We had visited Thomas land before for Jack's 1st birthday but we enjoyed it so much more this time around. It is perfect for 2-5 year olds but older and younger siblings will still enjoy it too.
The Thomas land rides
Most of Drayton manor is closed during magical Christmas. Thomas land is however fully open and there are some other attractions open too (27 in total). There were never any queues for any of the rides which was great. All of the rides were suitable for all ages and heights (sometimes with an accompanying adult)
Here are our highlights:-
Knapford station is where you can catch a train to the other side of the park (to walk through the zoo). It is beautifully decorated at Christmas time. There are a few trains running around the track at the same time and we enjoyed rides from Thomas and Rosie. My little boy's face as we were riding Thomas was just a picture as you can see.
Rockin' bullstrode and Sodar docks was the ride my eldest enjoyed the most. You are rocked at every angle in a boat and it certainly made my stomach flip a little! Although it is suitable for all ages, it's not really a ride I would recommend for sensitive children. Fun all the same though.
Harold's Heli tours and engine shed was a lovely ride providing nice views of the park. Also the perfect place for photo ops with Edward, Gordon, Henry, Toby and Rosie.
We decided to go on Sodor's classic cars seperately as girls and boys. The youngest loved driving the grown ups around. The track is fun with lots to see. You even almost drive through the Thomas land shop.
Lady's carousel is a ride the little ones were able to go on by themself while the grown ups danced along to the music.
The children could also go on crazy Bertie bus by themselves and loved going high in the sky.
We decided to pair up again as girls vs boys on Diesels locomotion mayhem. I loved this ride and thought we were really going to crash on several occasions! Be warned, this ride is quite fast!
There were a few rides we didn't go on this time. Cranky' drop tower and troublesome tricks runaway coaster were probably just a little too big for Jack who had just turned 3. Jack and Heidi were also too small for Terence's driving school (needed to be 1m tall) and for some reason we completely missed the blue mountain engines and Jeremy's flying academy. All the more reason to go back I say though!
There is a 4D cinema ride experience open which lasts 15 minutes. This year it was based around the Polar express. We all enjoyed this ride and it is nice to spend some time indoors if you need a break from the cold. You are given some 3D glasses on entering the cinema. We watched a shortened version of The Polar express which was a feast for all of our senses (we were rained on and moved along with the train). It was a little scary for children under 4 (especially when your chair moves unexpectedly for the first time) so maybe sit younger children on your knee.
The zoo and Dino trail are both open too. It was lovely being able to walk through the zoo when we needed a break from the rides and it felt as if we had the zoo to ourselves at times. (Tip - catch the Thomas train to Tidmouth Hault and walk back to Thomas land via the zoo). The animals were very active. Watching the gibbons play was a definite highlight - they were so funny! We also enjoyed walking through the reptile house, amongst the owls and watching the black leopard on the prowl.
The Dino trail is a small area filled with model dinosaurs with lots of fun facts dotted about. My eldest and my hubby enjoyed this part the most.
We enjoyed the Thomas and Friends exhibition which is again indoors. It is a huge model railway and lovely to walk around and spot (or chase as my children did) your favourite trains travelling around the track.
The Thomas land shop is the biggest Thomas shop in the world and definitely worth a visit. We generally didn't find the prices too expensive (£7.50 for a take n play train - they are £6 from amazon) and we loved the huge selection to choose from.
There were other rides open in the main Drayton manor park (but just at the entrance if Thomas land so not far to walk). These included the traditional carousel, the jolly buccaneer, Ben 10 roller coaster (suitable for ages 4+ who are over 1m tall) and a big wheel. There were no queues for any of these rides and we liked how we could all go on the big wheel together in the same pod (great views).
Emily's adventure play area is an indoor Thomas-themed soft play area. It is well organised with you only being able to enter in 15 minute intervals (and play for 15 minutes at a time). This meant it was never over-crowded. Adults are not permitted on the soft play equipment and a few parents weren't happy about this. We were pleased at the chance of 15 minutes sit down on the comfy sofas while the kids ran wild though, it would have been perfect if tea and coffee were served here too.
At the end of the evening we enjoyed a short fireworks display set to music by the Castle of dreams. Nothing to write home about but everybody enjoyed it and it was a good way to end the day. I appreciated how all of the fireworks were silent - no loud bangs which is very considerate of their mainly toddler audience.
As you walk around the park there are various pieces of entertainment to watch - the fat controller sings carols and it snows at least three times per day near Knapford station. You can also watch various clowns/magicians/circus acts here throughout the day. There are other pay-for games such as hook-the-duck and amusement arcades. We didn't go near any of these though and the kids were having too much fun to ask.
