I’m going to mention the ‘C word’. No, not that one, I’ll save that for a different post. I’m obviously talking about Christmas. As we approach the end of November, we’re a little over a month away from the day that Santa breaks into our houses like the petty thief he is. He may bring us presents, but I’m pretty sure that I’m still missing a twenty quid note after his visit last year.
To help get us into the festive spirit – after all, it is still November – we were invited to Drayton Manor for their popular Magical Christmas event. We hadn’t been to Drayton Manor before, but it was somewhere we’ve planned to visit for a while. Sure, it’d be awesome to see Todder L on Apocalypse – a 54m drop-tower ride with a four seconds freefall – but I reckon Thomas Land is more her thing for now.
Running on selected dates from Saturday 19th November to 31st December, our complimentary VIP invite was for the opening day of Drayton Manor Magical Christmas. With snow showers, a 30 foot Christmas tree, an outdoor parade, Xmas shows, fireworks and the chance to meet Santa and his elves, it sounded like a great way to get ready for this year’s festivities. For reference, pre-booked tickets which included the Father Christmas visit were £22 for adult, £17 for kids (4-11) and £12 for toddlers (2-3).
If you don’t want to read through everything below, then don’t. I’ll give you a short summary here though. We had a great day, did a lot, saw a lot and enjoyed getting into the festive spirit. Everything had been well thought out and I was surprised at how much there was to do at both Drayton Manor and Thomas Land. The only slight let down on the day was the Santa experience which felt a bit rushed and lacked the ‘magic’ I’d have expected. Read on to find out more.
Drayton Manor Magical Christmas
We arrived in Tamworth about 1.30pm, parked up and headed to the Season Pass Sales Office to pick up our snazzy Press Pass lanyards. Nothing says VIP like a lanyard. Our first stop was Thomas Land – home to the blue steam locomotive and his friends.
With the theme tune blaring out of the speakers, we had a wander around to get our bearings. Everything had received the festive treatment – buildings had fairy lights, there were numerous Christmas trees and even the trains at Knapford station had been dressed up.
The theme park wasn’t empty, but it was nowhere near as crowded as I’d expected. I’m not sure whether that’s because it was a VIP event, the cold weather or something else, but this made me happy. There’s nothing worse than queuing up for ages with an impatient toddler. Within a few minutes we were on our first ride – Flynn’s Fire Rescue – which saw me and the toddler locked in a cage on the back of a fire truck.
We then noticed a crowd gathering around the entrance to Thomas Land so decided to blindly join them. Luckily, it was for a good reason. A number of people dressed in character took to the platform above the railway track and performed some Christmas songs.
They also introduced us to the ‘story’ that would run throughout the day – namely something about kid’s Christmas wishes. This was also our first glimpse of the festive Thomas who did best catwalk impression by going up and down the track. We were also treated to a foam snow shower which was a good laugh…until Toddler L tried to eat it!
We then headed over to the CN Café where our Press Passes gave us access to free hot drinks and an escape from the cold. Here, we ate our packed lunches – yep we were saddos and brought them with us – as we plotted our next plan of action. As the Café was right next to the 4D cinema, we decided to pay it a visit.
The film they were showing was a 15-minute version of the festive The Polar Express. There was a screening every half an hour, so we managed to just squeeze into the 3pm one. We were given 3D glasses as we queued, then took our seats ready for the film.
3D screenings aren’t great with a toddler due to the glasses – as we discovered at Finding Dory – but she sat happily watching the blury images on screen. The extra ‘D’ to turn it from 3D to 4D was the physical effects that happened in synchronisation with the film.
For instance, the chair jolting back, the wooshing of air or the spraying of water – at least I assumed it was water and not baby projectile vomit. After enjoying the 4D film, we made our way back to the attractions of Thomas Land via the huge Drayton Manor Magical Christmas 30 foot Christmas tree.
Back in Thomas Land, the missus and Toddler L went on a joy ride on Sodor Classic Cars. Again, the queue was hardly worthy of the name and they were in a car within five minutes. I thought it’d be a lot longer before the sprog had a driving licence – I can only count my lucky stars that it was the missus – and not me – in the car on her first ‘lesson’.
