Azteca Hotel Review

azteca_hotel

 

Last week we were invited to the launch of the new Azteca Hotel at Chessington World of Adventures.

 

The boys have never stayed in a hotel before, and with Luca having FINALLY broken through the 0.9m height restriction for rides it was too good an opportunity to miss.

 

Had we Janet been paying, the price for a one night stay peak-season is roughly £350, for which you get:

  • Tickets to the theme park, Zoo, and SEA LIFE centre.

  • An overnight stay at the Azteca Hotel.

  • Breakfast.

  • Animal meet and greets.

  • Use of the Splash pool and gym.

  • Evening entertainment.

 

By staying at the hotel you also get:

  • Free parking

  • Early entry (9am) to the theme park and priority access to certain rides.

  • Use of the Fastrack queue on all rides before 11am.

  • Exclusive evening access to the AMAZU Treetop Adventure and Wanyama Village.

 

azteca-lift
The hotel has an Aztec theme throughout (who’d have thought it?) Amazingly my impromptu lesson on all things Aztecan during the drive down was pretty near the mark; except for the pyramids which in my head were so far off the mark they *may have been in Egypt.

(*They were. I’m not proud).

 

 

 

azteca-safariThe hotel lobby makes for an impressive welcome, looking out over the safari park with its giraffes, zebras and ostriches. The boys attention however was taken by the two large tortoises in reception giving each other a piggyback. No, it was definitely a piggyback. It was!

 

We stayed in a Discovery room which sleeps five (2 adults and up to 3 children).

 

Now if this had been a social experiment it would have been cancelled early due to dangerous levels of over-stimulation. Seriously, if you suck out all their enthusiasm with a six-hour drive then throw them into an Aztecan Narnia with a welcome pack, their own bunk-beds, and their own TV. Then throw in as much ice-cream and chocolate as they can eat for dinner and it’s a miracle we got them to sleep the right side of midnight … a week on Tuesday!

 

azteca-discovery-roomOverall our room was very impressive with all the facilities you’d expect including free WiFi. I only had a few little niggles in so much as our room was missing a bin and the plug in the sink didn’t work, but I’m sure both would have been resolved with a call to reception had it bothered us more.

 

We also had an automatic door with a mind of its own that needed a lot of convincing we wanted it to close, but again it wasn’t anything that detracted from our stay which was VERY comfortable.

 

My only other small gripe was the noise. It wasn’t excessive and you’d expect to hear the odd door closing, but there was also no doubting the rooms above and either side of us were occupied. Maybe like our two their kids were bouncing of the walls with excitement, but for the money invested in the hotel it would have been nice if some of it had gone on sound-proofing.

 

amazu-treetop-adventureOne of the benefits of staying at the hotel is you get exclusive access to the Wanyama Village and AMAZU Treetop Adventure after the park has closed to the general public, which the boys loved.

 

Luca noticed the height restrictions and unsure as to whether he met them sneaked through like a ninja on tiptoes.

 

 

tribal-dancersThe entertainment was wonderful too. Aside from the cocktails and canapes we were treated to stilt-walkers, illusionist and the boys favourite, tribal dancers.

 

Luca is a little obsessed with dancing although I may struggle to find him a class that teaches him how to spin bowls on every limb or juggling hats.

 

Dinner was an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Temple Restaurant and served a decent selection of food.

 

As well as meat, fish and vegetarian dishes there was also a specific kids section which to their credit at least attempts to lure them into choosing a healthier option.

 

temple-restaurantThe food, though nothing spectacular was still pretty good, and there were certainly no complaints from the kids when it came to desert with endless ice-cream and a chocolate fondue fountain.

 

The price for an adult is £19.459.45 for under 12‘s) which might elicit a Northern penny-pinching grumble from me but I guess it’s about average for a hotel of this type.

 

The staff however were superb, particularly when it came to interacting with the kids. There were characters for Madagascar walking around and an interactive volcano type thing(?) in the middle of the room too, so I guess when you consider it’s more an experience than just a buffet tea I should probably leave my cynical mutterings at the door.

