This post was written by my lovely Husband, Tony.
We boarded the car, I had to do a quick stop to pick up a scotty cameron putter, and headed for Chessington World of Adventure in April, with a view to treating the wee one to a nice day-out on her Easter holidays and despite the cost of tickets we thought it would be a day to remember. Of course, we were right, but it turned out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Seeing as it was sausage’s first experience of a theme park we went through the motions in advance of our visit, checking on the CWA website for height requirements for the rides that she was keen to experience (it was a ‘Zufari’ advert that had piqued her interest) and after a short session with the tape measure we found that she was above the required limit – hooray!
With the formalities taken care of we packed the car on a damp and grey morning and made for Surrey.
Upon arrival we weren’t terribly surprised to see a large queue of cars as it was a school holiday and quickly made our way in and up to the parking area. But the queuing, which was manageable outside, was a nightmare on the wet field which the park employs as a car-park. Having been directed down one of the sloped lanes to park our car we were shocked to find very little space for people to disembark, forcing both children and adults to mill around in the path of oncoming vehicles.
On a metalled surface that would have been bad enough, but this was a churned up field, with only plastic duck-boards spread out to offer cars traction. Stopping and maneuvering was tough and the constant worry of a child straying into the path of our car got our visit to the park off to an unpleasant start which was immediately worsened by Sausage slipping on her arse in the mud mere feet from parking cars. This dangerous game may have been a little (a little) easier to swallow had we not been charged to park on top of the £81 cost of visiting.
With the gauntlet of the ‘car park’ run, we were ready to take on the fun of the fair and forget our earlier dramas. After a short queue to pick up our pre-booked tickets we were in, and hunting around for our first experience.
We made our way past a couple of more raucous rides (all of which were showing over an hour wait, at 1030am – the park only opens at 1000) and headed for the large Ferris Wheel, which we thought would give us a good view of the park from which to plan our main assault on the attractions.
Despite there only being a queue of about 15 people for the wheel, it was showing half-hour’s wait-time too and after a couple of minutes we worked out why. The young lady operating the ride was, between mouthfuls of coke and chatter with her friend, only letting one group on the ride at once. Letting them get situated in the gondola, before despatching them round for a turn or three, and repeating the process with another group. We counted 12 gondolas. 11 were empty and remained that way.
‘Okay’ we thought ‘Let’s chalk this one down to a mechanical problem (eek!) and move onward!’ and we set off for the animal enclosures and the Zufari ride which had brought us to this particular corner of the world on a grey and stormy morning.
We arrived at the ride, shortly after walking through a few lanes with eerily empty animal enclosures, and went to take our place in the hour-long queue, only to be told by the young lad manning the attraction that sausage was ‘too small’ and after a cursory offering-up of his gibber stick he instructed us, in no uncertain terms, to get down the road a piece, because we weren’t going to be getting on ‘his ride’.
It was now getting on for 1130 and we were 0 for 2 on the ride front. We had an increasingly upset and disappointed little girl in tow who was already beginning to pine for home (an hour after embarking on ‘Britain’s Wildest Adventure’). The Zufari disappointment was ringing in our ears too, as the ride had a height limit of just 1.1 metre, the lowest in the park, and we were now facing the possibility of having to cart our girl home again, after all this build-up, without her being able to do anything.
We trudged away from the Zufari ride with our heads hung low and took a knee to comfort Sausage. But at that, our most despondent ebb, we saw something that caught our eye and gave us hope for the rest of the day: a Zebra’s pendulous penis, swaying back and forth. ‘There!’ we thought ‘if there’s a Zebra’s chopper, there has to be a Zebra!’ and sure enough as we stood and looked over the fence there was, and not just one, but two!
Buoyed by the site of these two animals, who were, it has to be said, standing really near the fence, allowing us to take-in their monochromic majesty, we forged on and within a few strides we came to the Ostrich enclosure which – shock horror – actually contained an Ostrich! (At this point in the story I would like to add that, yes, there was an Ostrich, but he was approximately half a mile away, suspiciously eyeing his growing fan-base, and we would have needed a set of field glasses to actually appreciate the animal.)
After taking in the chicken-sized Ostrich for a moment and marvelling at the pigeons ambling around we bussed left and headed for the Meerkats. Sausage was particularly excited as she’s a big fan of the furry little critters, like most kids, but this experience was set to be another sobering wake-up call for our nearly 5-year old, rather than anything pleasant, because only one Meerkat had ventured out of its bed-area that morning and, sadly, it seemed that he had lost all grip on both his sanity and lust for life.
As we stood, helplessly watching the poor little scrote rock backward and forward, one assumes praying for the end, we decided that we would have to make this day work, or risk having a very upset kid on our hands for the foreseeable future, so we forced on smiles which looked like someone had forcibly inserted coat-hangers into or mouths, and began acting like American folks, y’know, optimistic and enthusiastic in the face of adversity.
As we ambled through the remaining animal pens our job of being happy got ever harder. We encountered tigers which looked like they had been working hard to fit into a size zero, with visible ribs, limping around a sparsely decorated enclosure and then we came upon the saddest sight of the morning, a group of Capybara huddled together, shaking, looking lost and very aware that they were 5700 miles from home.
As we gratefully left the animal areas, we wandered into a more colourful, noisy environment, which included a few extra bits and pieces for kids to amuse themselves, and they actually looked like a lot of fun. We eyed a series of Zorb-like balls which were floating on shallow pools for kids to wheel around inside and splash about, and Sausage looked keen. Despite the supplementary £5 charge for 4 minutes of fun we were game, and we took our places to wait, but after 10 minutes she gave up and asked to move on, so move on we did.
