As we didn’t go overboard on Christmas presents for Pickle this year, we decided we would use some of the money we could have spent on gifts to go towards a lovely family day out instead. After all, we have a fairly small house that’s cluttered enough as it is, and memories don’t take up any storage space so it’s a win on multiple fronts. For me, it was an easy decision to make where we should go: Magical Christmas at Thomasland, Drayton Manor Park.
I’ve been waiting for when I felt Pickle was old enough to appreciate it, and as he’s absolutely obsessed with anything that has wheels and loves a bit of a physical adventure, this Christmas felt like the right time to give it a go – especially as Under Twos go free. The park isn’t open as normal during the Winter, and during their ‘Magical Christmas’ season Thomasland, selected family rides, the 4D cinema experience and the Zoo take centre stage. Because all the thrill rides are closed, the whole park has a really family friendly vibe, and it was an absolute pleasure to be there in such a relaxing atmosphere.
We wasted no time in getting in line for the first ride of the day: Jeremy Jet’s Flying Academy. I genuinely couldn’t believe how short the queues were – I don’t know if that’s normal for Thomasland – and we only had to wait for one full ride ahead of us before Pickle and I took our seats in our own little plane. It felt weird, I’ll be honest, to be strapping Pickle in to something I knew would soon be whizzing around in the air. I couldn’t quite believe he was about to experience his first proper ride.
I love how this photo looks like I’m in the aeroplane on my own. Pickle was so tiny compared to some of the rides that I’m not sure he could see how high in the air we were! He did look out of his side of the plane, but as that only overlooked the mechanisms of the ride rather than looking out over the park, I don’t think he was particularly scared. He was just transfixed on ‘steering’, and sadly, only got the hang of pressing the green button to lift us up once the ride was already slowing down.
LPD and I decided to take it in turns with the rides – I went on the first, whilst LPD watched over the pushchair, our bags and took a few photos and then we swapped. He avoided the skies, and went on the Blue Mountain Engines ride: four trains with four carriages going round a humped roundabout track. I can’t decide which was more fun: riding with Pickle myself or standing back and watching. It was so adorable to see the two of them snuggling together as the ride rotated, and I must have looked like a right loon waving like a maniac every time they came past me.
I quickly managed to grab the above photo near the end of the ride when Pickle finally spotted me watching – and to see his face light up (I like to think with pride, that I’d seen him ride the train!) was so lovely, and something I hope I remember for a long time to come. Even the family next to me spotted his reaction and I heard an ‘ahhh’ at the cuteness.
I’m not entirely sure who enjoyed the rides more – Pickle or I? I definitely made more noise on the rides than all of the kids put together. I’m not a big adrenaline junkie, so the children’s rides are probably more enjoyable for me than the big thrill rides anyway. Also, I was hoping my enthusiasm and enjoyment would show Pickle that it was a fun activity and nothing to be scared of too. It seemed to work as he wasn’t scared at all – just completely mesmerised by any steering wheels or things to hold on to – including any unused seatbelts that were in reach!
We stopped for a bit of lunch and a much needed hot drink to warm us up – I was really impressed with the amount of seating on offer. We sat in a little heated hut, with lots of glass to keep an eye on what was happening outside where highchairs were readily available and we didn’t have to hang around waiting for a table to be free. Pickle munched on the picnic lunch we’d brought with us, although trying to get him to eat anything savoury once he’d seen the pack of white chocolate buttons we’d snuck in for a treat was pretty difficult! LPD wants to stress that we also bought a sausage roll and an iced ring doughnut with sprinkles on top (along with our coffee and hot chocolate) as he’s worried we’ll come across as cheap for bringing our own packed lunch for Pickle.
Whilst we were sat there, I could see Winston’s Whistle-Stop Tours operating and knew I wanted that to be our next ride. We tidied up our mess, got our things together and set out to find where we needed to queue. I didn’t have a map of the park or anything (I’m usually a big fan of having a handheld map to refer to!) so we were just kind of finding our way round and hopping onto the rides that took our fancy. As we were wandering to try and find Winston’s monorail, we timed it perfectly to walk past one of the shows taking place at the main station.