 

Breakfast was a similar experience with a wide selection of cooked food, cereals, pastries, fruit and smoothies.

 

chessington-ride1Another benefit of staying at the hotel is you get into the theme park early (9am) with priority access to certain rides.

 

Unfortunately the two we chose weren’t working so our hour was for the most part wasted but we did get to look around SEA LIFE before the crowds arrived.

 

You also get to use the Fastrack queues before 11am so it should be possible to get on most of the more popular rides before lunch.

 

It’s impossible to have a day at a theme park without comparing it to the others, particularly that towery one in Alton, and Chessington comes out on top for me.

 

chessington-ride2The queues for the most part felt shorter and I didn’t feel quite so ripped off when buying food and drinks or attempting to win an over-sized teddy.

 

Luca discovered that he most definitely is a thrill-seeker, and never more thrilled than when he sees his brother feeling the complete opposite?

 

Sonny discovered his cockiness at not being frightened to go through Hocus Pocus Hall was VERY misplaced, again much to the amusement of his brother.

 

And Janet and I discovered we really should make more time for family days out.

 

sonnyandmummy

 

We had a fantastic time, which if measured by the size of Luca’s tantrum when he realised we weren’t staying at the hotel for longer, was off the scale! Thankfully he was fast asleep before we’d even left the car park.

 

I asked the boys what their favourite part of the trip was. Their unanimous response was,

 

“EVERYTHING!”

 

As for the hotel, overall we were very impressed and I’d definitely recommend booking a stay if you can afford it.

 

Would we go back? As wonderful as it was I personally couldn’t justify the cost during peak-season. Obviously it’s substantially cheaper off-peak, so maybe then I could be convinced otherwise.

 

The problem I’ve now given myself is that the next time we stay at a hotel the kids will expect to see giraffes roaming the car park, and lets face it, the chances of seeing that from the window of a Travel Lodge in some generic industrial estate is pretty slim.

 

{We were provided with a free nights stay at the hotel and tickets for the theme park for the purposes of this review. All opinions are honest and my own.}

Turning Forty

marks-marblesI made it to forty! I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

 

Looking back it’s been a tough few years. I lost my job, my house and for a year or two my marbles, but I’ve come out the other side blessed with meeting Janet. I’ve helped spawn two gorgeous boys (even if I am a wee bit biased), a wonderful family and despite everything thrown at me, a renewed hope and optimism for the future. So rather than analyse it too much I’m going to tick the decade off as a success and run. Fast!

 

It’s a cliché to say life begins at any age but for me forty is pivotal. Come September Sonny and Luca will both be at school full-time and my role as a stay-at-home dad will be on shaky ground, particularly as Janet is doing the shaking.

 

Until now I’ve coasted through life on luck and circumstance. I like to pretend I’ve a laid back attitude although I’d struggle to argue against it being called downright laziness.

 

That’s not to say I’ve not worked hard, and never harder than convincing Janet to lower her standards to such a level that she considered me a worthwhile partner, but career wise I’ve been stumbling into jobs since I was eighteen.

 

For my birthday my mum gave me a folder with all my achievements and school work in. Amongst the certificates for school triple jump champion and grade two cornet (I know, multi-talented) was my work experience report from when I was fifteen. It makes interesting reading ….

 

“The week showed me I wasn’t ready for an office job, and salesmanship was not a career that would suit me.”

 

(For the last twenty years I’ve worked in an office and been a Salesman).

 

“I’m not yet mentally or maturely ready for a full-time job, instead I would like to study before re-assessing my position. I feel a job with computers would suit me more.”

 

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m re-assessing. I was never cut out to be a salesman despite my best efforts so instead I’m going to study Computing and IT with the Open University; it was meant to be!

 

I think Janet suspects my plans to study are a desperate attempt to put off going out to work again, and I probably didn’t help my case by leaving a course prospectus on the table labelled ‘Do Animals know Love’, but for the first time in my life I’m going to shape my own future and it’s exciting. Choice over circumstance. Career and path in the same sentence.

 

And who knows, by the time I qualify I may even be ‘mentally and maturely ready for a full-time job’, even if it will have taken thirty years to get there.

