Decoders built on Gaussian processes (GPs) are enticing due to the marginalisation over the non-linear function space. Such models (also known as GP-LVMs) are often expensive and notoriously difficult to train in practice, but can be scaled using variational inference and inducing points. In this paper, we revisit active set approximations. We develop a new stochastic estimate of the log-marginal likelihood based on recently discovered links to cross-validation, and we propose a computationally efficient approximation thereof. We demonstrate that the resulting stochastic active sets (SAS) approximation significantly improves the robustness of GP decoder training, while reducing computational cost. The SAS-GP obtains more structure in the latent space, scales to many datapoints, and learns better representations than variational autoencoders, which is rarely the case for GP decoders.