The Tamworth theme park’s moated Castle of Dreams makes the perfect grotto and it was beautifully illuminated when we arrived for our appointment at dusk.
In all our years, we’d never known the big man to be in such jovial mood and he spent the best part of ten minutes talking to our two children, aged three and seven.
After a group photo, he handed them identical gifts, a sweet treat and a ‘Golden Ticket’ to return to Drayton Manor in 2018 for free (with every full paying adult).
After leaving the grotto, our smiling children took the reins of Santa’s sleigh and then admired two of his reindeer in a paddock close by.
Drayton Manor is celebrating its tenth ‘Magical Christmas’ and it has calculated that in that time Father Christmas has met nearly 160,000 children there.
We last went three Christmases ago and there has been some changes for the better since then, the main difference being that Thomas Land is much bigger.
There are now 17 rides, from the genteel Lady’s Carousel to the exhilarating Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy to the thrilling Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster.
There’s also themed indoor and outdoor play areas plus a miniature railway the size of a badminton court that has some original models from the Thomas TV series.
The theme park also looked a lot more like Christmas than we remembered, with nutcrackers, candy sticks, Christmas trees, decorations and layers of snow.
Even Thomas was doing his best Rudolf impression, donning antlers and a red nose for his trips between Knapford station and Tidmouth Halt.
Every hour, Sir Topham Hatt and friends sang some festive songs in shows which ended with flurries of thick snow, getting everyone in the Christmas spirit.
Also new since our last visit was a Disney-esque parade through the park just before closing, featuring stilt walkers, an ice queen and a cuddly lion.
The artificial ice rink is now bigger, and under cover too, but everyone seemed to be doing impressions of Bambi because there weren’t any penguin skating aids.
Elsewhere in the park is a dazzling 30ft Christmas tree with dancing lights and the chance to turn yourself into a human bauble or Christmas pudding.
Visitors can also explore the 15-acre zoo and climb aboard three of the theme park’s rides – the Carousel, the Jolly Buccaneer and the white-knuckle Accelerator.
The 4D Cinema is showing a new, 15-minute Ice Age movie called A Mammoth Christmas, but technical problems meant it was only showing in 2D during our visit.
Another slight disappointment was the fireworks display at the end of the day, which seemed much shorter than we remembered from 2014.
But that didn’t spoil a fun-packed day out. Thomas Land has been turned into a winter wonderland and our kids are pleading with us to return next year.
Visit www.draytonmanor.co.uk or call 01827 287 979.
Drayton Manor Hotel