40th Birthday Picnic

I’ve been in a stubborn state of denial about turning forty. I only acknowledged the date in order to insist on no boozy nights out, no “Look who’s 40!” scrawled on a bed sheet and left to litter a local roundabout, and definitely no surprise party!

 

Thankfully my family saw beyond my grumpiness and arranged a picnic in Lyme Park …

picnic1picnic2picnic3picnic4picnic5

Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont

la-croix-du-vieux-pontI love everything about France, even if my last trip was memorable for very different reasons. But then who’s not nearly been arrested for human trafficking at some point in their lives? Really, just me?

Well that’s probably best told in a separate post which you can read here.

 

When I was kindly invited on a press trip by Canvas Holidays to review their Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont site in Berny-Rivière, with a day trip to Disneyland Paris thrown in, I decided against telling the kids where I was going.

Instead my plan was to send them a postcard of me sat on Donald Duck’s knee, dressed in as much Mickey bling as I could find alongside the message,

 

“…because daddy eats all his vegetables!”

 

My trip started a day early so I could spend a night visiting friends in London, and to have an opportunity to tick off as many Underground faux pas as possible.

 

Standing on the left of the escalator. Check.

Stopping abruptly at the top to read the signs. Check.

Making eye contact and wishing someone a good morning. Check.

Assuming I could navigate my way around because I once played Monopoly. Check.

 

By some minor miracle I made it to St Pancras (not to be confused with a pancreas so google informed me) where I met Stacey who was to be our wonderful guide for the trip and my fab fellow bloggers,

fellow-bloggersAmy, Kate (who joined us at Dover), Nadine, and Amanda.

 

Travelling down to Dover with South Eastern Trains took just over an hour and was hassle-free, where we were greeted by Katie from Canvas Holidays who was to be our driver and all-round nothing-is-too-much-trouble-er(?)

 

Now I can only assume Dover’s cliffs gained their name before Simon Cowell’s teeth set a new benchmark for what constitutes white, but as they disappeared into the distance we settled down to a complimentary dinner courtesy of DFDS Seaways. And snacks. And because the vouchers were only redeemable in a single visit enough miniature bottles of wine to sink a smaller ship.

 

After arriving in Dunkirk we set off on the two-hour drive to La Croix du Vieux Pont during which I took the opportunity of a quick nap, and not just because two hours in a minibus with six women will invariably cover topics of conversation unsuitable for the solitary bloke who doesn’t get out a lot.

 

La Croix du Vieux Pont is a stunning parkland site that looks far newer than it is. The grounds are clean and well-kept, and it has a lovely family friendly atmosphere in which you’d feel more than comfortable letting your children walk around on their own.

 

deluxe-lodge-3-bedroomMy previous camping experience begins and ends with a tent pitched in a ditch, which after a night of rain left me waking up in a puddle so deep I thought I’d wet myself by biblical proportions, so the Deluxe three-bedroom lodge I was staying in really did live up to its name and would comfortably sleep seven.

 

Despite being positioned in rows as you’d expect, each property has a spacious garden to the front, enclosed by trellis that allows for plenty of privacy.

 

Outside there were sun loungers, and on the decking area a table and chairs plus a large gas barbecue.

 

deluxe-lodge-insideInside there’s a fully equipped kitchen with more facilities than I can claim to have at home, including a microwave, dishwasher, kettle, toaster and fridge-freezer. It’s all open plan with the dining area leading on to the living room where you’ll find a sofa, stereo, DVD player and a TV that includes UK channels.

 

Also downstairs is a bathroom with shower, a separate toilet and a spacious double bedroom with its own TV.

 

Upstairs there were two more bedrooms (one of which had bunk-beds).

 

Where the site really comes into its own is the facilities and activities that cater for all ages, from toddlers to adults.

 

There’s a selection of shops that include a boutique, small supermarket, pizzeria and bakery that sells amongst other fine things a lovely pain-au-raisin, a bar and two restaurants.

 

swimming-poolThe two main swimming pools (one of which can be covered) are wonderful and there’s also a separate childrens pool with water slide, a jacuzzi, sauna and solarium.

