Before you go...
You need to know Gordon from Thomas. Otherwise you may see signature blue and like my nephew try to take a Thomas photo ;-) Aaron's face says it all:
|Aaron says: "That is not Thomas!"|
You need to book online. Adults are £20 to get in (online) or £36 at the gates. Unfortunately you still need to queue to collect your tickets.
You honestly need to get there BEFORE the rides open. The theme park opens at 09:30 despite the rides starting at 10:30. Plan your day ahead of time as much as you can. We would have left home way earlier if we knew then what we know now but we're theme park novices, being that Aaron is only two.
Drayton Manor Hotel...
I would advise staying at Drayton Manor Hotel, and making it a 2-day event - I was gutted to leave after 1 day - it is tiring doing a return-journey, in addition to a a fun-packed day. Thomas Land continues to be open for the whole of September AND October. So, there is still plenty of time to book up, and although the Drayton Manor Hotel website doesn't make it clear, your stay DOES include tickets to the theme park, as long as you book "Stay and Play". It is a great place to go if your children are a mixture of ages as you have the adult rides plus the rides for tots. Being that Thomas Land is there, there are way more tot friendly rides than in your average theme park. My nephew was happy to stay with us the majority of the time (as he loves Aaron) but he did go off and do 1
If you go at peak time as we did - the last Friday before the kids go back to school - there is a long queue of cars just to get in. You sit in it for a long time, but it gets you ready for the day ahead - queue queue queue:
|We'd have left home earlier had we known but apparently this is just at this time of year!|
Once you are in...
We made the mistake of queuing for over an hour for Harold's Helicopter Tours (helicopter ride). What I would say is these feature rides are best done in the last 90 minutes when the queuing time is less than halved.
Harold's Helicopter Tours...
With hindsight, I would have picked the planes instead of the helicopter but unfortunately by the time we got there at 18:45 with no queuing time, Aaron was traumatised by the rollercoaster so would not sit down :-( It saddened me really as I have always had a fearless boy, who never cares how tall slides are, and always acts like a climber beyond his 2 years. So we had to make do with watching and videoing the planes (we even got as far as getting on a plane but Aaron wouldn't sit down):
After the helicopter, Daddy decided that he wanted us all to go on the main attraction - Thomas train - as the queue was so crazy long we started to walk towards the zoo, so that we could get on at the other end of the park, where we were assured the queue was shorter. Me and Daddy stopped to have a
Soft Play Area...
Aaron insisted on going in but the next session was at 14:55 (15 minutes away) and then session would be for 15 minutes. That was a precious half hour we did not have to spare, but reminded ourselves it was Aaron who we were there for, so we went in. My niece climbed with him, while me and my nephew watched, and hubby stayed outside on a picnic bench fiddling with his smartphone and I think enjoying a few moments of kid free time.
I must say, you should factor this soft play area into your day as it is EXCELLENT.
Here are some snaps. Just LOOK how long the slide is:
|Slide is very long and shiny enough that it is actually very slippery - superb for speed!|
So we came out of the soft play area at 15:10 with that and the helicopter being the only things we'd done so far.
Although we left home at 07:30 a.m. we spent an hour going to and from Grandma's house to collect 2 of Aaron's cousins, which delayed us considering we live on the M25. Then we spent about an hour queuing in the car just to get into Drayton Manor. We were in the carpark by 12:07 (according to my tweets) but due to queue to collect tickets, we were standing on theme park land at 12:30. We definitely queued way over an hour for the helicopter.
***So soft play done, we headed off to the zoo, thinking our only intention was to get to the other end of the train track to board Thomas on the shorter queue, but we got an unexpected bonus.
There is a SUPERB dinosaur trail, we discovered en-route and the only thing Aaron likes as much as Thomas, is dinosaurs. He was transfixed:
We then sped passed an OUTDOOR play area (Spencer's Outdoor Adventure Play), and I knew Aaron would love it but we just didn't have the time. This was what we saw as we flew passed:
Had I known then how many rides we would do later, in the extended hours of 5-7 p.m. when loads of people had gone home, I would have risked it. Like I said before, I would have left the helicopter for then too, to keep queuing to an absolute minimum.
We then finally got to the station but because it was nearing the end of the day there was a queue (in the morning there hadn't been when it had been hours long the entrance end). Anyway it was still shorter than the other end so we joined it and got talking to a wonderful couple with 3 boys. They had been there before so they told us how the engine alternates - Rosie, Thomas, Rosie, Thomas - so we prayed for Thomas. They also gave us the super tip that the train turns at the end so when a train approached that we weren't possibly going to get on, I sent nephew off to film it (and he did so on 2 occasions):
After the journey on the Thomas train which took us back to the main park, we split up and let the boys go on Shock Wave while I grabbed the opportunity to take the tots on Sodor Classic Cars:
Sodor Classic Cars...
After that we went on a cute carousel, called Lady's Carousel - Drayton Manor say it is for the very small:
After that, given that it was about 1700 and we hadn't had lunch I took the tots to the burger bar:
After that it was straight onto Crazy Bertie's Bus, but bless Aaron it made him shout out "help me" as you'll hear on the video (but then he is only 2 years' old):
Crazy Bertie's Bus...
After that I did something I regret. I took Aaron on a rollercoaster. It traumatised him. Although he met the height restriction he is only 2 years' old (but tall) and with hindsight perhaps clearly too young for it. Photos followed by video here:
Troublesome Trucks Runaway
So I will leave you with this photo.
I can't wait to make a return visit and the next time we go we will stay at the Drayton Manor Hotel.
They even have Thomas themed rooms which would be a dream come true.
My only criticisms would be that I feel the Burger Bar should have its own toilets.
I think the car queue to get in should be sped up in some way (but apparently it is not typical - on Friday they had 12k + guests).
It would have been great to have known that they would stay open till 7 (as opposed to the published 5 p.m.) as then we wouldn't have wasted so much time queuing in the morning when it was so quick to get on rides in the evening. Even on the way in the board said: "rides open at 10:30" and "rides close at" was left blank. But MAYBE everyone would have stayed had they known and maybe we wouldn't have enjoyed nearly 2 hours of getting on rides so quickly.
I didn't like the fact that the helicopters often went up with 2 people per carriage rather than 4. Really delayed the queuing time. Met other parents who also commented on this. The staff member made no attempt to ask if there was a parent and 1 child who could fill the carriage. He was also very slow at opening and closing the carriages which when you have been queuing for over an hour is a tad annoying to watch.
I really loved it on the whole, and I hope Aaron will go on rides again, as his lasting memory at the end was of the Troublesome Trucks Rollercoaster. I tried to erase the memory with a fab trip on the planes, but it wasn't to be as he would NOT sit down - it was very very embarrassing as I spent a long time physically on the plane trying to get him to sit down but we had to give up - yes it was us! Let's hope he returns to my brave Aaron and forgets the coaster!
We drove there from London, and I would say that the journey was doable. It is a 2 hour drive each way and was fine even with 2 adults and 3 kids (inclusive of 2 tots)...
FAB Souvenir Shop...
Oh I forgot to mention the SHOP. The Thomas Shop is FABULOUS, and I got Aaron 2 gorgeous winter items there: a hooded fleece and a hooded jumper, both saying Thomas Land on the front. One was £12 and the other £10 which I thought was affordable. Love 'em!