It’s been a summer of theme park fun for us this year! After a very successful trip to Peppa Pig World, followed by our recent day out at Alton Towers, we completed our theme park trio by visiting Drayton Manor’s Thomasland earlier this month. We had been to Thomasland before during their Magical Christmas event in December and we’d had such a lovely time, but I was quite looking forward to seeing how our day out would compare in the summertime. We owe a big thank you to 365Tickets for organising our tickets for us, and I’ll definitely be looking up their discounted Drayton Manor prices for the future.
I was a little nervous about visiting in the height of the summer holidays – peak season for theme parks. Queues don’t really bother me when I’m on my own, but standing still for upwards of twenty minutes isn’t particularly easy for an energetic toddler. When we arrived at about 11am, Thomasland was even busier than I had imagined. I took one look around and knew we’d have a battle on our hands if we attempted to get on any rides with Pickle. Strategic decision made: we’d stop and have an earlier lunch first and then visit the zoo and park.
I’d packed us a lunch to take, and was pleased to easily find a picnic bench for us to sit at. The sun was blazing, and annoyingly, the parasol at the bench we chose was a bit faulty and wouldn’t stay open on it’s own. We managed to wedge it with a bit of paper to keep the sun off our faces though, and were very grateful to take a break from the sunshine.
Heading to the Zoo
Suitably fed and watered, we headed off in the direction of the little zoo area and the playground (which was something we hadn’t tried out on our last trip in the Winter). We always take our pushchair with us on days out like this just in case Pickle wants a proper nap… even though he never has! It’s nice to have somewhere to pop our picnic supplies though even though I have a small panic every time we have to leave it in a buggy park to go on a ride as a family.
Pickle enjoyed trying to spot the monkeys in the Tamarind Trail. They’re sometimes a bit camouflaged in their enclosures but we were treated to seeing a lovely little monkey family caring for a little baby that had only recently been born. Very cute!
Drayton Manor have a lovely range of animals, but to a toddler, you can’t beat what they know and love… so out of all the exotic birds, big cats and cuddly mammals, Pickle loved seeing some ducks swimming along the river the best, with a gorgeous heron in the background and we could even see huge big fish swimming against the current too.
Next stop: the playground. And my goodness, I think Pickle would have stayed here all day if we’d have let him. It’s a lovely park – all train themed with lots of different climbing equipment, slides and balancing beams (which suits Pickle to the ground). It was such a delight to watch him in his element, and even the promise of a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine wasn’t enough to lure him away.
Being able to take the train back from the playground to Thomasland is absolutely genius. We didn’t have long to wait in a queue, although we were very lucky to have just managed to squeeze on the next train that came to the platform: I wouldn’t have wanted to have waited for a second as it would have been quite tricky to keep Pickle entertained for much longer. There is limited space for pushchairs so only a certain number can be taken aboard each journey.
The journey is a really lovely one – lots to see and plenty to point out to Pickle en route, including other engines from the Isle of Sodor! And once we’d arrived back in Thomasland, Pickle was eager to keep watching the train platform to see Thomas drive off again – we climbed up a set of stairs to a little viewing platform so we had a good bird’s eye view too.
Once we arrived back into Thomasland, the queues seemed much more manageable. I’m not sure if that’s the usual queuing time pattern, but if it is – I’d strongly recommend doing what we did and enjoying other areas of the park and returning for the rides from 2pm onwards. It made a real difference.
Part of the fun for us, is sharing the ride experience with Pickle. We mainly took it in turns, but Pickle is a bit of a Mama’s boy so as the day wore on, I had the privilege of getting to go on most of the rides with him. Maybe he just likes how excited I get… judging by these photos, I’m enjoying it more than most people.
It was quite fun to compare Pickle’s reactions to the rides to my memories of our last visit in December. It’s obvious that he’s a bit of a dare devil, and the ride he loved the best was James’ Red Balloon ride, when we spun our basket around really fast. He squealed and laughed and I couldn’t believe how brave he was. The faster and spinnier the better as far as he’s concerned. Once he’s a little older and can go on the proper rollercoasters, he’ll be blown away!
My top tip for any theme park visit would be to find the ride that has the smallest queue. At Alton Towers, that was the NumTums ride and at Drayton Manor, it was Diesel’s Locomotive Mayhem. When we saw that there was literally no one in the queue, we practically ran to make sure we got in line before anyone else noticed. LPD and Pickle only had the tiniest of waits whilst the current ride finished.
It also meant that as soon as the ride finished, we did a parent swap – I managed to grab Pickle and get back in the queue to get on the very next ride. I would have not expected us to be able to do that during the school holidays. This Diesel ride is tucked away a little bit so maybe some other families overlooked it? It’s good fun anyway!
As normal, I was on bite watch every time Pickle came into close contact with other children, and I knew it was a recipe for disaster when he started playing on the train by the James’ Red Balloon ride. He was up in the engine booth so I didn’t have quick access to him. As soon as he started to become a bit attached to the little turning dial, I could have predicted what would happen next. An older boy came along and tried to prise his hands off the dial, which of course, Pickle didn’t like… and so he bit him. Time for some time out and a sit down with a drink in the shade – I’m just so glad Pickle gave the boy a sorry hug afterwards.
We seemed to find a few new rides that we hadn’t been on during our last visit, including the Sodor’s Classic Cars and Lady’s Carousel. Pickle loves any ride where he thinks that he’s driving, so that went down really well, and he loved it when the car went ‘inside’ and he could point out the food on the table and the cow!
I’m not sure Pickle was particularly impressed with the Carousel – I got the impression it was a bit too tame for his adrenaline-seeking preferences, but it’s a great little ride for young ones, and another one that didn’t have much of a queue or waiting time.
For those with little ones who are train-mad, it’s worth pointing out that there’s also a train that goes around the main Drayton Manor park. We watched it set off to begin with and Pickle loved waving to all the passengers as it went by.
Unlike the Thomas train, it just does one big loop – so you can leave your pushchairs at the station as you’ll return after about a ten minute journey. I found it pretty cool to see the park from a unique angle, going past and underneath the bigger rollercoasters.
Even after two visits now, there are still some rides we haven’t been on yet. And I’m looking forward to Pickle growing just a little bit taller to open up the next bracket of rides for him. I know he can handle them a bit faster, a bit taller and a bit scarier! And I’m going to make the most of this age where we can both enjoy the rides together: I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s wanting to go on the rides that are out of my comfort zone.
All in all, it was an absolutely brilliant day – cementing children’s theme parks as high on our list of top family days out.
Disclaimer: we were offered tickets to Drayton Manor from 365Tickets in exchange for writing about our day out. All content, opinions and views remain my own.