21 November to 31 December 2015
Reviewed by Katy Nettleton
How lucky are we? We woke up with a bitterly cold nip in the air, light snow on the ground and a trip planned to see Drayton Manor’s Magical Christmas on its first day of festivities; a day that my family will not forget in a hurry. With 2 apprehensive parents (I’ll explain later) and 3 excitable children (2, 5 years olds and a 2 year old) we were going to see Santa… but we had forgot to mention it was in a theme park to them!
The girls were excitably planning what they were going to ask Santa for and a 2 year old asking “are we there yet” when arrived at Drayton Manor… the excitement rose beyond belief; 2 year old boy had seen Thomas… the girls saw the rides and asked if they could go on them! We haven’t been to Drayton Manor for over 18 months (one time visit) due to the length of queue for the rides – last time we had to wait up to an hour for many of the rides which was a stressful process for us (the parents) trying to negotiate with the children to wait their turn, stand still and having to pass numerous sweets out to keep them on board! However this time… What a difference.
We walked in and were met by a princess on stilts, various “photo opportunity” points for those ever elusive family Christmas cards and Christmas music! We were soon singing along finding out where all the rides were and timings for the shows, Santa, cinema… sad point was that we realised quite soon we wouldn’t have time to see everything in an afternoon and keep all 3 children happy and warm. The weather was freezing (if I hadn’t already mentioned!) and we soon became glad that I “over packed” with the children’s snow suits and gloves as the park is so open you definitely feel the chill! As we worked our way around Thomas Land (and testing all the rides!) it became apparent how different the site was from our last visit (the park had an extension in Spring this year). It was more spread out with more different rides; one of my pet gripes for theme parks is when all the rides offer a similar experience but just in a different way (i.e. cars on the ground and cars overhead) however the new rides were different and were aimed at varying ages of children. Due to the height of our girls (1.1m) they were able to go on most of the rides on their own, which meant that we could take it in turns with our little boy and sharing a carriage etc. There were only 2 rides (that we tried) which meant that our little boy couldn’t go on due to being under 95cm. All staff measured the children going on all the rides… which shows that the height restrictions are adhered to.
What’s different about Drayton Manor during the “normal season” and magical Christmas… fundamentally there is only Thomas Land and a few other rides open (therefore if you are not a believer and don’t enjoy the smaller rides this might not be the time to try Drayton Manor, although pricing reflects this). There is Christmas music subtly in the background which adds to the Christmas feeling, which alongside with the occasional snow being scattered around it added to the “magical feel” of the park. There were Christmas decorations all around, and plenty of “cheery” staff on hand to help us on your way. As the park was quieter than our last visit you could go on as many rides as you liked, with the longest wait being 5 minutes!
OK, so the rides are the same (some are decorated with red noses and tinsel) but it’s different. You can’t portray in words but with just a bit of music, some tinsel, and a few shows the place had a magical, exciting feel. I doubt anyone wasn’t walking around the park with a smile of their face (even if their children were having a meltdown!) all the “little extras” truly made the day an experience we would like to relive again and again.
In Thomas Land there was a balcony show, which was good and clear voices but for us, as this was not an “acted out show” (was an hourly show) and more singing it didn’t maintain the attention of our 2 year old and 5 year olds long enough. However, as you could hear it around the park it definitely added to the Christmas Spirit. We only managed to see one of the Christmas Shows; which the children loved. This was engaging and brought young and old together to share this exciting time in a child’s life.
One of the things we were looking forward to was the Come and Meet the Character, sadly as this was in the morning only we were unable to get the “perfect photo”. Saying that I don’t think that put a dampener on the day and did not take anything away from the rest of the activities.
To warm up we decided to go and try the 4D experience of The Polar Express… We got advised to get there at least 10 minutes before the show starts to be able to guarantee to sit together. I don’t want to spoil the surprise and go into too much details, this was my husband’s favourite bit. The children have never seen a 3D screening previously and did not understand 4D so we were unsure how this would go down – it was a unanimous success and even the 2 year old loved it (although needed to sit on my knee for one part!). The 4D experience was so good, the girls and hubby decided to go in again whilst their brother had a little sleep and I trialled the refreshments! As with all theme parks a latte is a little more expensive for its size than a coffee shop but it was warm and kept the cold at bay! I had a brief walk around the Zoo but due to the weather being so cold most of the animals were indoors (which I don’t blame them for!) but I did see the reindeers who brought Santa on his sleigh to Drayton Manor.
Next was the Slide and Glide ice skating (£2 extra charge for this); this is only a small rink where the ice is not too thick, which made it look like it would be difficult for the “non-seasonal skaters” as myself. As the rink is only small there was a lengthy queue for this so we decided to try back later. However, we didn’t manage to get back round to the ice skating… as we had to wait over an hour to see Santa. We had booked for 4pm slot when we arrived at 3.50 and the queue was already ridiculously deep. Once you got nearer to Santa there were a few heaters, TV screens and games to keep the children entertained, however by this time we had already done numerous toilet dashes as the children were becoming restless waiting. Once we arrived at the grotto, everything was quickly forgotten by the children and eventually the parents! The children were presented (by an Elf) with a medal for bravery for crossing the bridge to the castle (which was a nice softener!) and most children like to have a medal. We were escorted into see Santa in his Grotto, which was a cute little room that looked very festive, I don’t want to spoil the surprises further (but Santa gives a little present which includes a large coin, a little gift and a golden ticket). The Golden Ticket gets you a free entry for the season… so looks like we will be coming back again.
After the grotto there was a magical little kingdom which was very special and the light in our children’s eyes could be seen by all. There was a display, shop (where you were able to purchase the pictures from (in Santa’s Grotto there was the usual photo opportunity for Santa and the children) and I think it was about £10 for a picture (sadly our little boy declared he didn’t like Santa at the entrance so wasn’t on the picture as he chose to face the wall instead!). As time was running out we didn’t get chance to do the art/craft activities in this area including writing Santa a letter and next year when we come we will make sure we book Santa earlier so that we can appreciate all the “little things” more.
The final parting was a fireworks display; this is not as grand as you would get for Bonfire Night (I would imagine) but none the less better than the display we had at our house for bonfire night with hubby running backwards and forwards to light a firework! This was the icing on the cake for us and we will definitely be recommending Drayton’s Magical Christmas to all friends and family. We will be back next year…
Overall a 5 out of 5, and can’t wait to go again!
Tickets cost from £5 to £30 per person (under 2s free). Book online for discounted prices.
Drayton’sMagical Christmas runs until 31 December 2015. For more information or to book tickets online visit www.draytonmanor.co.uk/magical-christmas.
Drayton Manor, Drayton Manor Drive, Tamworth, Staffordshire, B78 3TW | 01827 287979