07/01/2015 12:18 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

New Azteca Hotel At Chessington World Of Adventures

Tracey Davies

It's rather unnerving waking up to an orangutan staring at you in the face. I turn over and a huge snake glares at me with a murderous grin.

Rather concerned that I've been drugged and deported to Borneo, it takes half a cup of Nescafe to realise that I'm not in the jungle, but rather the brand new Azteca hotel at Chessington World of Adventures in not-quite-so tropical Surrey.

Perched next to Safari, the park's existing hotel, the new Azteca, which opened in August, overlooks the Wanyama wildlife reserve and is aimed at the younger guest.

I've brought my eight-year old twins, Nancy and Lola, and their surly "I've been to Thorpe Park, you know" 12-year old brother, Angus, to give it the royal once over.

Chessington World of Adventures has been a Mecca for the under-10s since it opened in 1987. However, it's actually been operating as a zoo since 1931 when the then-owner, Reginald Goddard, bought the estate to show off his private animal collection.

It's now home to more than a thousand animals including Sumatran tigers, Rothschild's giraffes and sea lions, as well as the underwater world of the Sealife Centre.

Tracey Davies

As the name suggests, the hotel is decked out in a loud Aztec theme with walls emblazoned with jungle scenes so vibrant you can almost hear them squawk, and carpets cleverly depicted as 'collapsing' stone floors (cue herds of dads channelling Indiana Jones as they boulder down the corridors.)

The rooms carry on the jungle theme (hence the orangutans and snakes on the wallpaper) with bamboo-style headboards and faux crate furniture. We've opted for a two bedroom suite which has bunks with a clever pull-out bed to cater for my three beasts.

Azteca shares facilities with the Safari hotel, to which it's linked by a decked walkway and an internal corridor. The indoor pool has been updated with a new children's splash area which is now dominated by a water-spitting giraffe and features a small slide and water cannons.

The kids make full use of their resident status with evening access to Amazu, the treetop walkway which winds over the spider monkey enclosure and allows you to peep at the huge capybaras, the world's largest rodents which look like inflated wombats and weigh as much as I do.

While they are occupied, I opt for a traditional sundowner in the safari-themed bar with exotic views of ostrich and zebra roaming the Surrey plains. I tempt my monkeys back in with some nuts so we can go for dinner.

There are two dining options on offer; the new Temple Restaurant and Bar in Azteca, which offers a good but rather limited buffet. It has a vague air of a fast-food restaurant (the coloured furniture and bad lighting don't help), however, the kids are fascinated by the tanks of piranhas and tubes of leaf-eating ants on show.

Not put off by the piranhas' killer stares, Nancy loads her plate with freshly grilled tuna, while Lola and Angus tuck in to barbecued chicken, ribs and corn. The Zafari Bar and Grill next door is a little more sedate and serves an a la carte menu of steak, chicken and burgers all with an African theme.

Tracey Davies

A big bonus to staying in a resort hotel is its early doors access to the park, as well as a fast-track pass until 11am. The kids are keen to get a few rides under their belts before the main gates open, so we're up early for breakfast.

If I'm honest, I'm not really one for theme parks. I get violently sick on the teacups and once begged to be airlifted off a Ferris wheel. Luckily, my kids were born without my cowardy custard gene and are fearless when it comes to thrill rides.

Angus drags us straight to Vampire, the best-known ride at Chessington. Overwhelmed by fear, I start screaming before the safety restraints are secured and carry on screaming for the entire 4-minute duration.

The twins are not impressed. "Mum, you screamed SO loudly," complained Lola, before whispering to her sister that she would have to sit with me next time.

Chessington's other thrill rides swiftly follow. The ridiculous Dragon's Fury rollercoaster had me crying with terror, so I give the Rattlesnake coaster and the horrific-looking Rameses Revenge a miss, although I almost enjoy the Dragon Falls log flume.


Once the gang had had their fill of adrenaline, I manage to persuade them to see some of the animals.

We take a bumpy safari truck-ride through the Zufari animal reserve where we see a pair of rucking rhinos, obviously fed up with the autumnal weather here in Surrey, and the endangered Rothschild's giraffes who look strangely out of place in the Greater London suburbs.

The kids loved hand-feeding the lorikeets in the Lorikeet Lagoon and were mesmerised by the sea lion show.

As the sun sets on the Surrey Serengeti, we leave exhausted but exhilarated by our wild weekend of fun. Who needs Borneo, eh?


Stay at the new Azteca Hotel from £199 per family of 2 adults and 3 children aged 12 and under, including a full breakfast and 2 days entrance to the park.

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