Reviewed by Louise Totton
Last weekend, we were so very lucky to be invited along to the launch event for Alton Towers’ newest accommodation offering – the Stargazing Pods. As a family, we absolutely love a visit to the Alton Towers Resort – we have had some superb stays at The Alton Towers Hotel and Splash Landings, so as you can probably imagine, we had two very excited girls on our hands. We live a couple of hours from Alton Towers which means when we visit the theme park for the day we are up at 6am to leave the house by 7am, so being able to stay overnight and wake up at a more reasonable hour for the weekend makes a massive difference for us.
The Stargazing Pods are located within the Enchanted Village, behind the three main hotels and near to the Woodland Lodges and Luxury Treehouses. Alton Towers is easy to find with satnav and is also very well signposted for miles around. Upon entering the Alton Towers site, the signposts make it very easy to find the accommodation – the Enchanted Village uses carpark J and we were able to park our car right by the Stargazing Pods Reception. We were met by very friendly and efficient staff who gave us our pod key and told us exactly how to find our pod.
We followed reception’s directions (on foot – there are no cars by the pods, which makes it feel wonderfully peaceful), and we were all very impressed by what we saw. Obviously it helped that we arrived on a lovely, sunny day but the whole area looked phenomenal. The 102 pods are situated on around an open green (which is also equipped with child friendly telescopes – perfect for children to gaze into the night sky), with the Tipi bar and toilet block located centrally for all accommodation. The whole area has a lovely, calm feel and the pods are spaced nicely so don’t feel crammed in at all.
I think the best way to describe the pods is that they are a cross between a tent and a log cabin; the girls thought they looked fun, cute and exciting. I have to say that I completely agree with them. The pods each have their own small veranda on the front and a fully lockable double-glazed door. When I say a cross between a log cabin and a tent, I mean that they are constructed like a log cabin and are full, standing height with heating, plug sockets, lights and Wi-Fi. They have the footprint and appearance of a tent, and accommodation is bijou to say the least! The pod is divided into two parts, one with a double bed and one with two singles. The beds are fully raised from the floor and come with a full complement of bedlinen and duvets. Whilst there isn’t any dedicated storage for baggage, there is plenty of room under the three beds for small suitcases and bags. Each bed has its own wall-mounted shelf, plug socket and USB charging point, so this certainly isn’t camping as I remember it from years ago! Where the Stargazing Pods so become more like camping is the toilet situation; the pods do not have their own toilets and the pods share the use of the toilet block which is located pretty centrally.
The one thing that has always put me off camping is the toilet and shower arrangements. I do like to have my own facilities, and have stayed in some pretty horrific campsites in my time, with cold and less than sanitary toilet and shower facilities, so I will say that if there was to be anything that would have put me off the pods and sent me sprinting in the direction of one of the hotels, it would have been this. I need not have worried! The toilet block is large, warm and immaculate. My partner, who hasn’t camped before, said he’d thought the showers would be communal ones – they aren’t. the showers are in large cubicles which contain a well-powered shower, a chair and plenty of room for the little ones if your kids are younger and need to shower with you. Hairdryers and mirrors are also provided and the whole block is kept lovely and warm. There are plentiful toilets and we never had to queue for the toilets either.
I think my kids particularly loved all of the open space around the pods, and as it is a traffic-free area, we could let them play freely. There are also small bits of play equipment for younger kids and they had great fun on the big basket swing and the climbing frame.
As well as the pods, a toilet block and the play equipment, there is also the Tipi Bar on the green. This is a large, tee-pee style tent with a licenced bar and seating for the residents of the pods. As it was the launch weekend, we were treated to fabulous Mexican inspired buffet. The quality of the food was outstanding, and not something I would have expected from a theme park! They also catered very well for allergies and dietary requirements – all of the items on the buffet were marked for vegetarian or vegan and the staff were also fully aware of allergens. I need to eat gluten free and most of the buffet was safe, and whilst the meat wasn’t suitable, when I raised it with them, a fresh and gluten free alternative was brought directly to our table.
