Thursday 30 November 2017

Drayton's Magical Christmas at Drayton Manor's Thomas Land | REVIEW 2017

Drayton's Magical Christmas (formerly known as Thomas's Magical Christmas) is SO MAGICAL that a spell was cast over us for weeks before we arrived. Aaron so excited to head off, already, at 40 days prior to going, started a daily countdown. Yes it felt and was LONGER than ADVENT and now I have that to look forward to too, ha ha ha... or rather ho ho ho! He'd say things like "I can't wait till it gets to 30 days!". To put this in context Aaron's been to Thomas Land about 7 times, 2 of those having stayed the night at Drayton Manor Hotel. I said "I thought you'd have grown out of it by now!", to which he'd sternly reply "I won't grow out of Thomas Land till I am 10". He's currently aged 7 and not 8 till June 2018.  Oooh that's the first time I've typed 2018. The ONE fly in the ointment is that Lottie doesn't do rides (past tense) and even cries cried when you'd put a pound in a vehicle in a mall. But thankfully on Bonfire Night there was a Fun Fare and she wanted to be the same as everyone else so went on all the rides. This being 5th November and our Thomas Land visit planned for 18th November meant Aaron had lots of time to be excited now knowing they could go on rides TOGETHER. So there was lots of planning: "I'll go on Troublesome Trucks with you or Daddy while you or Daddy stays with Lottie and I'll go on X and Y and Z with Lottie". It was incredibly cute being that the last time we visited Lottie was a 4 week old newborn and very much remained in the buggy under about 20 blankets given that it was February and freezing.
Once you go over the foot-bridge from the car-park the excitement really builds when you see the ticket booths and entrance gates. What's truly brilliant though is once you are outside that Thomas Land brick archway we know all too well. Except it was even better this time as we've never before been at Christmas. Aaron therefore of course utterly loved climbing into the photo opps available and didn't need to be asked to smile. Spot the photo that really makes me chuckle though as Daddy's legs can be seen where he's trying to stay out of shot whilst making sure Lottie is safe. I'm keeping his legs visible as I want to remember that he was fully on team day out that day. Was so lovely to have Daddy not only off work but fully with us both mentally and physically. It was incredibly special as not only did we do many things together as a family of four but we also split up many times when they'd go off to do older rides and I'd do something different with Lottie. It was the first time I noticed we can be split into a girls and a boys team. We've not really ever done that in Lottie's nearly 2 years on the planet but at Thomas Land it really worked ESPECIALLY when Aaron wanted to go on the Drayton Manor roller coaster: Accelerator (which WAS/IS OPEN at Magical Christmas). It's the one that used to be called Ben 10. Wow Aaron's really grown up as he could never do roller coasters aged 5 and 6 but he's watched so so many on You Tube he was just laying an egg to go on one. You'll see his reactions both before and after once I edit my video of our day out. I did about a week ago spend 12 hours on it but then I lost it all and then this weekend just gone we were very busy and tied up with Lottie's Christening.

Our very first ride upon arrival was Jeremy Jet's Flying Academy Planes. I sat in the back with my 2 young and capable pilots in the front as you see above. I was beyond thrilled that Lottie stayed in and happy despite the planes flying fast, high and low. She, being new to rides, hasn't mastered the art of concentrating whilst simultaneously smiling LOL. At this point it was time to go to Eat Drink Enjoy for our complimentary spread of sandwiches that were laid on for us bloggers to enjoy. It was perfect as the location was directly opposite the Accelerator roller coaster I referred to above so that was what Daddy and Aaron did next whilst I watched Lottie run round and round her buggy and the large Christmas Tree that routinely breaks into music and lights all day. This footage of her totting around is my favourite out of everything I filmed all day. Accelerator (when Drayton Manor is open in full, in season), normally has an hour long queue, so Christmas really is magical because you get to go straight on. I thought this would mean Aaron would go on the ride more than once, but it being his first time on an older child roller-coaster he was a bit overwhelmed and didn't dare do so again bless him. While having lunch I got to finally meet Donna and family 
for the very first time 
and the lovely Laura
who apparently goes to Thomas Land for Xmas every year the lucky devil. 
I did also see Mrs Shilts
but was too shy to tap her on the shoulder.

