My family is made of 4 people, but we have a fifth honorary member: Thomas the tank engine.
My son discovered Thomas for the first time when he was 1, during a summer vacation in Italy, and for the following four years he kept his love for his hero alive: Thomas toys, clothes, DVDs – we are a family that usually avoids branded stuff but with Thomas we were simply powerless: for my son, it’s a love affair and since the heart has reasons that reason cannot understand, we decided not only to let this feeling blossom but to reward it with maybe the most cherished present of all: a trip to Thomas Land, UK.
Thomas Land is a Thomas the Tank themed part of Drayton Manor, an amusement park located near Birmingham, UK: we live in Dublin, so when I talk about a ‘family trip’ there I don’t mean it just as a turn of phrase but in the literal sense of the word: from Dublin, we had to schedule three full days away to have a full day with the little locomotive!
But I can say without a shadow of a doubt: it was worth it and the kids had in Thomas Land Uk maybe the best day of their lives yet!
We planned our trip during the winter mid-term break and we got to Thomas Land on a cold but dry morning in February. We had spent the night in a town nearby, Shrewsbury, and reached the park at about 11. We had chosen to stay at the Drayton Manor Hotel (you can find a full review about it here) and because of the proximity of the hotel to the park, in few minutes we were able to leave the car, check in, and even book a table for dinner: in less than 15 minutes we were at the entrance, ready to play!
A day at Thomas Land UK: arrival and rides
We had booked tickets online (worth it as discounted) and we expected to be therefore able to skip the queue at the ticket counter. But to our surprise, there was no line at all! The main rides of Drayton manor are closed during mid-term and Thomas Land is the only operating part of the park: this means not only that you don’t find huge lines to get in, but that the park is only attended by families with small children, making the atmosphere particularly welcoming for little ones
Entering from the main gate, you reach Thomas Land crossing the main Drayton Manor area: we walked through the high frames of the sleepy rides towering over us like big quiet herbivores and soon the voice of my kids pierced the air and they left on a crazy dash ahead: ‘Thomas, it’s Thomas, hi Thomas, Thomas!’ In the distance, they had spotted the entrance to Thomas Land and had started waving manically at the little locomotive chugging towards them.
They reacted to Thomas as if they had met an old friend and a hero: sheer happiness on their faces and the unmistakable light in their eyes that told us they were in paradise.
Thomas Land is a walled area inside Drayton manor and it’s organised to replicate the different parts of Sodor.
On entry, you first find yourself in Knapford station: here you can board Thomas, Percy and Rosie and here you can also see James, who sleeps in one of the disused tracks. The main landmark for the park, Knapford is also the building that hosts the fat controller and his singing show: at regular intervals during the day, the jolly controller welcomes you with a song sang from the balcony of the station and then mingles with the kids in the Thomas Land main square.
Beside the railway line, the park has rides for all the engines of the series, without forgetting some non-chugging friends: you can ride Harold the Helicopter, Bertie the bus, the super cute Sodor ancient cars and you can even participate in Jeremy’s flight academy or Captain’s splash adventure: no one is forgotten.
Our kids were immediately drawn towards the familiar trains but the park includes also less common characters such as the blue mountains engines that, I confess, are among my personal favourites! Also, I noticed that the park puts a strong emphasis on the character of Rosie: this turned out to be a very clever choice from the park management as my little girl immediately took to the idea of the pink train and became a Thomas convert: what before was just a cartoon tolerated for the sake of her brother, became a firm favourite
What age is Thomas Land UK for
We brought our kids when they were 3 and 5 and I believe this is the perfect age. The rides strike a balance between being exciting without being actually scary and we noticed kids as young as 1 truly enjoying some of them. They are not proper roller coaster rides so to speak (except for the troublesome trucks) but more similar to a merry go round: they are mellow and with the same quiet old fashion we are used to in Thomas the Tank cartoons. My son, 5, adored the park but we did feel that had we left the trip to next year he would have probably been a bit too old for it. My daughter, 3 and a half, was in heaven.
The park also caters for babies and small toddlers: if you need a break from the cold or want to some free running around time, the park is equipped with an indoor area dedicated to Emily with climbing frames and slides. Access to this area is in shifts, so when you get in, keep an eye on the time.
In the park, there are a few food options to choose from: the main restaurant in Thomas Land is a gourmet burger place that serves generous meals and in different locations you can find coffee shops selling hot and cold drinks, muffins and snacks. We had our meal at the burger pace and I must say: it was delicious and I did appreciate the fact that the ingredients were heavily advertised as local and organic. Despite this positive impression I’ll be honest with you: it did disappoint me the lack of lighter healthier meal options. I understand that this is a theme park and that part of the experience is to let kids gorge on pretty much whatever they want, but without forcing my kids to eat salad while the others eat chips, I did think it would have been nice to be able to offer even just a plate of pasta or to be able to buy an apple or a banana instead of a chocolaty snack.
How long to visit Thomas land for
We spent in Thomas Land the best part of the day, arriving there at about 11 and leaving at about 5 when rides closed and evening was closing in. The kids felt this way a very short day and indeed, it was just about a long enough visit: novice to theme parks, we probably did not organise our time well and ended up not being able to go on some of the rides. If you can, my advice would be to try and to go Thomas Land in the spring or summer, to make the most of the longer days and of the water based activities that are weather and cold dependent.
What to bring
The park is well equipped with food outlets serving hot and cold food and drinks so you really do not need to bring much a part for usual baby and small children supplies. As I mentioned, I could not buy fresh fruit so this is something you might want to pack. The park is buggy friendly and there are many areas where you can park while enjoying the rides. The small trains are equipped to take strollers so even when venturing to the far side of Thomas Land (no more than a few minutes walk from the central square anyway) you can easily bring your wheels.
Weather and what to wear
We were in Thomas Land on a dry day in February but despite the dry weather, the temperature soon dropped. If you are planning on a day at the theme park, do wrap up and in the winter do wear coats, hats and gloves.
The verdict: was a trip to Thomas land UK worth it? The trip to Thomas Land UK was 100%, absolutely, completely and without a doubt worth it. The kids adored it and if your children are into Thomas the Tank I cannot imagine a better present than a day out with Thomas and you at Thomas Land.