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The Independent Travel
Formerly a plain old zoo, Chessington World of Adventures has somehow managed to transform itself into southern England's number one theme park. Only a relatively small animal area remains, Animal Adventures (where you can visit monkeys in Monkey Business, see big cats in Paws and Claws and hobnob with the zebras in the Hoofed Animal area).

Those who suffer from phobias might avoid the Creepy Caves, home to some of nature's most sinister nasties. It even has a warning to those who suffer from arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ophiophobia (fear of snakes) or even entomophobia (fear of insects) not to enter. Inside lurk the world's most dangerous snake, and the world's largest kind of scorpion, the Imperial, and spider, the Campina Grand Birdeater, with a nine-inch leg span.

Rather less sinister are the other themed areas, the Forbidden Kingdom, Mexicana, Pirates Cove, Transylvania, Toytown, and the Market Square. In Mystic East we discovered the park's latest attraction - the Samurai 360-degree fear ride. My children watched in astonishment as I was raised up to 20 metres and spun in every direction while screaming like a four- year-old.

I spent most of my visit happy to watch my children enjoying themselves on the under-eights' attractions situated in Toytown, where children join forces with Action Man on a mission to prevent world domination by Prof Gangrene and Dr X. We also went for a spin on the Toytown Truckers and Old Crocks Rally electric cars that children can steer, before spending a good hour in the Adventure House, a huge indoor soft-play area that I had to resort to bribery to get them away from.

Best for: Those who want to take the children somewhere that isn't all rides and shows. The animals lend a touch of humility and humanity.

Sundry attractions: Dragon Splash, Samurai, Action Man's Critical Mission, Vampire Ride, Prof Burp's Bubbleworks, Rattlesnake Ride, Runaway Train, Rodeo, Safari Skyway, the Adventure House, feeding times at the penguins' and sea lions' pools.

Admission price: Full-day tickets, adults pounds 19, children 4-14 pounds 15, under-4s free. Pre-bookable family tickets, two adults and two children, pounds 56 in advance or pounds 59 on the gate.

Opening times: April to end of October. 17 July- 29 August and Fright nights 10am-9pm, all other times 10am-5/6pm.

Food and drink: A range of places to eat, including fast food giants Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and McDonald's. Average meal costs about pounds 4 for adults and pounds 3 for children. If you have a sweet tooth I can recommend the homemade fudge from the sweet shop near Market Square. Chocoholics might get their photo taken outside Cadbury's Castle.

Good for adults: Wine lovers should head for the Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking (tel: 01306-876616), England's largest estate. Guildford is worth a visit for the cathedral, castle and the shops. The whole family can visit Loseley House and Park Farm (tel: 01483-304440), home to the Jersey cows whose milk produces Loseley products.

Tips: The animal areas close earlier than the rest of the park and some, like the big cats, are taken out of display at about 4pm. On the other hand, we found there were hardly any queues after 4.30pm.

Getting there: South West Trains services from Waterloo, Clapham Junction and Wimbledon to Chessington South, which is a 10-minute walk from the park. By car, 12 miles from London on the A243, two miles from the A3 and M25. Parking is free.

Sample package: Weekend break prices at the Hilton International in Cobham, per person per night, is pounds 47.50 (tel: 01932 864471).

Further information: South East England Tourist Board, The Old Brew House, Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5TU (tel: 01892-540766). Websites: www.seetb.org.uk, www.chessington.co.uk

Rating: 7/10

The author travelled with her two children, Lewis, seven, and Craig, five.