It was nearing lunchtime and as we encountered a little fast-food style establishment without much of a queue we opted to get in there early, and fill our bellies. After a pleasantly short wait we made the front of the line and ordered a simple lunch of three hotdogs and three regular cups of fizzy, post-mix soda-pop, before being given our tasty looking food…along with a bill for £17.
At this point, I can’t attest to what happened, I had a moment not unlike Renton’s overdose in ‘Trainspotting’, where I sank, unfettered into the floor, but I fought back through the shock and handed over a twenty pound note for 3 small links of hog anus and sawdust (NOTE – I’m sure the sausages didn’t contain these ingredients, but let’s be honest, they’re hot dogs, they aren’t full of chateaubriand and braised shallots), and went outside to try and fortify myself.
Having consumed our repast we struck-off again, and headed for the Runaway Train, a small, less aggressive rollercoaster in which Sausage took an interest. After a short walk we arrived at the attraction to find that it was closed for business, leaving us 0 for 3 on the attractions, but all was not lost, as we turned a corner we came upon the park’s Sea Life Centre and trotted inside.
10 balmy minutes later we emerged into the blinding daylight having viewed every fish in the place and narrowly avoided a brush with a person dead-set on charging us another startlingly large sum for a digital photograph of our very miserable looking faces.
The day was beginning to weigh heavy on us at this point and even through our faux-happy gaze we were finding it hard to generate any enthusiasm in the little one. She was trudging around with a sad face, still struck with sadness by the animals that we had seen, asking whether we could get them something to eat and somewhere warm to sleep.
The day continued as it had started and a 30 minute wait at the Hocus Pocus Hall without the queue moving an inch saw us walk away from yet another ride, and question our decision to visit the park in the first place.
Walking away we gazed up and saw something which might…might give us a wee bit of enjoyment – a monorail! So we ventured towards the boarding point in the hope that a brisk ride around the boundary of the park might give us some inspiration as we were approaching quitting point at terminal velocity.
The queue for the monorail appeared to be relatively short and despite witnessing one 7 or 8 year old boy flat-out punch his baby sister in the mouth, resulting in screaming, tears and the little girl being loudly admonished by her ‘mother’ we soldiered on. As we stood in the line, chatting with the couples front and aft, we thought we might have finally cracked it, until the queue started to head up a flight of stairs.
While they weren’t monumentally steep, the stairs were enough to make a 25 minute wait suitably taxing – and we were relatively lucky, as Sausage was able to stand on her own two feet. The couple in front were standing on the narrow steps the whole time carrying a small baby, which can’t have been nice.
The wait continued and we ended up on a break at the top of one flight, ankle deep in water and as we mulled over the possibility of trench-foot we hoped that the ride at the end would be worth it. Sadly, after queuing (whilst building calf muscles that a body builder would be proud of) the slow, laborious jaunt around the park on a locomotive of questionable build-quality was another real let-down.
Yes, we saw some animals from above that we couldn’t see before, but we also got a birds-eye view of a metric tonne of detritus, which had been hurled on to the roofs of various outbuildings, and some rather nice heavy plant which had been stashed behind temporary fencing.
Having explained to the wee one that we couldn’t actually take the JCB for a ride as it wasn’t part of the ‘fun’ (sadly, as it would have likely made for more of a laugh than what we had already experienced) we made a bee-line for one ride which she could (hopefully) enjoy, one which I had enjoyed myself as a child, the Willy Wonka-esque Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks, a fantasy themed soft-drinks factory which allowed you to ride along the ‘production line’ in a boat, floating on bubblegum scented water – at least that’s what it used to be.
After the requisite queue we bypassed the guardian at the door, who was more than happy to let Sausage in to the ride which had the same height requirement as one she had been refused entry to, we saw that in 2013 it’s a ramshackle ride with the fun element removed, replaced by some nifty corporate sponsorship from a washing soap company. Out went the pleasant smells and smile-inducing surroundings, in came peeling paint and two day old garbage floating around in the gondolas.
Despite the state of the ride, which was pretty appalling, Sausage had a whale of a time. Just the fact that someone had finally allowed her on to an attraction made a difference to her and the water jets and waterfalls brought a smile to her face which we were delighted to see. The ‘elves’ waving around branded boxes and bottles of soap didn’t ruin her experience, though it marred ours a bit, and even being assailed by a broken nozzle on one of the water jets, which shot a powerful spear of water into anyone over 5 feet’s ears and face, was worth the unpleasantness, because it had the little one rolling around with laughter.
As we made our way off the ride, finally laughing, Sausage looked up at us both and earnestly said ‘Can we go home now Mummy and Daddy? I don’t think I’ll be allowed on anything else’ and after 4 hours of putting her off and trying to be up-beat and salvage a dreadful day we gave in, largely because we agreed.
Friendliness of staff -2/10
General level of mirth 1/10
Being moaning bastards, we wrote to Chessington World Of Adventures when we got home, to let them know that their park, which promised so much and delivered so little, had really disappointed our little girl and after a number of back and forths with the Head of Park Operations, a nice man by the name of Graham McGrath, we were offered complimentary entry to the park on another day – but we won’t be taking them up on that offer, as there are far more fun things to do, such as being shot from a cannon, or having a starving hungry pine marten shoved up ones skirt.
Mr McGrath said that “we are always very disappointed when visitors do not enjoy their day with us. Please be assured that we take feedback (such as your own) very seriously and I hope that my previous responses have made that clear, and demonstrate that we are taking appropriate action regarding several points you raised”.
We live in hope, Mr McGrath, we really do.