park from under-investing in rides as it has been. Rapids, a Vekoma Mad House (like Hex), or even another dark ride on a Cat in the Hat scale would perfectly establish themselves as fantastic family rides, and that can be built with the level of passion that Chessington used to embrace – just look at Phantasialand’s new rapids ride, River Quest. Relatively speaking when compared to rides like Oblivion and Air (both of which have been added since the last major ride at Chessington; Samurai) they don’t require the wealth of a king, but are substantial, long term investments that will annoy residents no more than anything there already.

Kids are catered for by quantity, not quality. Rides like the Bash Street Bus, Toadies Crazy Cars and the Berry Bouncers are adequate, but really don’t go out of their way to be particularly attention grabbing.

The rides in Toytown are duller than the architecture they’re built into, and rides like the Flying Elephants are overly patronising, embarrassing for the parents and unfulfilling even for the younger generation.

Beanoland just about does the comic capers of Dennis the Menace justice, but is essentially an Islands of Adventure Toon Lagoon rip-off done on the cheap. The average family will not dislike Beanoland, but with Dodgems and a Wave Swinger it is clear Chessington has opted for a tried and tested theme and tried and tested rides – tried and tested to the point of ad nausium.

Shows in the traditional sense are few and far between. Animal shows are a unique alternative to the tried and tested tedium of a de-rigour stunt show. Check out the above mentioned marker signs at the entrances to the two main animal areas to see when animals like the Sea Lions and (land) Lions will be fed, and when Bird of Prey take flight on the grass in front of Burnt Stub Mansion.

Meanwhile, if it is clichés ad-nausium you want, Chessington can oblige. Beanoland is home to Dennis the Menace, and there are frequent shows with Dennis and chums at the fountain, his tree house and on top of the shops, the former featuring quite a nice effect with the fountain, the others featuring – well, not much. The kids should be entertained, but it really is a cheap alternative to promote these as shows, when it is a few costumed characters acting out pre-recorded dialogue in the street.

Food is something the park just about scrapes by on. Places like Pizza Hut and KFC are the popular choices for the masses, so at peak times these places are to be avoided as it is like dining on the London Underground.

The Crazy Keg family pub is a good port of call, offering more wholesome food and has a far less chaotic atmosphere. On warmer days, a BBQ around the back of Burnt Stub Mansion in the garden also expands the menu somewhat.

If still under whelmed, a Beefeater just outside the park seems the best option to get away from the chaos of the park and touch base before diving in once again.

Chessington is within walking distance to a mainline station, so it was too easy for groups of teenagers with the attention span of the average amoeba to visit. Having moved away from thrill rides somewhat, Chessington has adopted a new and unique charisma.

Queuing up for rides like the Vampire and even Rameses Revenge, the legions of teenagers are just an unpleasant memory as couples, families and twenty-somethings queue up making for a much nicer experience.

Queues at Chessington can get bad, but with planning, can be avoided. What is frustrating, however, is their failed attempt at Virtual Queuing, where-by you avoid queuing by getting a timed ticket to return later in the day.

This ‘operates’ on Dragon River, although I have never, ever seen it work. It seems a shame to have a row of turnstiles standing there doing nothing whilst the Vampire queue spirals out of control. Meanwhile, Single Rider Queues operate on Rattlesnake and Samurai, although these are hardly effectively advertised with dodgy laminated paper signs at the exit.

Merchandise if you’re a ten-year-old is great with a fantastic collection of colourful, yet tasteful Vampire clothing. Most other visitors will have to choose between unbranded toys and cheap souvenirs such as translucent plastic rucksacks or a scant range of Rameses Revenge clothing. Of note, the largest store is the Chessington Shop in Market Square with other ones of note being at the exit of the Bubbleworks/Vampire and near Rameses Revenge.

Leaving the park is as much a fiasco as ever, although most certainly through no fault of the park. Sitting in the queue of traffic waiting to pull out onto the main road is a good time to reflect.

Chessington last year had lost all focus, but has since stood up, brushed itself down and is once again on form. Where the park was last year a bitterly frustrating day out, this year every visit has been thoroughly enjoyable.

Generally, Chessington is a great park and it is hard to have a bad day there. However, it remains a shadow of it’s former self with the park being too loathe to pioneer as it did a decade ago. Once the dust settles from the changes to a family park, hopefully Chessington will once again move higher in my estimations.

Marcus Sheen

Chessington WOA

Chessington WOA
Park Reviewed
Bubble Works
Dragon Falls
Rameses Revenge
Tomb Blaster

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