Last Thursday - the 8th May - was VE Day. It's a public holiday in France (as well as being in the school holidays) so I decided that we could make it into a Very Exciting Day too and head over to Chessington World of Adventures, using our Merlin Passes. I only have passes for four members of the family (it was a competition prize) so I took advantage of the Merlin Pass Friends & Family Perk which allows you to phone up and book half price tickets - Pierre's child ticket only cost £18, making it a bargain day out (apart from the EuroTunnel tickets - eek !). I had a bit of a nightmare phoning up to get the tickets because the lines were so busy and my French landline wouldn't connect so I was running out of credit on my mobile, but I contacted Chessington and Merlin on twitter and they both got back to me within a couple of hours and were extremely helpful so big kudos to them.
We arrived at the park just before opening time at 10am and, as I'd hoped, as it was a school day in the UK, it was deserted. There were about 30 people waiting to get in and we didn't queue for anything all day long, which was a pretty amazing experience ! (Be warned - the car park costs £3 and you need to buy a ticket to show on the way out. I'd paid for ours in advance while buying Pierre's ticket.) We started out on the Skytrain to get an overview of the park and decide where we wanted to go first.
Pierre got first choice and we all headed off for a quick ride on the trucks.
I had a bit of a #MummyFail moment next. I told Pierre that the little boat ride would be nice and calm and not scary at all so we jumped on all smiles - then it started whizzing round and Pierre burst into tears. Oops ! It's not THAT scary and there were lots of happy, squealing kids on there much younger than Pierre but he hated every minute of it.
I decided to move away from the rides while he recovered and we headed off to see some of the animals instead. The tigers' enclosure has a glass front which makes it easy to get superb photos. One of the tigers even came right over to the window, which was quite impressive - I've never been so close to a tiger in my life, with nothing but a thin piece of glass separating us !
The gorillas made us laugh because they are a family unit and looked so human, we made up stories about the mum throwing dirty looks at the dad, who appeared to be sulking, and the baby getting a cuddle from mum because he's just been told off by the dad. Then another cheeky young gorilla climbed up the rope and started throwing sticks down on them, before weeing down right next to where they were sitting. Pierre was in fits of giggles and I was relieved to see a smile back on his face !
There are loads of animal displays to see - sealions, lions' feeding time, otters, gorillas ... - but we always seemed to be over the wrong side of the park each time. We did make it to the penguins feeding time but after about ten minutes, the kids got a bit bored and wanted to wander off and do something else.
We popped into the little SeaLife Centre instead and Juliette loved the touch pool where little cleaner shrimps nibble the dead skin off your fingers - it tickled apparently ! I would have liked to have taken Pierre for the Octonauts Meet & Greet but again, the timing didn't work for us.
We moved along to the children's petting farm where the kids fell in love with the goats, pigs, guinea pigs, chickens and ducks. We found a bench and settled down to eat the picnic that I'd prepared. I love the fact that the sealife and petting farm have handwashing facilities and sanitising gel readily available and down at child height.
I wanted to try out Zufari next - I was slightly nervous that Pierre wouldn't be tall enough to be allowed on but he was, phew ! As we got on the safari truck, we noticed how wet everything was. It turns out that you don't get splashed but you do drive under a waterfall and the leaky roof meant that Juliette, who was under a big drip, did get quite wet.
It was worth it though, to get inside the enclosure with the giraffes and ostriches.
And even rhinoceroses wandering about placidly just a few metres away from us - another moment that seemed quite surreal !
After this we went for a gentle ride through Bubbleworks, but Pierre - who hates getting wet for some reason - freaked out when he saw the archway of jets of water that we were about to go through and spent the rest of the ride hiding under my jumper (while I was wearing it !). It's nice and tame but be prepared to get quite wet, from the seats more than anything. The girls decided to have a go on the Penguin Tree Hopper ride, having been on a similar one in Hastings when we visited the Madhouse grandparents, but it was a bit too tame for their liking. Pierre couldn't be coaxed onto it though !
We headed off for a ride on the old-fashioned cars instead. As a family of five, we had to split up - Madhouse Daddy headed off with Pierre and Juliette in the front driving, leaving me and Sophie feeling a bit silly riding in the second car by ourselves ! It made us (and the ride operator!) laugh though. As did the Hocus Pocus Hall, a walk through fun house with 3D glasses that had us giggling in the mirror maze.
Ahhh these are the nice calm boats I was thinking of so make sure you don't mix them up ! Pierre loved these ones and had about five goes on them - if you can take advantage of an inset day, the lack of queues really is a huge bonus !
Madhouse Daddy and the girls went on one of the tame (but not tame enough for Pierre !) rides and were the only people on there.
While we were waiting for them, Pierre had a play with the water-spouting dragon, which he thought was hilarious -especially when it made Sophie jump !
Sophie was in need of an adrenalin rush so we headed over to the Rattlesnake then the Scorpion, followed by The Cobra.
It made my stomach churn just watching it but she came off smiling, saying "it wasn't even scary ... can I do it again?"! Well, as there was no queue, she went straight round again for another go !
Juliette had been eyeing up the chair swing ride so she went off for a go with Sophie.
None of us had noticed that there are jets of water though and Juliette came off totally soaked. Avoid the seats on the outside if you don't want to get too wet. There was a heating cabinet to help dry you off just next to the ride but at £2 a pop, we decided it wasn't worth it (and we'd brought a change of clothes in the car).
Pierre had been playing in the tuk-tuks and talking to the magical talking elephant tree while we were waiting - I love the way there are things dotted around to keep the small kids entertained while the big kids go on the scarier rides.
Everyone headed off to the bumper cars next and had about five or six goes - again, the lack of queues was a huge bonus.
We were next to Lorikeet Lagoon next so decided to go and see what lorikeets are - they're beautiful.
You can buy a tiny pot of nectar for £2.
It's very expensive for what it is but you get the unique experience of having the birds come down and sit on your arm as they drink it.
You can also get a free pop badge featuring the lorikeets which made a nice souvenir (there are other pop badges available around the park, if you buy a meal, etc).
Pierre and Juliette chose to have a final go on the carousel and the skytrain while Sophie went on The Vampire. (I have a cool Go Pro video to share with you when I've got it uploaded !)
Then it was time to go, just before the 5pm closing time. Apart from the animal shows, the Octonauts Meet & Greet and the Penguins of Madagascar live show, I think we did pretty much everything we wanted to do. The rides aren't particularly scary but they were good enough for us, and we appreciated the gentle rides and animals for the younger kids. The lack of queues was a huge bonus so it's definitely worth trying to go on an inset day when most kids are at school.