This year, Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park in Tamworth, UK, has undergone a massive £2.5 million ($3.8 million) expansion, increasing in size by 40 percent and adding in three new attractions. We visited the park over the busy May school holiday with our five-old-son to see what we thought of the new expansion.
We could tell we were in for a busy day before we even arrived at the park, as we sat in traffic and crawled toward the entrance for a solid 15 minutes. We were sent to a parking area we had never seen on our previous visits and after picking up our complimentary passes, and then entered via a second entrance we never knew existed (rather than the main entrance). This second entrance is positioned at the opposite end of the park to Thomas Land, although because Drayton Manor is such a compact park, the walk across only took us a few minutes. Walking through, we were able to point out some other family rides to our son for later in the day.
The expansion to Thomas Land is not immediately obvious when approaching from the “wrong” direction, as the entrance is somewhat concealed behind the main Knapford Station area. Our son Fin immediately spotted Winston’s Whistle-Stop Tours, a slow monorail ride up above Thomas Land and asked to ride it, which we obliged despite a 40-minute queue as it allowed us an aerial view of the new expansion to help us get our bearings. The new expansion has certainly increased the open space in Thomas Land so it doesn’t feel as cramped as it once did. Some rides have been moved around to improve access and the whole space feels open even with large crowds. Everything looks bright, fun, and well maintained and the whole area feels cohesive. Moving Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy to a central position outside the new Sodor Airport coffee shop and cafe creates a fantastic central feature for this whole area. However, there is a large area of seemingly dead space towards the rear. This appears to be set up for events, however, with it not being in use the day we visited caused that part of the park to feel desolate.
My biggest complaint regarding the new expansion was the queuing system for the new rides, or rather, the lack of it. Most of the rides are small, circular affairs that stand by themselves in a large, open area. However, the fenced queue areas are just a few meters long, effectively only holding enough people to fill the ride up one time. This results in long, disorderly, snaking queues that weave around and are hard to define. On approaching the new Flynn’s Fire Rescue ride, we thought it had a short queue, only to realize that the queue actually began 50-feet across the park and was almost blending with the line for another ride. The introduction of some zigzagged fencing to mark out the queues for these new attractions would be a vast improvement to the area. It is also worth noting that none of the three new Thomas Land attractions actually feature trains, which could disappoint younger children. Instead, the new rides include Toby the Tram, Flynn the Fire Engine, and Captain the Lifeboat. Two of the three also result in riders getting wet as well, which I can only imagine will severely limit their attractiveness in cold weather.
Sadly, we were only able to ride one of the three new attractions. It was too cold for us to get soaked on the Sea Captain ride, which has riders standing on slowly rotating boats and firing water canons at other riders and those standing in the designated splash zones nearby, and Fin refused to ride the rocking, spinning Toby Tram. However, Fin was very excited to ride the Flynn the Fire Engine ride on which riders stand in cages and fire water canons into the center of the ride, attempting to hit holes in the windows of a “burning” building. The canons were fairly difficult for a five-year-old to operate by himself, but he loved riding with his dad anyway. There is some splashback on this ride too, but only a little. However, I do find it odd to include two rides on which riders will get wet (or very wet in the case of the Sea Captain) in a park with a cool climate most of the year. I doubt either of these rides will draw many visitors during the colder months when the park operates.
Of course, all the original rides from Thomas Land are still present, so despite not getting to ride two of the new additions, we still spent many hours riding all the area has to offer. Fin gradually increased in bravery through the day and by the end, we had tackled nearly everything except a few rides which Fin considered too tame even for him! Some of his favorites were Terence’s Driving School, Rocking Bulstrode, and Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy. He was even brave enough to ride the Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster!
There are a number of family-friendly rides outside of Thomas Land as well, which we spent some time investigating. The Drunken Barrels (which was presumably named and themed some time ago—I doubt a family ride themed around beer barrels would get approval nowadays) are a fun, tilted spin on the classic teacups and the Wild West Shoot Out is great for everyone, even if actually hitting the targets is trickier than on some other similar rides. Sadly, the Pirate Adventure boat ride was closed for repairs the day we visited and our son is still too short to ride Drayton’s Dodgems. Later in the day, he braved both the Jolly Buccaneer and the Flying Dutchman, both of which had been greeted with a forceful, “no way!” in the morning!
Over the course of the afternoon, my husband and I took turns staying in Thomas Land with Fin while the other went off to ride some of the bigger thrill rides across the park. Drayton Manor is home to the only standing-up rollercoaster in Europe, Shockwave. After riding it, both of us declared it also the least comfortable rollercoaster in Europe. We both chickened out of riding the only new thrill addition since our previous visit, Air Race, mostly because it almost made me nauseous just by watching a ride video on YouTube. With most of the crowds concentrated in Thomas Land, the queues for the thrill rides were nearly non-existent, which was great for us as one parent could quickly nip off to ride one while the other rode a kids’ ride.
We had a fantastic day at Drayton Manor, so much so that we are planning an overnight stay at their hotel in August during the school summer break. The expansion to Thomas Land does not add enough to the park to win over any new converts—if the previous content was not enough to attract your family to visit, then I seriously doubt the additions will sway you. However, it is a welcome boost to the area for those who are visiting and adds more value for money to the park as a whole.
GeekMom received complimentary access to Drayton Manor park for this review.