“Daddy? Can we go to Thomas Land?”
My son has asked this question at least once a week, every week, since we first took him and his sister in July 2011. K was 9 months old then and didn’t really get a great deal from of it, but T was almost 2 and a half and… well, he did. He got lots out of it and loved it. He loved it so much he’s been wanting to go again for over a year and bit.
When we first took T and K my ex-wife posted pictures of T with Thomas at Thomas Land and a friend said something like “WOW. Did you ACTUALLY go to Sodor? Where is this place?” And when, last weekend, I tweeted saying that we were taking our children again, a few people tweeted me asking ‘Where is this place?’ Some didn’t know it existed.
Thomas Land is a section of Drayton Manor Park, a theme park near Tamworth in Staffordshire, and it is, truly, brilliant.
My ex-wife and I decided to take our children again as it’s K’s 2nd birthday very soon and we thought this time she WOULD get something out of it. Both K and T play with their wooden train tracks and have lots of trains from the Thomas range. Thomas, Percy, Toby, Gordon, James, Rosie… erm… the other ones. Lots. Lots and lots. THEY know all the names but it’s fun when I get them confused, especially Edward and Henry which I do all the time. The righteous indignation that comes from my children when they correct me is surely a sign of things to come, a hint of what they’ll be like in their teenage years and will, surely, correct me about everything.
So, for two Thomas and Friends enthusiasts, and for two parents who love the fact that their children love all things Thomas, where better to go? Thomas Land on Monday morning it was, and our children were so excited they didn’t finish their breakfast. And to be honest, neither did I. I was excited for them. I just couldn’t wait to see their faces.
We entered the theme park when the rides started at 10.30am, and immediately walked to Knapford Station so Thomas could take us in Annie and Clarabel to the other side of Thomas Land. This section has an outside play park hilariously called Spencer’s Playground, after the great big pompous train that shares my name, a small zoo, and a wonderful model train set inside a barn which I could’ve watched for hours, and I’m not even a train enthusiast! The detail and work that had gone into it was quite astonishing.
This could’ve been enough to keep us occupied for the entire morning at least but we didn’t stay for long. My daughter saw Rosie pulling into the station and Rosie’s one of her favourites. Hearing K exclaim ‘It’s Rosie! My Rosie! My Rosie!” was one of those moments where you could see the joy leaping from every cell, something you’ll never forget, and a moment that confirms, lest it ever need to be confirmed, how wonderful it is to be a parent.
There are 12 rides in all. Most are suitable for children who go on with an adult, but there are two rides which aren’t and children can go on these on their own if they’re above are a certain height. The assumption is, for these rides, if you’re tall enough you’re old enough, which certainly proved the case at Terence’s Driving School, which T couldn’t go on last time. This time he was tall enough but K wasn’t, but she dealt with it, and we all watched T driving around the circuit looking like he’d learnt how to drive from his mother. He did brilliantly! But without slight road rage and sotto voce swearing.
You can meet the Fat Controller, who strolls around looking like he owns the place which, to be fair, he kinda does. My son was excited and shook his hand. My daughter cowered a bit behind me but, to be fair, he is a big unit. There are three fifteen minute shows during the day performed by the Fat Controller and his assistant on the balcony of Knapford Station. Singing and lots of audience participation. It’s all obvious stuff, jokes about leaves on the line causing ‘confusion and delay’ but all the adults watching this with their children in their arms or holding their hands were smiling. Every one of them.
Both times we’ve gone to Thomas Land we’ve been outside of the summer holidays. We went just before summer holidays in 2011, and just after on this occasion, and both times we’ve not had to queue for rides, and in some cases got the rides to ourselves. The rides are lots of fun, and T didn’t want to get off once the ride had finished. “Again! Again!” he said. I explained that we should and go and try something else, which he agreed was doable. Remember folks, once those things come fully formed from the delivery suite, you’re not in control any more. It’s their world, you simply share it with them and they’re the ones in charge.
The staff are all lovely, and all seem to enjoy being around children and actually talk to the children. They let them have their pictures taken with Thomas and Rosie, allow them to stand in the drivers carriage and things like that. If children find any of the rides scary once they start then the diligent staff are alert to this and will stop the ride prematurely so that child can get off quickly. I’ve been to places where the staff are glum and grimace a bit whenever children squeal in excitement. But not here. The staff are all really friendly and seem to smile more when a child comes off the ride smiling and saying thank you, as my two did.
There’s an indoor playbarn which is also a lot of fun and I sat watching my two children pay It’s staffed so it allows adults a sit down on sofas while the staff help the smaller children up onto slides. I sat watching while my ex-wife went on some of the larger rides within the theme park itself. She likes that sort of thing. I hate heights and at points when I was on Harold’s Helicopter Ride and Bertie’s Crazy Bus Ride with the children I wondered ‘WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING ON THIS?’ but I put on a brave face so my children wouldn’t see just how scared I was. Their faces showed they were loving every single second of it and haven’t inherited the stupid vertigo gene that I have. The one which makes me feel a bit sick and unsteady when standing on a chair.
They loved it. When we finished at ThomasLand we did some other bits of the park. A proper carousel. A ride on the Polperrow Express. A trip on a boat on the lake. T and his mummy finished the day by going on a roller coaster while K and I watched them whizz past waving and laughing.
And so it was time for us to go. 5pm, when it closed. Of course my son didn’t want to leave. We asked T if he needed to use the loo when we got back to the car and he said said No. And then said “YES! Yes! I need to use the toilet in the playbarn!”
Nice try son. Nice try. But we all had to go home. To our different homes.
I could go into more detail about this day. List the rides and prices and stuff but go to the website and check it out. And get your credit card ready. I say that, but it’s certainly not pricey and there are enough offers online and by using Tesco vouchers and things to make it a really worthwhile and inexpensive day out.
The children slept in the car for a bit on the drive back. They woke and chatted about the day. T thanked us for taking him there and we said it was our pleasure. It was. Seeing the joy on their faces was quite incredible.
“Anytime” I said, somewhat recklessly.
“Can we go to Thomas Land again tomorrow?”
“I’m sorry son. You’ve got playgroup tomorrow and for the rest of the week. And this was just a little treat. We can do it another day.”
“Oh. Okay then.” He sounded disappointed but then aksed perkily “How about on Sunday?”
I think I’m going to be hearing ‘Can we go to Thomas Land?’ every week for another year at least, but in stereo this time.
Have you been to Thomas Land or any other similar theme park type place? Did you like it? What did your children think? Let me know your experiences via my usual comments hole. And thanks for reading.
Note: This “review” is entirely independent as we paid for the trip ourselves, and as such, I can write what I want. So, if I had a bad thing to say I’d say it, but I don’t. I truly don’t. The place is fucking awesome, so if you know a child that loves Thomas and Friends then get yourself down there. Remember, they’ll be the ones who pick your nursing home, so do the decent thing and give them a day to remember for years to come.