My 21-month-old son loves Postman Pat and the Go Jetters, but I have to be honest and say that my husband and I were more excited than him about the prospect of staying at the brand new CBeebies hotel.
After an arduous four-hour drive from London, we arrived at the hallowed land for preschoolers and were greeted by many Bugbies – the googly-eyed yellow splodges made famous by the CBeebies idents.
Inside, the reception desk comes complete with a set of mini-steps so that little ones can join you as you check in. The rest of the foyer is like a five-year old’s fever dream: toy shop, miniature shop fronts with moving displays and a swirling, whirling light feature right in the middle.
The hotel has 76 rooms which all come with a double bed, bunk beds, a pullout single bed and a travel cot with a rock-hard mattress, so we had to use one of the single duvets as a substitute. 42 of the rooms are standard "Bugbie" rooms, and the remaining 34 are more expensive themed rooms including Postman Pat, Octonauts, Swashbuckle, In The Night Garden and – the room we had the pleasure of staying in – Something Special.
Our room was awash with Mr Tumble references, right down to the blue and yellow star pattern made famous by his waistcoat. Even the carpet was made to look like a wooden floor and had the odd discarded sock printed onto it. More practical touches include a fridge, tea and coffee-making facilities, a wooden activity wall for young children and two flatscreen TVs. The bathroom was also bright yellow and blue with a beautifully designed picture of giant bath toys above the bath.
The children’s beds were located in a side room (hence the two TVs) although there was no interconnecting door. This room didn’t have windows so was fairly dark with the lights off, but my son refuses to sleep unless there's complete darkness and quiet, so we spent 30 minutes sat in the dark waiting for our toddler to drift off.
Throughout the day there are meet-and-greets with CBeebies characters and other activities to entertain miniature guests on their arrival day. However, the evening is when things really get pumping. The entertainment area consists of a bar (you may need it!) and a stage area where entertainers enact games inspired by CBeebies shows. There is a Swashbuckle game show, an Octonauts wildlife quiz and my son loved the tots disco. If you need some time out, as he did, you can visit the library for story-time before retiring to your room.
The Windmill Restaurant – complete with a giant windmill above the salad bar – is where you and your clan go to refuel. The colour scheme here, like everywhere, is bright and colourful, and there's jolly muzak in the background which I imagine will drive the staff bonkers after a while.
You can help yourself to a sad-looking salad bar, which will still prove a lifesaver if your little cherub is turning into a hangry monster. The evening menu is not extensive but you can choose the size of the portion you order: little guest, grownup or family share.
A great gimmick – and one that kept my toddler busy for 10 minutes – was the opportunity to design your own pizza. You take a picture of a pizza, add stickers of whatever toppings you want and out comes a replica of your design.
We ordered an adult portion of garlic and mozzarella flatbread as a starter, which could easily have been shared between several people. After an extremely long wait (much like my son’s own irritability, I will put this down to opening night teething problems), our grilled salmon and steak burger mains arrived. The salmon was tasty but my sweet potato wedges were undercooked; the burger was not worthy of being called a steak and disappointing for the price.
For dessert, we plumped for an adult portion of the potted strawberry cheesecake, expecting a smallish ramekin; we got a massive breakfast bowl of dairy and strawberry indulgence, which I defy any adult to finish on their own – my husband and I couldn’t finish it between us.
For breakfast, you can choose from a buffet of classic English breakfast ingredients, pastries, waffles, cereal, toast, juices and smoothies on tap, so even the pickiest eaters can fill up before a full-on day in CBeebies Land.
The theme park
The last time I came to Alton Towers Davina McCall was in Big Mamma mode and Justin Timberlake had just left N-Sync (N-who?). In other words, it was a long time ago. Nowadays there seems so much more to do that I don’t see how you could do every ride in one day. As my son is quite young, we mainly stuck to CBeebies Land. As well as an In The Night Garden boat ride, Bugbies monorail and Octonauts rollercoaster, there are two brand-new attractions: the Go Jetters ride and the Furchester Hotel show. My son loved the chance to "drive" Postman Pat’s van through Greendale.
Unfortunately, we couldn't take advantage of the majority of the rides as my son was too small. Your child needs to be a minimum of 90cm, so it's better to wait until your children are preschoolers rather than toddlers. Instead we visited the Tree Foo Tom adventure playground, Mr Bloom interactive show and the Big Fun Showtime circus-style tents, which have activities and shows throughout the day.
The other downside is that the rides had long queues – a 50-minute wait is an eternity for a toddler with no concept of time. Trying to buy lunch at Little Explorers Lunch Box also required patience; I waited almost 20 minutes to pay for a pre-packaged sandwich. Save yourself some time and money and bring a picnic.
Radio Times Travel rating: 7/10
CBeebies-tastic rating: 10/10
Price: From £179 for two adults and two children for a Bugbie room; themed rooms are from £272 and themed suites are from £347. Theme park entry is not included, although there's currently a "kids play free" offer which gives children free admission with any CBeebies Land Hotel booking made before 31 July.