Altogether now, Thomas the red-nosed steam train…
Drayton Manor is, of course, home to Thomas Land, the theme park within a theme park that’s based on the popular children’s TV series about the little blue engine and his friends.
Promotional posters for Drayton’s Magical Christmas season show Thomas – complete with antlers and a red nose – pulling Santa’s sleigh, usurping everyone’s favourite reindeer, Rudolf.
Thomas was, however, conspicuous by his absence on the day we visited. His friends Rosie and Percy seemed to be doing all the toiling between Knapford Station and Tidmouth Halt.
But that failed to put a damper on our Thomas-loving daughter’s day.
Cerys, aged four, was able to go on all 12 rides in Thomas Land, including the Troublesome Trucks Coaster, Harold’s Heli Tours and Terence’s Driving School.
Thomas Land also boasts indoor and outdoor playgrounds plus a miniature railway the size of a badminton court that has some original models from the TV series.
The Fat Controller and his friends put on festive shows throughout the day and the flurries of snow at their conclusion left our Cerys wide-eyed.
It’s a white Christmas at Thomas Land
Adding to the festive feel elsewhere in the park is a dazzling 30ft Christmas tree with dancing lights and a stilt-walking Jack Frost and Ice Princess.
There’s also a condensed, 15-minute version of the Polar Express movie in the 4D Cinema, which could not be more appropriate for Thomas fans at this time of year.
Drayton’s moated Castle of Dreams makes the perfect home for Santa.
After meeting elves in their workshop, we were ushered into the big bearded one’s grotto, where Cerys and her baby brother received gifts and we had a group photo.
Then, in another part of the castle, Cerys took the reins of Santa’s sleigh, crafted a wishing star for a Christmas tree and listened to a story read by medieval maids.
It was all very impressive, even for us grown-ups.
On the downside, Drayton’s reindeer were difficult to track down then even harder to see through their fencing. The temporary ice rink also disappointed, being titchy and synthetic.
But any irritations were forgotten when the Castle of Dreams provided the perfect backdrop for a fireworks finale which set the seal on a truly magical day for our daughter.
Inside the Castle of Dreams at Drayton Manor
- Cost: Pre-booked tickets including a visit to Santa’s Castle of Dreams – under-2s free; ages 2-3 £10; ages 4-11 £15; ages 12-59 £20; age 60+ £15. Pre-booked tickets excluding visit to Santa’s Castle of Dreams – £5 less than those above. Gate prices – under-2s free; ages 2-3 £5; ages 4-11 £20; ages 12-59 £30; age 60+ £20; On the day Castle of Dreams upgrade (subject to availability) £5 per person. Booking fee of £1.50 per transaction. Ice skating is an extra £2 per person, payable on the day.
- Parking: Free.
- Time spent at the grotto: About 30 mins. The elves and Santa were generous with their time and there was no rush to leave the Castle of Dreams.
- Gift: Santa personally hands every child a nice little festive gift and tasty treat, made by his elves. Also included is a ‘golden ticket’ which admits one free child to Drayton Manor during the 2015 season when accompanied by a paying adult.
- Photos: Drayton Manor’s website says only officially taken photos of Santa are allowed in his grotto, which is pretty mean spirited considering it’s the festive season. Commemorative photos, baubles and snow globes can be purchased for £10.
- Anything else? Drayton Manor’s white-knuckle rides are closed but the Jolly Bacaneer, The Dodgems, The Carousel, the BigWheel, the Ben 10 rollercoaster and the zoo are all open. A free scratch card for every visitor offers savings on refreshments.
- Value for money? Definitely. Thomas Land is aimed at children who still believe so it’s the perfect place for Santa to set up home. A full day’s entertainment is guaranteed for those aged eight and under. The extra £5 to visit Santa is an absolute must.
- Open: Drayton Manor, near Tamworth, is open November 28-30, December 1, 5-8, 12-15, 19-23, 27-31. Gates open 9.45am. Rides 10.30am – 5pm (Mon-Fri) 6pm (weekends). Details: www.draytonmanor.co.uk, 0844 472 1950.
- Drayton Manor offers breaks at its 4-star hotel and its camping and caravanning site. Click here for details