Today we met up with the southern branch of our extended family: cousins, second cousins, second cousins once removed (something like that connection anyway). There were 12 adults and 9 children and the children were aged between 6 months and 6 years old.
I had chatted to my second cousin by email about the idea of meeting up and I suggested Thomas Land as somewhere mid way between us in the North West, and them in Milton Keynes. We arranged the meet up a few months in advance and prayed for good weather.
In the run up to the day I wondered whether it would work? Would we actually be able to find time to speak to each other whilst keeping an eye on the kids, would we manage to go on the rides at the same time and keep together; it’s a big group to do that with. Would we find something to keep all the children entertained? Would we find enough to do to spend all day there?
The answer to all those questions was yes. Yes it worked, and in fact it worked so well that we’ve decided to make this meet up an annual event. We stayed together for most of the day and managed to ride on pretty much everything the kids wanted too. We had a fantastic day and we left (only because it was closing) with exhausted children, some of whom were sobbing as they really really really didn’t want to leave.
So what worked so well?
It’s size – Thomas Land is compact. Not small, just compact. There are lots of places to sit down and we could create a mini base in the middle of a few rides. This meant all the kids could all go on different rides if they wanted too. We could feed the baby, get coffees, grandparents could sit down, and we knew where to find each other. That worked perfectly.
Location to the car park – we could ( and did) take a substantial picnic and just wander back to the car to get it when we were ready to eat it. There are so many picnic tables in the larger park area of Drayton Manor, that taking food is clearly actively encouraged. There are even under cover areas if it is cold or raining, which let’s face it it often is in England. We ate in one of the cafes last time we visited at Christmas and you can see our review here.
The Extended Area – having only recently visited at Christmas the fact that it had been extended and the effect of that, was really obvious to us. The extension has made the whole of Thomas Land feel more spacious and less cramped. They’ve moved a few rides around, added three more rides and created a more welcoming space for the ‘base’ I mentioned above. They have also added more toilets and an excellent cafe which sold very very good frapuccinos. Important to get these things right!
The rides – the rides themselves were perfect for the age of the kids in our group. I definitely won’t manage to get all the names right but there is a great review of the extension and the rides already on the blog here. Here are a few photos of the kids on the rides and a video of roller coaster fun!
Playground – The playground (over by the dinosaur trail) is brilliant. It’s really clean, new and safe. It kept our 6 year old and our two year old happy and all those in-between, which is no mean feat. Those that weren’t wanting to play could sit and have a coffee or wander round the Dinosaur trail; this is quite cute in itself and entertained the crowd.
Cost – if you book 7 days in advance you save 50% so it’s well worth doing. This brings the adult price down from £40 to £20 per person. Children under 2 are free, but there is also a toddler price for children aged 2-3 of just £5 which is great
What would we change?
Measuring signs/sticks at the entrance to every queue. We queued for a couple of rides only for the twins to be too short: at busy periods this would have been a disaster. The height restrictions are clear at the entrance but useful to do a check with your child before starting to queue.
There was times when the queues took ages and then you would see half filled cars or planes. People should be encouraged to share cars when there are queues, it keeps the kids happier if the queues move quicker and that’s what it’s all about.
There are also a couple of rides when only one adult is allowed on per row. Understandable but my children couldn’t get on one ride when three grown ups were on a ride and sitting on a row each, without any children. Not really the point of Thomas Land, the rest of the rides in Drayton Manor are for that.
A little bit of sense should prevail when counting a babe in arms in the numbers. You could have 4 adults on Harold the Car but you couldn’t have one adult, three toddlers and a 6 month old baby. Weight wise that doesn’t make any sense.
The toilets in the park (near the zoo) felt like they needed updating and their baby changing facilities definitely did. The mat to change babies on was non-existent and quite hard, this was directly comparable to the new facilities in the extension which unfortunately highlight the deficiencies in the other area. Top Tip: use the baby changing facilities in the newer end of Thomas Land!
The Zoo needs some love, compared to zoos like Chester the animals feel like they are in cramped cages. It doesn’t make me feel hugely comfortable. We wandered through but quickly: maybe something to change these days. In my view it doesn’t add enough to be kept in its current format. Change or lose. For me it would be perfectly good fun without. Could change for a petting farm in the space!
None of those points spoilt our day though, they are just things to consider. We loved it, so thank you Thomas Land we will be back next year, if not before!