Thankfully, they survived the journey. We then wandered over to the other end of Thomas Land where we went on a couple more rides, namely Captain’s Sea Adventure and Lady’s Carousel. We then stuck with the train theme by going on the Thomas, Rosie and Percy Engine Tours. The queue wasn’t big, but we were waiting 15 or so minutes – I have a sneaky feeling that the driver nipped off to the toilet.
We boarded one of the carriages as Toddler L treated us to choruses of “choo choo” and “go, go, go” until we finally set off from Knapford station. Percy took us on a short journey out of Thomas Land, through a tunnel, via Tidmouth Sheds and over to farmer McColl’s Farm where we alighted. That’s train speak for ‘got off’.
From here, we had a pit stop for a nappy change (Toddler L’s, not mine), had a wander in Bryan’s Works Museum – a collection of old slot machines – and visited the Dino trail. We wanted to stop off at the outdoor play area, but we were running a bit short of time – we obviously couldn’t miss our 4.45pm meeting with Santa. It was starting to get dark at this point, which added to the ‘scary’ prehistoric atmosphere. I bet you thought the dinosaurs in the photo below were real…
From here, our Drayton Manor Magical Christmas saw us go through the zoo. In fact, the zoo is home to over 100 species of creatures – however, I think the dark and cold meant that they were hiding as we barely saw any animals. We did find the reptile house though which was pretty cool. There were snakes, lizards, scorpions and various other scaly creatures who Toddler L enjoyed meeting and impersonating.
After a few more photos with the giant Christmas tree – it was dark now, you see – we headed to the Castle of Dreams to meet the big man himself (Santa, not the Fat Controller). We’d booked a time slot to see him beforehand as part of our Drayton Manor Magical Christmas Press Pass – for normal folk buying tickets, it’s £6 additional per person to visit Father Christmas and needs to be pre-booked.
I was a little disappointed with this part of the experience if I’m honest. The walk to the castle to see Santa was a bit underwhelming – I’d have expected some lights, snow, music etc to build the anticipation. There were a few people dressed as elves and a Christmas tree, but we were shepherded in quite quickly so didn’t really take it in.
Santa was a nice enough chap – he spoke to Toddler L and gave her a present, but she was a little shy and unsure. We then had our photo taken and said goodbye. Toddler L was pretty happy with her present from Santa though. In her bag, she had a cuddly toy elf, a giant chocolate coin and one child’s entry to Drayton Manor in 2017.
I hate to criticise it, but I kind of expected the most magical part of the day to be more magical, particularly as it would have cost us an extra £18. From memory, it was then an additional £20 to purchase a photo with Santa too, so the experience would soon add up for something that lasted a few minutes.
From here, we went back to the CN Café for another hot drink, then slowly made our way back to Thomas Land. On the way, we stopped off at the amusements and took a ride on the Carousel. We asked Toddler L to hold on tight, which she took a little too literally as she wrapped herself around the pole. The photos suggest that she was terrified, but I think she enjoyed it…
As it was dark, Thomas Land was now lit up and looked really festive. We gathered around the bandstand ready for the magical outdoor parade to start. The story continued from the one mentioned earlier about children’s wishes and saw us make our way through Thomas Land and to the giant Christmas tree as we followed the actors.
There were a lot of other families around, so it was a little difficult to see at times. We weren’t that bothered though as Toddler L is still a little young to grasp the concept of what was happening. She did enjoy looking at the people and lights though. It was obvious that a lot of effort had been put into the performances and I can imagine she’d have really liked it if she was a bit older.
As we approached the Christmas tree, we stopped off just before to grab our spot overlooking the lake. This was where the fireworks were to be set off from. It was a good firework display, lasting around 10 or so minutes. Toddler L has been asking for “more fireworks” ever since Bonfire Night, so she was particularly happy with their appearance.
And that was that. We headed back to the car after a nice family day out at Drayton Manor Magical Christmas. We were really impressed with everything on offer at Drayton Manor, from Thomas Land to the zoo to the 4D cinema. However, the sprinkling of festiveness just added that little bit more to proceedings – for example, the outdoor parade, fireworks, shows and decorations. The only slight let down was the Santa experience which, personally, felt a little overpriced and failed to deliver the Christmas magic.
All in all though, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend going along to both Drayton Manor and the Drayton Manor Magical Christmas. I fully expect that we’ll be back at Thomas Land sometimes during 2017!
N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion. We were provided with Press Passes for the Drayton Manor Magical Christmas event with the purpose of writing an honest review in exchange for the tickets.