The excitement was palpable as we were driving up to the entrance of Drayton Manor Park and Zoo. “It’s THOMAS!’ screeched Monkey at the top of his voice when he saw the huge sign at the entrance.
The fairly lengthy drive to Staffordshire from London hadn’t deterred his enthusiasm. In fact, after leaving the car in the hotel car park and grabbing the theme park tickets from reception, Monkey practically skipped all the way to the entrance. We arrived just after Drayton Manor Park and Zoo opened at 9.30am – and even at this early hour, there were already queues forming.
Drayton Manor Park and Zoo
Drayton Manor Theme Park located near Tamworth is home to a variety of rides and roller coasters, a zoo and best of all for a four-year-old, Thomas Land.
Some theme parks appear too overwhelming in size – a rather daunting prospect when you check out the location maps. However, even though Drayton Manor has over 30 rides and attractions to suit every member of the family, from thrill seekers to more gentle rides for little ones, it didn’t feel like we couldn’t cover all of it in one day – even though we didn’t…
First-stop Thomas Land…
Factor in the queues, we still could have done with several more hours! But even though this was the case, we definitely covered a lot of ground and we were all suitably knackered at the close of play.
We walked past the main thoroughfare before stopping at the carousel. After two turns, Monkey spied Winston’s Whistlestop Tours high above our heads. Without further ado, we headed to Thomas Land where we were to spend the majority of our time.
Rides at Thomas Land
Laid out in an accessible route, there are entertainers and hourly sing-a-longs from the Fat Controller, as well as sweet shops and stalls to win toys – this is heaven for any Thomas The Tank Engine fan, for any child.
The rides are all themed around the popular animation such as Harold’s Helicopter Tours, Cranky Crane and Monkey’s particular favourite, Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster, as well as a train ride on Thomas himself. There’s even a large indoor soft play area, but it was such a sunny day we chose not to go inside.
We went on a Saturday during peak Summer holiday season, and we had to queue for all rides. The shortest wait around 20 minutes, the longest, up to an hour. Monkey was particularly patient on these occasions, more so than us. But to see the pure joy on his face on each of the rides, made the wait worth it.
After riding Thomas to the other side of the park, it was a good stopping point for us to have a bite to eat. Monkey was still keen to go back, but being away from it meant we could explore the rest of Drayton Manor Park and Zoo. A quick play around the Activity Park, then a walk along the Dino Trail – where we learned some interesting facts about these extinct creatures.
Drayton Manor Zoo
Our route lead us neatly on through the zoo, which is home to over 100 animals – some of which are endangered species. The primates put on a good show for all the visitors, while we particularly enjoyed the Tamarin exhibit and the reptile house. Monkey was in awe of the anaconda and boa constrictor.
We also enjoyed watching the thrill rides from the ground, as well as above on the cable chairs. And got to try some of the park’s other rides. Monkey loved the Flying Dutchman – which was also one of my husband’s favourites when he visited the park as a youngster.
Time was starting to run away with us – and with only an hour before the park closed, the crowds were beginning to thin, so this was the perfect time to revisit Thomas Land – where we only had to wait a few minutes for the rides we didn’t get to go on previously. A much more relaxed way to end the day. Although someone couldn’t manage the walk back to the hotel…
Drayton Manor Hotel Reviewed
Because we waited until the park closed, we got to use those precious last few moments going on the rides which, if we had been driving home, we wouldn’t have got the chance to do. Staying at Drayton Manor Hotel, which is on site, meant there was no rush to leave – and it also meant we could freshen up and have some downtime before dinner.
Drayton Manor Hotel has a collection of different accommodation from executive to Thomas & Friends family themed rooms. There are also several dining options from the main Parklands Restaurant and Bar to the Grill Inn which is situated a short walk near the entrance of the theme park.
Monkey headed straight towards the Thomas toy shop which is, unfortunately for parents, by the front door – and ‘conveniently’ found the small games room which has an assortment of penny games and arcade machines.