Never one to walk past a bit of entertainment, we joined the other families watching the Christmas themed performance and I’m SO GLAD WE DID. Before we knew it – it was snowing!
I mean, Magical Christmas is pretty appropriately named as this was just so lovely. Again, I think perhaps LPD and I enjoyed the spectacle more than Pickle did – but it was such an unexpected treat! Okay, so it wasn’t real snow – it was lots of soapy bubbles fired from cannons, but with a big of magic and imagination, we were taken right back to the fun we had playing in the snow a few weeks ago.
After our little musical interlude, we continued our search for the Winston ride, delighted to find there was a buggy park to leave the pushchair. I was a bit nervous as another family warned us as we were about to enter the queue that they’d spent over forty minutes queuing and the ride lived up to its ‘Whistle-Stop’ name by being over pretty quick. They obviously didn’t think it had been worth the wait, and whilst standing in a queue with a toddler for that length of time wasn’t particularly appealing – I’m forever an optimist and thought we’d give it a go. It was the longest time we queued for but Pickle was quite happy charming the pants off other people in the queue, and looking out the window to see Emily’s Play Adventure soft play below so it wasn’t half as stressful as I’d imagined. LPD really liked reading the information on the wall about the history of Thomas the Tank Engine too. Both boys entertained: winner. It also gave us time to take a layer of clothing off Pickle as I was worryied we’d overdressed him a little bit.
It was definitely worth the queue! Getting a bird’s eye view of the park was really lovely, and this time, Pickle could definitely see the sights. It was about 3pm when we went on the ride, and as the sun was beginning to set a little bit – there was a lovely warm glow over the park. Another magical moment for us to enjoy.
Before the light completely faded, we left Thomasland to go in search of animals in the Zoo (after another unexpected pit stop for the Carousel – we walked past just as it was finishing so we didn’t have to queue, just went straight on: PERFECT). We’ve not been to a ‘proper’ zoo with Pickle yet, although we have been to several farm parks, so I was looking forward to see what he’d make of animals he’s only seen before in storybooks.
Sadly, I think a lot of the animals were making the most of their warm indoor spaces rather than brave the cold (I don’t blame them!), so we didn’t really see the full bredth of wildlife on offer. We’d also reached that time of day where a too-excited Pickle hadn’t napped and was starting to feel a bit groggy and grumpy. I thought a walk around the animals might be enough to rock him to a much needed sleep but instead, we just got a lot of whinging. It made us walk around a bit quicker than we would normally, and once he got a bit excited by the Dino Trail, I decided to let him out of his pushchair to let him have a toddle around.
He bloody loved this bridge. I think if we’d just let him run up and down it for the rest of the day, he’d have been quite happy. I let him have a good run about, before attempting to hurry back to Sodor so that we didn’t miss the 4.30pm parade. We had time to take a ride in Harold’s Helicopter Ride (which was lovely, because just like the Winston ride, all three of us could sit in it together), before making our way back to the station to catch the parade.
Pickle quite enjoyed seeing the characters adorned in glitter and fairy lights, but once they were off on parade and the masses of families made it quite difficult to see anything, we cut our losses and left the parade to head up at our own pace to the lake, where the fireworks were due to start at 5pm. Ending the day with fireworks is a stroke of genius in my opinion. What better way to signal that it’s home-time than by naturally gathering everyone together with a spectacular finish?
The fireworks reflecting in the lake was simply beautiful, and although we were absolutely freezing having been out in the cold since morning, it was the perfect end to a wonderful day. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Magical Christmas at Thomasland. Having not been before, I don’t know if all the events were normal or just part of this special milestone but I hope they are on again next year, as we’ll definitely be back for a perfect Twixtmas Day Out.
The Magical Christmas at Thomasland day out cost us £18 per ticket for adults (pre-booked in advance) and Pickle was free. It’s a fair amount of money for us to spend at this time of year, but worth every single penny for memories I know will stay with us for many years to come. Thank you, Drayton Manor. We’ll definitely be back.
Disclaimer: this is in no way a sponsored post. We paid for our own tickets having decided to go, and this review of our day out contains my own opinions and views.