The bar is well-stocked and the atmosphere in the Tipi was lovely and very ‘holiday-ish’. Because the area is kept free of traffic and the Tipi opens directly onto the grass, we were able to let the kids pop in and out of the venue, alternating running around outside with popping in for a sip of their drink.
We were all getting pretty tired as the evening wore on, so after enjoying the fireworks and the opening ceremony on the green, with Mark Thompson, astronomer and Stargazing LIVE co-host, we decided to retire to our pod for the night. The beds had been ready made for us on arrival, so all we needed to do was pop to the toilet block on the way back to save any midnight emergency dashes, change into our onesies and climb into bed. As you would imagine, the pods are all astronomy themed, and the blackout curtains featured some very interesting and never before seen constellations – my personal favourite being the Oblivion!
The night that we stayed was bitterly cold – around -1°C so I was really surprised just how warm the pod stayed! We decided to have some wind-down time, so we plugged the kids’ iPads into the charging points by their beds, switched on the free Wi-Fi and enjoyed the peace and quiet whilst they watched Teen Titans. We climbed into our bed, plugged the headphones in and caught up on some of our boxset viewing.
The beds were really very comfortable and we all stayed toasty warm and slept very well. We awoke refreshed and very excited for our day in the park, and almost two hours later than we would have had to if we had been travelling in from home. Breakfast to go is included in the rate for the pods – vouchers are given at check-in at the same time as the keys. It is a simple but perfectly tasty breakfast of a hot breakfast sandwich with either a hot drink or a fruit juice. We all chose a bacon sandwich (my gluten free one was no problem), the kids had hot chocolates, my partner had tea and I had coffee. Because it was such a lovely, sunny morning, we sat on the little veranda on the front of the pod to enjoy our breakfast before deciding it was time to check out and take advantage of the VIP early ride time offered to guests staying at Alton Towers’ own accommodation. We locked the pod, loaded the car up, dropped the key at the quick checkout and made our way to the park.
Normally, after an overnight stay, it is a bit of an anti-climax for the kids to then pack up and go home so it was wonderful to have a day in the park to look forward to! The kids had both grown a bit since we were last at Alton Towers, and both had gone up a height band, so were beside themselves to each be allowed on rides they had not yet been on. My 9-year-old was now over 1.4m, so all of the rides in the park were open to her, and my 6-year-old was now well over 1.2m so couldn’t wait to try The Wicker Man, Spinball Whizzer and Th13teen.
We had an absolutely wonderful time and managed to do most of what we had wanted to do. We didn’t quite have time for Oblivion, Peter Rabbit or Hex, but did manage to get on The Wicker Man, The Smiler, Nemesis, Rita, Thi13een, Spinball Whizzer, Galactica and lots of smaller rides. I was also really impressed by how good the eatery by the Marauders’ Mayhem was at catering for a gluten free diet – very rare in theme parks – and very reasonably priced at under £20 for the four of us to eat and drink whilst sat inside.
We have had the most wonderful weekend and the kids haven’t stopped raving about the park, the rides and the pods. Even my other half, who was possibly the most unsure about the ‘camping’ experience thought it was all brilliant and said he would love to stay again. Thanks so much for inviting us, Alton Towers. We’ve had a wonderful time and would recommend it to anyone. From £88 (off peak and doesn’t include park tickets) for the night for a family of four is a real bargain and is a much cheaper option than some of the other on-site rooms at Alton Towers.
Alton Towers Resort’s new Stargazing Pods accommodation aims to encourage families to embrace the Great British outdoors, reconnect with nature, each other and feel inspired by the world around them and is conveniently located moments away from the rides and attractions,.
Priced from just £88 for up to four people, the Stargazing Pods offer a unique, great value experience that all the family can enjoy. To book your stay at the Stargazing Pods, guests can visit www.altontowers.com.
Alton Towers Resort, Alton, Staffordshire, ST10 4DB