Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Drayton Manor Park and Zoo + Thomas Land, Review

I have very fond memories of Drayton Manor Park. It was my favourite school outing, and having disliked my schooling enormously, enjoyment on the odd days I could escape the mundane dross of ‘learning’ pointless skills, was heightened.

Those days are getting on for twenty years ago now, and the park has transformed enormously in those years. The best ride all those years ago was called something like Skyride or Skyline, which was effectively two pirate-ship-type-vessels, that were caged, and went a complete loop-the-loop, meaning you would spend some time upside down.

It may be my memory playing tricks, but no two rides were identical, the weights of these respective boats, or the difference between the two, seemed to dictate how the ride went. If they were very well matched they would ‘stick’ upside down, which was of course the temporary Holy Grail for thirteen year old lads (I am not going to type about the permanent goal of that age).

This and some other rides, coupled with a trek around the Zoo used to make for a fantastic day out. Outings that were repeated as a family in the school holidays.

I always felt more comfortable at this park, although it was, and still is, a Theme Park, it was less faceless than some of the others, and had a more intimate feel.

It is somewhere that I have had more than a decade of absence from, until my son came along, and before it also became the home of Thomas Land.

When I got word that us Europeans were going to get a piece of Sodor action, I was delighted to learn that it would be at a place only 45 minutes from my home.

‘Set in 6,000 square metres of beautiful parkland, Thomas Land is a multi-million pound attraction promising fun and adventure for the young and young at heart. It boasts 12 wonderful themed rides, a spectacular indoor play area and a shop filled with fantastic Thomas & Friends merchandise.’

We quickly became fairly regular weekday term-time visitors, as the prices, and crowds were incredibly just. Noting at the time that the price would jump eventually, to what seemed astronomical figures, when school kicked in, and our only options became weekends and holidays.

So when the park offered to host myself, and some other bloggers from the British Mummy Bloggers network, I thought, amongst other things, this would be a great opportunity to appraise paying the proper prices into the future.

Our connection came via Twitter, and you can follow the Drayton Manor account for all sorts of updates and news.

As I bored you with earlier, the park has transformed over the last twenty years, all for the better in my opinion, and it still retains a relative feel of intimacy, even though there are a lot of attractions, set over 280 acres of parkland.

Visiting at a weekend, there were the inevitable crowds, which are not really conducive for impatient 4-year-olds (or 32 year-olds for that matter), however the queues were not as bad as I had anticipated, and I am sure as my son gets older they will be better tolerated, and perhaps even add to the tension before going on one of the bigger rides.

Because of Max’s age, and the fact that he did not want me to go on any of the big rides – I kid you not – we did not really get to try the park out in its entirety, instead sticking mainly to Thomas Land, and the other rides that are parent and child friendly around the park.

A fellow blogger, visiting on a separate occasion, with older children did however, and you will find her awesome review here, if you want an opinion on the park’s bigger assets.

Thomas Land is immense, and the variety of ride, even though there are only 12 in number, is vast, there are gentle rides like The Vintage Cars and Carousel, then there is the more voracious Troublesome Trucks and Cranky The Crane (Note, do not go on the latter needing the toilet).

Children can also learn to drive at Terence’s Driving School, and I observe they have obviously not learnt as necessary, as the original island that they had to circumnavigate has been flattened. But that does demonstrate a park that thinks on its feet however.

There are also the loftier rides, like Jeremy The Jet – where children control how high they go – and Harold The Helicopter ride.

Being in a group our little clan seemed happiest playing together, and a short journey with Thomas, or Rosie, to the picnic area with adventure playground was enjoyed by them all.

We also ended the day in Emily’s soft play area, well not quite, most of us spent out final moments delicately selecting a pick ‘n’ mix that was going to make the journey home more pleasurable.

Hanging around until the park was due to close, around six on this occasion, has its advantages. Many of the park’s visitors dissipate and therefore so do the queues, meaning it is a virtual walk-up-get-on protocol for the last 90 minutes or so.

And if you are the kind of anal person who would be working out how much each ride has effectively cost, this is pay back time.

That is the one gripe I could perhaps justify with the park, the prices, or more specifically the prices for families with young children. As they now operate a simple price system, where everyone pays the same, irrespective of use of the rides, I would feel a bit cheated, having paid £25 to effectively accompany my child around the park.

But I suppose the trade off is that this is a commercial world, and that if the prices were lower the numbers of people there may get out of hand, and enjoyment levels would be considerably reduced.

I would say the staff were surprisingly pleasant, the girl operating the driving school was incredible chirpy even late into the day, especially when you consider she would have spent most of the day correcting a group of toddlers on electrically powered bulldozers.

The zoo was a welcome calm for a short while, and on its own would not be worth the visit, but it is a pleasant part to walk through, I would imagine even nicer if you could find where everyone else had managed to get an ice-cream from.

Overall this place is still marvellous and well worth a visit. Something we hope to do again soon.



SciFi Dad said...

We have a similar park here called Canada's Wonderland with a fair bit of cross-promotion with Nickelodeon (Dora, Diego, Backyardigans, etc) for the young ones (although no specific "Dora Land" for example), and they have the same pricing policy. As I've never been an amusement park ride fan (I get motion sick playing first-person shooter video games... sadly that isn't a joke), this means I pay an inordinate amount of money to walk around a noisy place.

Lorraine said...

Love Thomas Land, we used to live in Coventry so very close and like you did the weekday visits,have recently moved "Up North" and came down and spent a lovely day there last week with my 3 year old who was just beside himself with excitement..Great Review1

Tara@Sticky Fingers said...

Unfortunately Thomasland held little appeal for my 6 year old who dragged me on Stormforce 10. Twice. Soaked - which of course was the big appeal.
My worry is always that the children will get bored part way through the day, but with the zoo and the 4D cinema - an a pit stop for ice cream - we too were dragging our heels come chucking out time!

Kevin Spencer said...

I wish there was something like this in Arizona so we could take my girlfriend's little one. Only indoors you understand. Going on rides when it's 114 out is a little much for a six year old ;-) Still, I'm hoping we can go to Disneyland in the Autumn and I know she'll love that.

rosiescribble said...

A greeat review Ian and a wonderful reminder of a great day that IJ is still talking about. Next time I will happily look after Max so you can enjoy the delights of th Maelstrom!

SandyCalico said...

Great review!
I love the photo of you and Max on the ride :-)

Smitten by Britain said...

Love that photo. Who's the big kid then?

Flores Hayes said...
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