Where better to take two train-mad little boys on a lovely warm spring day?
Thomas Land is the perfect day out for fans of the little blue engine and his friends – and now it’s bigger and better than ever!
It is part of the massive Drayton Manor theme park which is also home to dozens of other attractions, fairground rides and a zoo.
But it was the Island of Sodor which was the focus of our attention when we arrived at the park just before lunchtime.
There were still places in the car park despite it being the Easter holidays and our later-than-planned arrival, and this worked to our advantage as we ended up parking nearer the entrance than we first realised.
There were no queues at the entrance kiosks either so we soon found ourselves inside the park and heading for Thomas Land, which is one of the first things you come to and a perfect distance away for little legs.
Thomas Land has had a major overhaul with an expansion of its facilities which has cost £2.5m, making it 40 per cent bigger than before.
New additions include the Sodor Airport, with fantastic views over the park from its balconies and three brand new rides – Captain’s Sea Adventure, Flynn’s Fire & Rescue and Toby’s Tram Express.
We were keen to find somewhere to eat and beat the lunchtime rush, but we also wanted to see what was in store for the rest of the day so we had a quick look around.
The first thing you are struck by is the colour – it’s like stepping into a child’s imagination of what Thomas Land would look like!
Everything is branded with the Thomas logo and songs from the cartoons play constantly over the speaker systems.
The second thing you notice is the queues – we knew it was going to be busy because of the school holidays, but weren’t prepared for quite how packed out it was.
After a whistle-stop tour of the sights and sounds we briefly departed Thomas Land and grabbed a table at The Burger Kitchen.
It’s close enough to Thomas Land to be able to see the rides from where you sit, and that’s just what we did as we tucked into an assortment of cheeseburger and chips meals (relatively good value at £20 for the four of us).
It was a short hop back to Sodor, and on to the first ride of the day.
Just about all the rides allow for one adult and two children so Sam, Matthew and I clambered on board Lady’s Carousel for a gentle introduction to things.
The next ride, on Bertie the Bus, got the heart racing a bit more (it takes you about 10ft in the air and back round and down again like a mini-big wheel) but my four-year-old, Sam, wasn’t keen so we made our way over to the new arrivals.
Sam and I joined the long line of people waiting to have a go on Flynn’s Fire & Rescue while Matthew and Karen went over to the Blue Mountain Engines ride (height restrictions apply on most rides and Matthew was too short for Flynn’s).
They had better luck than us (the queues generally seemed to be longer on the rides aimed at the older children) and had returned before we were in sight of the entry gate for our ride.
Luckily somebody from the park had been blowing giant bubbles nearby to keep the children entertained so the waiting wasn’t as arduous as it could have been.
Frequent appearances by the Fat Controller too helped in this department.
And the ride itself was worth the standing around – squirting hoses at a ‘towering inferno’ while being raised and lowered on a hydraulic platform is as good as it gets when you’re four!
Over the course of the afternoon we also had a go on Harold’s Helicopter Tours, the Sodor Classic Cars and the Blue Mountain Engines (again), stopped for afternoon snacks and drinks at the Sodor Airport cafe, and visited what is apparently the biggest Thomas shop in the world (miraculously without buying anything).
We also ventured further afield for a ride on the vintage carousel, stopped off for more refreshments at the Safari Pizza and Pasta restaurant and had a quick peek at the black panther and northern lynx in the zoo before it was time to head for home.
There’s certainly more than a day’s worth of Thomas attractions alone at Drayton Manor – activities we missed out on included a short ride on Thomas himself to a whole separate play area, the water-based Captain’s Sea Adventure ride and the Emily’s Play Adventure indoor playground.
The entry fee for a family of four is high, but this includes admission to the whole park, and if you’ve got the stamina (we were all flagging by 7pm) you’ll certainly find you get your money’s worth.
Tickets (for access to all of Drayton Manor Park) range from £36 for an adult on the day (£20 or £25 if booked more or less than seven days in advance), to £27 for four to 11-year-olds (or £15/£20), £5 for two and three-year-olds and free for under-twos.
There are also various group discounts, some of which are significantly cheaper if bought in advance on 0844 472 1960 or online.
The park is easy to find just off the M42 and the nearest train station (Tamworth) is three miles away.
Drayton Manor Park,
0844 472 1950