The next thing we spied and rode on was the: Vintage Carousel, which technically just like Accelerator is a Drayton Manor Ride and outside the scope and border wall of Thomas Land. It feels very Christmassy and nostalgic so I am glad it was indeed open. Definitely one of the highlights of the day. Aaron started off by mounting a horse adjacent to mine on my left and then decided that he'd prefer the rooster to my right. Sitting high up on one of those wasn't ideal for what was then a 21 months old Lottie so I was pleased there were those seats you see photographed above for Lottie and Daddy to sit in. Lottie constantly wants to copy Aaron but I was relieved to see she knew her limits and happily stayed sitting for the duration of the ride - no stress. Just so you know the Jolly Buccaneer is actually open too, but we decided that was a little too fast for Lottie and we didn't even get chance to go on it with Aaron.
Next up was Diesel's Locomotive Mayhem. Given this has a height cap of 1.2 metres it's the perfect ride for Lottie. With it spinning even more than teacups I was worried if she'd like it but my little lady seems to be a theme park rider rather than a novice at her first attempt and was more than fine. She didn't put up much protest getting off rides as she quickly seemed to realise that there was always something bigger and better yet to come. So nice at theme parks when you don't pay per ride and even better out of season like this as the queues are at a length even a wee toddler can cope with, although she didn't understand why we weren't yet at the front for Sodor Classic Cars so Daddy gave her back to us (me and Aaron) once we were at the front.
Aaron himself (so proud I was) then calculated it was now the best time to queue at Knapford Station to travel down to the other end of Thomas Land in order to be back in time for Santa. Was a good move as some of the rides down that end of the park end at dusk so there's no way we could have gone after Santa. Good one Aaron. Upon entering the train station, I felt as if I had been romantically and ever so nostalgically transported back in time when I saw how quintessentially British the decoration of the train station was. Pure class. Simple yet stunning I am sure you'll agree. Something about the luggage just adds to it. Makes me think of lovers saying goodbye at a steam train station with me snuggling up to watch them in a black and white movie whilst young myself. Anyway there's no better time than Christmas to feel dreamy and reminiscent about years gone by.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens on this train ride, but at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and now 7 years of age Aaron never fails to LOVE it. I mean really LOVE it. But then he's been a fan of trains since 18 months and Thomas since 2 years. No surprise there then.
It was absolutely wonderful when our train carriages and engine finally pulled into the station because it was THOMAS himself pulling the train (his engine is not on every train, you can get Thomas Rosie or Percy) and we were thrilled to see his festive antlers and twinkly fairy lights. He goes to the very end of the platform, disengages to do a 180 degree turn and then overtakes your carriages so as to be back at the front again and all of this is part of the excitement and wonder. What's fab when you have babies and toddlers with you is there is a lot of space for buggies on board. Only trouble being they are not kept with you. Although this was ideal with toddler Lottie now, as of course she's more than happy to be separated from her buggy being a very able walker, toddler and runner, when we came last February, she was a newborn in a pram and I therefore had to walk to the end of the park and meet Aaron and my friends there as they disembarked. Given the queuing that is sometimes involved to board I actually got there before them and it's not that long a walk. Getting on at Thomas Land's Knapford Station at Christmas and off-season poses no problem with queueing at all but having been to Thomas Land in August 2012 I can honestly say it is better in peak months to walk down to Tidmouth Hault and train ride BACK, as the queues are more manageable down that end.
It's a single ride from Knapford Station to Tidmouth Hault where you are then able to leave the train and do an immediate right to Spencer's outdoor activity park (an AWESOME playground), to the zoo, to the Dinosaur Park and Farmer McColl's Farm. There's also an ace cafe (tea rooms) opposite the station with picnic outdoor seating and toilets. As we left the train I tried my hardest for a pic of my 2 with Thomas but we didn't quite pull it off LOL:
What we always do first  upon arrival at this end of the park is loop over to the left passed the large Thomas train set exhibition (miniature moving trains like a traditional attic train-set in a HUGE display well worth a look) and over to do Terrence's Driving School. After many visits years ago where Aaron's feet could NOT reach the pedals we were so excited finally when they COULD. I knew this would be Aaron's very last time on it (given his above average height - he's in aged 9-10 clothes at 7) so I am not ashamed to say I cajoled him to go on it against Daddy's adamant statement that he was too old. I kept saying I bet the man has a wooden measure to check if you are too tall in addition to the one that checks if you are too small and sure enough he DID! Aaron was holding my hand and happy to get to the top of the queue and let the measure decide till Daddy tried to encourage him not to go on it. We nearly had the family version of World War 3, with Daddy wanting to pull him away from the ride and me wanting him to stay in the queue, but luckily Aaron did let himself be measured and was secretly pleased that he COULD indeed go on it one last time. I later got it out of him that he enjoyed it even though he felt disloyal to Daddy who was encouraging him not to drive. Luckily I can feel his vibes as Aaron and I have always been telepathic so I knew well that he enjoyed it even though he pretended not to once he spied Daddy watching.
So after Terrence's driving school off we headed to the playground and then Dino Trail, which Aaron loved showing to Lottie. I was surprised we got her away from the playground actually considering how much she was enjoying the ladders and slides.

