‘Designed through the eyes of a five-year-old” is how Alton Towers bills its latest theme hotel. If my nearly-four-year-old were in charge, there’d be a mermaid-filled swimming pool, ice-cream fountains, and the casts of Moana, The Jungle Book and Octonauts incarnated to be her best friends and French-plait her hair.
The CBeebies Land Hotel, created in partnership with the BBC TV toddler channel, gets close – it has Octonauts bedrooms for a start. Postman Pat, In the Night Garden, Swashbuckle and Something Special ones too. These 34 themed rooms and suites, alas, cost £75 a night more than the 42 standard rooms, decorated with those yellow blob CBeebies ident characters that no child ever gave a dirty nappy about. I imagine those prepared to indulge their little darlings enough to bring them here – and let’s face it, this is up there with a Disney trip as spoiling goes – will feel obliged to fork out on their favourite show’s suite, too.
I took my three- and one-year-old for the opening party. Parking beside an Octonauts truck and Postman Pat’s van, we were barely out of the car before we were kettled by circus performers, bubble blowers, a one-man band and stilt-walkers all disseminating Broadway-performer-on-pills enthusiasm. Both tots were in overwhelmed tears before we’d crossed the threshold.
Inside, tantrums were tempered by a giant book with buttons that lights up and plays music, fake houses with door knockers to bang, toddler steps up to the reception desk and a toy shop with a kids’ tunnel entrance. Does the selling of expensive CBeebies merchandise align with the Beeb’s “free from commercial interests” policies, I wonder?
Little Monster, the puppet from Justin’s House, was at check in, and live entertainment continues every day in the lounge from 7am (meet Bing the bunny) to 9.30pm (stargazing), entailing photo ops with big foamy-costumed characters, games and discos.
The lounge is utter fantasyland; it’s a forest, the ceiling covered in leaves, with a sea of multicoloured bean bags and, thank god, a bar at the back.
We got Postman Pat selfies, did Spot Bots puzzles and joined Andy’s Prehistoric Quest before tea in the Windmill Restaurant (with windmill). It takes “children’s menu” up a gear (the only adult options are fish or steak) with healthier takes on kiddie classics: wholemeal, barely-salted pizza bases, a crudite-heavy salad bar and an unsugary fro-yo machine add up to a good experience. To place a pizza order, kids decorate a laminated pizza picture with stickers of ingredients they fancy. A cutlery station has free baby pouches, bottle warmers and stacks of sippy cups with lids. No one’s shooting for a Michelin star, but these thoughtful touches take the terror out of toddler teatime.
Similarly, our room had neat add-ons (cot, bottle warmer, activity wall, toilet seat with toddler-sized insert – although no baby monitors), and was stupendous in its dedication to the Octonauts theme, with pictures floor to ceiling, logoed bed linen and – flappity flippers! (to coin an Octonauts phrase) – submarine pipes on walls. The double bed and kids’ bunks are well separated.
We ended the day on a high, determined to maintain enough enthusiasm to visit the theme park proper – and its dedicated CBeebies zone – the next day. Somehow parents just need to remain really up for it the entire weekend, then they’ll love this almost as much as their kids do.
• The trip was provided by Alton Towers; standard room sleeping a family of five from £197 a night, suites from £272