Drayton Manor, Staffordshire

Move over Sir Topham Hatt, there’s another ‘Fat Controller’ in town – and his belly wobbles like a bowl full of jelly.
Father Christmas has moved into Drayton Manor Park, the home of Thomas Land (Sodor), where you’ll find the famous blue train engine and all his friends.
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.
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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.
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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.

Ticket details
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Drayton’s Magical Christmas will be open on November 24-27, December 1-4, 8-11, 15-24 and 27-31 (Santa, of course, departs on the 24th). Pre-booked tickets including a visit to Santa cost £12 for ages 2-3 £20 for ages 4-11 and 60+; and £24 for ages 12-59 (disabled, carers and expectant mums £20), with under-2s free. All prices rise £2 for December 23 and 24. Pre-booked tickets excluding a visit to Santa cost between £5-6 less. You can upgrade to a Santa visit on the day subject to availability. Park-only tickets bought on the day cost substantially more. Parking is free.
Visit www.draytonmanor.co.uk or call 01827 287 979.
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JS127896278Drayton Manor Hotel

Hotel stays
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Even though there were hardly any queues for the rides during are visit, we didn’t have time to ride them all. Neither were we able to go round the zoo or visit the play areas.
With the theme park expected to get busier as Christmas approaches, you may want to consider making a weekend of your visit by staying at the four-star Drayton Manor Hotel.
Set in the grounds of the park, the 150-room hotel has a selection of packages available over the Christmas period including Thomas & Friends themed rooms  sleeping four to six guests and family rooms
The themed rooms include Thomas goody bag and ‘Character Breakfast’.  The hotel itself features two bars, two sublime restaurants and a relaxing lounge.
For more information, visit http://www.draytonmanorhotel.co.uk
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Newspaper article here

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