Of course a huge highlight of visiting at this time of year is that you get to meet Father Christmas and that we did. But once we walked back from the zoo we were a little bit too early for Father Christmas so Aaron and Daddy whizzed off to the Troublesome Trucks.  Aaron was laying an egg to go on as he'd watched the video where he screamed all the way round aged 2. Lottie and I took the opportunity to get some retail therapy and bought this wee sign for only £1.50. Splitting into 2 teams several times throughout the day really worked for us. It's not something we've ever done before but the 1 to 1 time with each child was invaluable and we all got so much quality time out of it.
Once we met up with the boys it was off to The Castle of Dreams for our 3:30 p.m. slot with Father Christmas. I got a pic of Aaron in the queue. 

The suspense as we walked up was palpable as this was such a fitting glitzy building to host the main man in. We've only seen the big man in red in grottos before even if some of them have been fairly grand. 

There was something MORE MAGICAL about seeing him in a castle. I loved the Elf who bantered with us on the door and I loved him even more when he said we ARE allowed to take pics and video as so so so many Father Christmasses don't allow you to do so. He even told us that Daddy is on the naughty list which really tickled me as it's probably true ha ha ha ha ha.

Father Christmas was superb, taking our pic again and again (with a remote) till it was perfect. Allowing us to view it on the wall each time until we were satisfied. 

He was alone in the room, no elf to help and made lots of time for us. He was fascinated that Aaron only wants a watch for Christmas and then gave both children a lovely branded goodie bag which contained a chocolate lolly, a golden ticket (free child entrance in 2018) and a gorgeous book (which actually we are yet to read). As you can see Lottie is still at that "scaredy cat" stage. I remember Aaron going through this. So if you have a very little one be prepared for this. I however at that age was straight up in Santa's arms back when they were allowed to carry kids.
The above picture was taken on my phone and the below is the official one from Father Christmas's camera which he operates on a timer and lets you view before leaving. For love nor money we couldn't get Lottie to smile so we just focused on making sure we were all in shot all with our eyes open LOL! 
Normally when your time with Santa is finished at other places it's a HUGE anti-climax as you depart but not so here in the magical place that is Drayton Manor. You are then out into a castle that feels beautifully medieval and authentic. I felt slightly tearful as again it was magical and that's the effect magic has on me. Cue opening of the heart, a lump in my throat and tears pricking my eyes as I get in touch with MY inner child. There was free face painting, an opp to have a photo on a sleigh with reindeer, thrones to pretend to be King and Queen on and plenty to look at. I could have stayed in there ages but Daddy was wanting to crack on and neither of the kids wanted their faces painted which is highly unusual for them both. Aaron was anxious to finish his time at the park on rides.
This Father Christmas is definitely up there with the best we've seen even though we have discerning taste having met Santa at Westfield London and Stratford, at Hamley's Regent Street AND several times at Harrods. I say it again, I loved that we were allowed to video and take our own photos. 
The boys now dashed off to get some rides in before the parade and fireworks. I just knew I didn't want to miss the parade. After exiting The Castle of Dreams I was near the donuts and nibbly, a dangerous combination. Also really in need of my daily caffeine fix and couldn't resist warm donuts. I got enough for us all, but personally ate most of them. OOoooops. But the coffee went down so very well.
We then found our boys at Cranky's Drop Tower and they did the ride twice so that on the second go Lottie could get a better view of them. A better "vantage point" as Daddy called it!
Rocking Bulstrode is very nearby so of course they then had to do that too and Lottie was very patient watching them.
I think it was at this point I said it is too long since she herself has been on a ride so all 4 of us then queued for Harold the Helicopter because luckily with those you CAN have 2 adults in the back and 2 kids in the front. Perfect. The view from up there is great too. Just what the Doctor ordered and the dusky sunset - as by now it was late - was looking stunning and added to the other worldly atmosphere that had weaved its way through the day. I don't think I have photos of us on Harold the Helicopter but I do have footage once I do my video. Another ride we did with us 2 adults in the back and the 2 kids in the front was Winston's Whistle Stop Tours, our favourite ride as it tours above the park and with all the twinkly lights at this time of night it was just pure bliss and to use that word yet again, magical. There was a long queue for it and as we looked down through the windows into the soft play area (Emily's [indoor] Play Adventure) we didn't have time for, Lottie and Aaron ate their chocolate lollies from Father Christmas. Just look at the size of them:
When we got off Winston we weren't at the same place as where we boarded. In fact we were at a green screen where I purchased a brilliant snow globe style block framed photo of us all with Thomas. No opportunity to collect the buggy we'd left at the entrance then but it did mean the boys were nearer to rush off and board Toby's Tram Express which Aaron was excited about. This meant Lottie and I could have a slow meander back to get the buggy and ended up we did a ride whilst there that would have been too babyish for Aaron. He was still disappointed later to hear we'd done it without him as he loves seeing Lottie happy.  So we had a ride of Lady's Carousel by ourselves. Aaron decided NOT to go on Flynn's Fire Rescue as he hated that in winter the water isn't on as he loves spraying it. We did instead as a whole family go on Captain's Sea Adventure, after a nearby loo break, which is in real water. Lottie AND Aaron adored playing with the spot lights and pointing them around. It was a slow chilled out ride and by now people were getting in place for the parade so we were one of only 2 families on there. The staff member knew this but after letting the adjacent family out she still went clockwise instead of anti-clockwise to come and let us out. For a few seconds I thought we were there for the night LOL!!!!

