BACKSTORY: Founded in 1931 by ex-military man and hobby zoologist Reginald Goddard on the grounds of an ancient country house in the southwest extremes of Greater London, the lovably eccentric Chessington Zoo is now part of Merlin Entertainments (Madame Tussauds, London Eye, etc.) and has been transformed into a swish resort theme park (renamed Chessington World of Adventures), meaning the monkeys and lions have been joined by frenetic rides and a 4-star hotel.
DESIGN NOTES: Leave your critical eye at home—this place is set up for the kids, with live lizards in the lobby and a large faux giraffe standing sentinel outside the Zafari Bar & Grill (with its animal-print seat covers and Tanzanian Fish Curry). Beyond the painted-on wildlife and Madagascar-suited performers, the hotel is a fairly standard mid-level property, but it’s easy to forget this fact when you’re surrounded by painted-on wildlife and Madagascar-suited performers.
ROOM WITH A VIEW: The themed rooms here have cute murals depicting scenes from the African savannah (“a mini safari indoors”), but to get the full experience you’ll need a Wanyama view room, which looks out over real-life zebras, giraffes, ostriches and antelopes mingling peacefully in a lion-free English field. It’s a lovely view, but also a bit weird when you stop to think about it—the kids, for their part, will be too busy shouting “Giraffe!” to contemplate the incongruities.