 

The list of activities is endless. Tennis, football, trampolining, table tennis, go-karts, basketball, archery, mini golf, 10 pin bowling, laser quest, volleyball, bicycle hire, indoor soft play and so much more besides.

 

lakeThe beautiful lake provides further opportunities to stay active with canoeing, pedaloes and fishing.

 

And if that’s not enough, Canvas Holidays also provide an exclusive free Children’s Club that impressively caters for youngsters of all ages by splitting it into age groups.

 

We even tried some of the games aimed at the younger children, and in doing so proved conclusively that I’m not smarter than a four-year old. Nor can I dance like a Kipper but that’s a whole different story.

 

But for me the pièce de résistance was the man-made beach with adjoining snack-bar . (Oh c’mon, think yourself lucky I got this far before crowbarring in my first French phrase; and believe me I had more than you could throw a bâton at!)

beach

I’ll also apologise now for the clichés to follow but the beach is where holiday memories are made.

 

The bar provides the perfect setting in which to eat your dinner or have a drink whilst watching your kids play with their new-found holiday friends, on a beach, way beyond their usual bedtime. That for me is what a family holiday is all about.

 

The food at the beach bar was delicious, as it was in the main restaurant, and offers a great range of drinks and cocktails too.

 

If you can drag yourself away from the site there’s some lovely provincial towns close-by that are as picturesque as you’d imagine. I would have some photo’s to show but I was too busy eating yet another pain-au-raisin from a patisserie we passed (I know, I’m obsessed).

 

Larger supermarkets, bars and restaurants can be found in the town of Soissons which is a 15 minute drive.

 

The site is also ideally placed for Disneyland Paris, being just an hours drive away (a bus service is also available from the camp-site).

 

disneyland-parisNow I admit to being a little cynical when it comes to Disney; that is until I walk through their gates.

 

Had they sold an Elsa costume in my size you would have found me hours later pirouetting back to the minibus like Tinkerbell’s ugly sister.

 

We only had half a day at the park but it was enough to convince me I need to return with the family. The boys would love it although at three and four I think I’d leave it another year before taking them, if for no other reason than to have another twelve months in which to watch EVERY Disney film there is.

 

Now before leaving the UK I was having a recurring nightmare in which I wrestled a crocodile, only to wake up on the floor with my limbs wrapped around the bedside table. I suspect it was only recurring because Janet was lay beside me making snapping noises for her own amusement but I can’t prove that.

 

tower-of-terrorStay with me, there is a point to this story, you see I don’t dream about crocodiles any more, not since going on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!

Now my nightmares are exclusively about being stuck in a falling lift.

It’s not healthy. I’m still suffering from a pulled muscle due to bracing myself in my sleep!? It was genuinely terrifying although I didn’t really scream like a girl … it was far higher pitched than that!

 

All the rides we went on were brilliant. I’d liken them to Alton Towers only bigger, better, longer lasting and with better visual effects and staff performances thrown in. I didn’t really need the Ghost train breaking down midway through but I’ll not dwell on that for my own mental well-being.

 

I can’t mention the rides without pointing you in the direction of the hilarious video of Kate’s taken on Big Thunder Mountain. There’s a ‘boob blackout’ you really do have to see.

 

It was a wonderful trip with great company and the only negative I brought back from my whole time away was that we weren’t there for longer.

 

Back to Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont. It’s not cheap, but speaking as a penny-pinching Northerner it does offer great value for money, particularly for a larger family/group.

 

There’s the option of mobile homes and tents to make it more affordable, and they currently have some big discounts for the school holidays as well as last-minute deals and late September getaways.

 

Would I go back? Absolutely. It’s more a case of when than if.

 

Did I send the postcard of me sat on Donald Ducks knee? Unfortunately not, but I did bring the boys some Disney goodies back. OK so I bought them in the local Pound store but shh, they don’t need to know that.

 

More information on Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont can be found on the Canvas Holidays website.

 

To see the trip as it happened you can check out #canvasbloggers on Instagram and that there Twitter.