I'd had a tip off on where to stand for the parade so off we went. Basically right under the balcony (above Knapford Station) so once they walk down to there you're in the front row to see their performance. It was THE best place to stand to get good video footage. Despite being by the balcony, somehow, when they then left Thomas Land to go onto the main concourse for the parade down to the lake, we managed to catch up with the buggy and all so I was more or less in the front row for each performance they did. Yes it meant I then wasn't close to the fireworks but I preferred looking at them in the sky anyway. I was sad to hear that some people thought the fireworks weren't extensive. It's not billed as a Fireworks Show (that'd cost a fortune considering they're doing it every night that Thomas Land is open for Christmas) it's simply a FINALE to the Parade and to celebrate the fact that the Magical Christmas is in its TENTH YEAR.

Happy Anniversary Drayton Manor.

Oh and just to warn you, in the minutes before the parade the world and his wife pop into the shops near Sodor Airport to buy light sabers. Daddy bought one for Aaron and Lottie cried so I had to get another. They were £7 each so factor this into your budget for the day. They're good quality and they've played with them every day since. Way way better than the one we bought for a fiver at a circus last year. They change colour and everything. Whilst your walking following the parade, playing with them takes their mind off being cold and the lights add to the glow of the overall evening.
For a few years I thought Christmas wasn't Christmas unless we saw Santa at Harrods. Then when I was pregnant with Lottie it was actually seeing The Snowman in theatre that actually set up my Christmas. Then last year it was reviewing Santas for Channel 4. A couple of months ago I wondered WHAT will make THIS Christmas 2017 and it was definitely Drayton Manor's Magical Christmas. The parade was so beautifully narrated I actually got all emotional and cried not long after it finished. The actors who took part were all so talented and really in the moment and in character. Very impressed. I know some people at the back didn't get the moving experience that I did so I recommend to Drayton Manor to either (a) do all of the performances on high stages like the first one where you have the benefit of Knapford Station's balcony (I know this means the cost of erecting stages but there may be a way to do so economically) or (b) have large screens near each performance so that people at the back (adults and children alike) can feel the magic too. Such a shame for only people at the front to benefit from seeing the fab show that is laid on. The narrative and the voice over were both superb though - I truly loved it.

Aaron is already asking when we can go back and I'd love to tell him "Darling until we're old and grey we'll be there every year". Daddy is a bit of a grinch and even he enjoyed it which certainly means it's 5 star for sure... 

Review: our visit to Drayton Manor, Father Christmas, lunch and our family photo were all complimentary for our family of four. We were not told what to say and all views remain my own. Apart from the photo of us all with Father Christmas all photography is mine.

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