Chessington Zoo was opened in 1931, when animal enthusiast Reginald Goddard finally found a suitable arena to show off his exotic animal collection at this Surrey outpost. It wasn’t until 1987, long after Goddard’s death, that the adventure park opened.
The zoo is still deservedly popular and has ten Western Lowland gorillas, two Sumatran tigers, two Asiatic lions and a family of Persian leopards, as well as smaller animals. In the Wanyama Reserve, there are zebra, antelopes and oryxes. Chessington has taken a leaf out of London Zoo’s book and introduced child-friendly animal antics presentations (2pm & 4pm).
At the Sea Life aquarium eight sharks thrill visitors inside the walk-through ocean tank. An Amazonian display includes those most fearsome of fishes… Piranhas. Wild Asia invites visitors to navigate fallen temples and sacred animals to find the Jungle Bus and the Tuk Tuk Turmoil Dodgems.
At Chessington World of Adventures, many rides are geared towards families with young children, unlike the more extreme offerings at nearby stablemate Thorpe Park. There’s a large soft play area for younger tots, plus an extreme games area and more challenging white-knuckle rides for older kids, including the Vampire rollercoaster, Rameses Revenge water plunge and Kobra, a ride that spins explorers through the air on a 90m track at a dizzying 43mph. Guides dressed up as fun characters help families on their way round. The slow-loading cars of Dragon’s Fury, a rollercoaster with four-person cars that spin freely as they roll along the track, mean it can generate long queues. The ride looks deceptively tame but packs a real punch, so ride it straight after the gates open or just before park closes.
Top ride: The Vampire
Designed by legendary theme park innovator John Wardley, it’s a suspended swinging coaster, with the track situated above the cars, and trains free to swing outwards around corners. In 2001 it was revamped with new floorless trains, adding an extra thrill.
Don’t want to go home?
For families who just can’t drag themselves away, Chessington has its own hotel, Chessington Resort, with an indoor pool and spa and safari-themed rooms.