Meanwhile, check-in was smooth, and I was surprised by just how many families were actually staying in the hotel. Monkey also loved the Thomas & Friends details around the hotel – from the lobby and each floor.
Our room at the Drayton Manor Hotel
We had an executive double room, with two large double beds. It was compact but there was enough space for all of us to feel comfortable. Not only were there tea and coffee facilities, air-conditioning as well as a flat-screen TV, Monkey also received a Thomas welcome pack which kept him occupied for a few minutes. The bathroom was clean and perfectly adequate for our needs. I slept quite well – but I did have the bed to myself!
Dining at Drayton Manor Hotel
We decided not to head out again for our evening meal, and instead, went downstairs to the busy Parklands Restaurant. The staff were very attentive and welcoming and offered us the option of the pizza and pasta buffet, but we decided to go for the normal ala carte menu. Both of us were quite shocked at the prices. Some main meals were going for nearly £20, and as much as I don’t mind paying this much for a good dining experience, being sat with several other families with a view of the car park under intensely bright lights isn’t the ideal ambience – it’s also not value for money for young families. While Monkey chose from the extensive kids’ menu, we both opted for the more reasonably priced cheeseburger.
Breakfast in the morning was served in the same restaurant – and it was typical buffet fare – bacon, sausages etc, pastries, cereals and a very minimal selection of fruit. I have to admit it didn’t look very appetising to me first thing in the morning, and when I had to go searching for milk for our tea because we weren’t given any at the table, my patience was wearing thin. Luckily, my husband had ordered me poached eggs which finally perked me up.
Afterwards, we went to investigate the hotel’s outdoor space. From a playground to several wooden obstacle courses, it was a good way to work off breakfast before we set off.
Verdict of Drayton Manor and Thomas Land
We really enjoyed our weekend stay at Drayton Manor. We had a blas, because Monkey did – and the theme park, Thomas Land in particular, was a real hit. Yes, there were queues, but which popular theme park doesn’t have them?
What we liked most was that it catered really well for all members of the family with enough kiddie rides to keep little ones entertained and plenty of adrenaline rides for those who want their stomach in their mouths! It was big enough to feel like you’d get your money’s wort, but not too large that you’d need two days to get through it all.
Staying at the hotel, too, made all the difference. It was conveniently located, a fun way to carry on the day’s Thomas theme and we all had a good night’s sleep – ready to start a new day and a new adventure. It certainly took the stress out of our journey – and allowed us to see more of Staffordshire, rather than rushing off back home.
Things to know before heading to Drayton Manor Zoo
• If you book your tickets in advance and online you will secure better deals. Adult tickets from £23 in advance; and Kids from £18
• There are short-break deals that include an overnight stay at Drayton Manor Hotel as well as entrance to the park – check Enjoy Staffordshire for more details. Prices start at £170 for a family of four – great value, considering tickets to the theme park alone would be £116 if booked on the day!
• Parking is free of charge
• There are height restrictions for all rides. In Thomas Land, this ranged from 0.9metres to 1.2metres for children to be unaccompanied. There is no bending the rules – kids will be turned away if they are not tall enough.
• You are allowed to bring your own food and drink in. Otherwise, there are plenty of food outlets on site serving everything from ice-cream, hotdogs to sandwiches
• Arrive as early as possible. Even though the park opens at 9.30am during the main season, rides don’t begin until 10.30am – and believe me, there were already queues.
• If you’d rather camp, Drayton Manor Camping has a caravan and camping site which has an on-site shop as well as a children’s play area
• If the dining options at the hotel are not suitable for you – there are plenty of restaurants and fast food chains about a 10-minute drive away in nearby Tamworth.
* We were given complimentary tickets by Enjoy Staffordshire to Drayton Manor Theme Park and a one-night stay in Drayton Manor Hotel including breakfast, for the purposes of this review. As always my opinions are my own.