I was a bit apprehensive about visiting Santa after Christmas but it is included in the admission cost of magical Christmas so thought why not. We had booked an allocated time on-line prior to our visit. We were instructed to join the queue at 4pm - although there was no queue to speak of!
Santa is situated inside the castle of dreams. You are greeted by an elf who takes you through to see Santa. I'm glad to say Santa was fantastic! There was no pressure to tell him what we wanted for Christmas and instead we just had a good laugh with him about who was snoring the loudest on Christmas Eve. It was really magical. We enjoyed a good 5 minutes by ourself with Santa and the experience wasn't rushed at all. At the end the children all received a fantastic goody bag which contained a magical silver bell (as seen on the polar express) which Santa instructed us to ring on New Year's Eve for good luck and a chocolate Santa lollipop. The children were all also given a golden ticket from Santa which they can use in 2014 to return to Drayton manor for free. How fantastic is that!
We posed for a photo with Santa and then said goodbye. We followed the footsteps to the photoshop where you could buy various different packages. There was absolutely no pressure to buy though. We decided on our photo in a bauble as a special memory of our time here in times to come and a digital download for £8. We then followed the footsteps to the production zone where we watched an elf construct our bauble.
We left the castle via a medieval castle giftshop (after posing for a few photos) and all commented how lovely the whole experience had been.
Dining at the park
There are lots of options for dining at Drayton manor. There were heated marquees for picnics which I thought was a lovely touch (lockers also available near Emily's soft play).
We chose to take lunch at Mrs Kindley's kitchen. This Cafe is themed around a train station - of course we had to sit at the Thomas table.
There was no wait for service. Children's lunch bags were priced at £3.95 for a sandwich, crisps, fruit bag and juice. Fantastic price for a theme park! We ordered 3 plus a cheese and ham baguette, hot bacon and cheese wrap and 2 hot drinks for £21. Bargain!
I noticed safari pizzas and pastas offered family meal deals for £22 which is also excellent value.
Other options included knapford station cafe, burger kitchen, humble pies and the CN cafe.
For our evening meal we visited the on-site Grill Inn which can be enjoyed by Thomas land/hotel guests. I was a bit put off by the cost of the £7 children's meal (2 courses not including drink and only one scoop of ice cream for dessert unless you pay a £2.50 upgrade!). I was also horrified to see a bottle of echo falls white Zinfandel on the menu for £19!! You can sometimes buy this for £4 at asda! Despite the high prices, the food was all home made, very plentiful and delicious, especially hubby's stacked burger and the whole meal cost less than £50 so in the end it wasn't the most expensive family meal we've ever enjoyed (Ask hold's that crown).
The Drayton manor hotel
The Drayton Manor hotel is joined onto the park and car parking is free, making it very convenient. If the weather is bad or you don't want to walk, there is a free shuttle bus taking you from the hotel door to the park entrance.
The hotel has a Thomas theme running throughout which my children just loved.
There are Thomas statues to pose with, a Thomas carousel to watch in reception, a Thomas themed gift shop, Thomas decorations and Thomas train tracks in the hotel restaurant ( Tip:- take your own trains or hire from reception for £10 deposit) You can also go all out and book a Thomas themed bedroom (these only sleep 4)
The receptionist informed us that there would be children's entertainment available on the park suite in the evening from 6pm-8pm. We didn't watch this though as didn't return from The Grill Inn until quite late and we had 3 tired children.
As a family of 5, the cheapest options for us when staying somewhere overnight are usually either booking a cottage/lodge/apartment or 2xpremier inn rooms. I am so pleased that The Drayton Manor hotel offer interconnecting rooms for families of 5 and really wish more hotels would do this. We had a double ensure room connected to a triple room. The rooms were lovely had very comfortable.
Breakfast was served in the hotel restaurant between 6am and 10am (check out is 10am). Tea and coffee were ordered and brought to your table and then everything else was self serve. There was plenty of choice - pastries, toast, cooked items, cereal, fruit... and I'm pleased the fresh orange juice was actually nice enough to drink. We had a lovely table overlooking the park. My youngest was very sad to leave :-(
We ended our breakfast enjoying our coffee on the sofa's provided by the train tables while the children played. There were free copies of The Independent to read too which was a nice touch.
*Entry to Drayton Manor Magical Christmas costs £18 per adult, £13 per child aged 4-11, £8 per child aged 2-3 and if free for babies. This includes everything described above and a visit to Santa. Tickets for Santa must be pre-booked (check website for times).
*An interconnecting room at The Drayton Manor hotel cost £135 for 5 of us including an all you can eat breakfast.
I really could not recommend this event highly enough. We had a wonderful time and look forward to returning next year with our Golden ticket from Santa.