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A Family Gem of Entertainment in the Middle of the Country
Drayton Manor (Staffordshire)
Member Name: Novabug
Drayton Manor (Staffordshire)
Advantages: Great Location, Ample Parking, A vast variety of rides and amusements perfect for a family.
Disadvantages: Queueing times in busy periods, staff could be happier, a few more toilets needed.
I'm a big fan of theme parks and fairground amusements in general, and it seems my daughters have followed suit. I try to visit at least one UK theme park every year, and this year we choose to go to Drayton Manor Park in Staffordshire. I wanted to go here for two reasons, firstly it is home to Thomasland, a part of the park themed around the Thomas and Friends franchise which would be a lovely treat for my Thomas-mad eldest daughter. Secondly, purely for selfish reasons, I'm a big roller coaster nut and have been wanting to ride The Shockwave, the parks signature ride, for many years. I made it a small break, and took a few members of my family along. Here are my thoughts of this wonderful place hidden away in the midlands. (Apologies for the length of this review, but I just wanted to get everything in!)
--Meanwhile, Just South of Tamworth...--
Most people looking to visit a theme park travelling to Staffordshire automatically think Alton Towers, but Drayton Manor Park is a mere 10 miles south of Tamworth and offers a slightly lower key experience but with all the entertainment needed. Like Alton Towers, it is built on a site of a former stately home in the village of Drayton Bassett, just next to the small town perish of Fazeley. During the 19th century, this was home to the former British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. At the beginning of the 20th century however, the Manor fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1929, the land sold off for private investment. It opened as a zoo and gardens in 1949, grew steadily into an amusement park and in 1994 some big changes were made to make it compete with the rapid expansion of other theme parks around the country, such as Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington World of Adventures.
Part of this development was the four million pound investment of a world's first roller coaster and a family water ride. Since then, more big rides and attractions have been added, making it a mecca for not only families but thrill seekers alike. The main draws to the park are the rides Shockwave, Stormforce 10, G-Force and Apocalypse, and primary family interests lie with Pirates Adventure, Ben 10: Ultimate Mission roller coaster and the exclusive Thomasland area of the park. These attractions make it a very favourable place to visit as an alternative to Alton Towers.
--Getting There, Parking and Prices--
If you are travelling up from the south, you can take the M40, picking up the M42 coming off at Junction 9 (Don't miss this, you will end up on the M6 Toll!) and follow the A446 northbound following signs to the park, the main entrance in the left. If coming from the north, take the M1, coming off at Junction 19 onto the M6 towards Coventry and Birmingham. Pick up M42 again and it's the same directions as is from the south. It's quite easy to find once you are on the main road which passes the park, (A4091) as it is sign posted adequately at major intersections and the main gate is brightly signed with the park's Yellow, blue and red logo too. Getting there by train would be a case of arriving at Tamworth, and catching the local bus to Fazeley or taking a taxi to the park.
~~Drayton Manor Theme Park, Near Tamworth/Fazeley, Staffordshire, B78 3TW~~
The main entrance leads down a narrow road to the car parks, theme park entry stalls and the Drayton Manor Hotel. We arrived very early before the park opened at 9.30, and got a great parking spot just outside the ticket booths. There is room for a few hundred cars in this area, plus a larger overflow car park close by too for several hundred more cars, however parking here you will have a short walk to the parks gates. At busy times, marshalls are at hand to guide you to a parking space. The car parks were very clean and tidy, if not all that clearly marked, so use a bit of common sense when parking, you don't want to get blocked in upon leaving. Car parking tickets are needed, but are only £3 for the entire day, and can be purchased either in advance or on the day at the same price. There is also a camping area available, but this has to be booked in advance.
As with all theme parks, prices can be a little expensive, but Drayton Manor is one of the more kindly theme parks to the pocket. Peak times are in the late Spring to early Autumn months, and an adult ticket will cost £36 on the day, £25 for age 4 and up, £12 for age 2 to 4 and under 2's go free. Senior prices are £19. All these prices are much cheaper if you pre-book on-line, with an adult ticket coming down to a possible £22 depending on date. (School holiday times are more expensive than term times). With the on-line booking I did, I paid £132 for 4 adults, 1 senior, 1 age 4 and up and 2 parking tickets. It would have cost a lot more if I had not booked before hand, so this is a must do thing!
Be mindful of the parks hours of business too, so you can get the maximum for your money. Arrive early before the park opens, and leave just before the rides close. In the summer peak times, the park opens at 9.30 with the rides opening a hour later, and stay open until 5pm at least, sometimes keeping running until 6 depending on how busy it is. Planning is essential to make the most of the day. We visited on the wednesday just before the spring/summer half term, resulting in cheaper prices and a very un-crowded park. It was a lovely sunny day too, perfect!
~~Total Family Entertainment - Drayton Manor Theme Park Slogan~~
--Thomasland - Sodor in Miniature!--
Perhaps one of the most significant attractions to be placed into the park in recent times is Thomasland, and this is a big focal point for many families with young children. Replacing the old Robinsons Land area in 2008, Drayton Manor secured the rights to build a miniature Sodor from the Thomas and Friends franchise. Located immediately to the left upon entering the park, Thomasland is bordered off from the main park with two entrances and feature familiar buildings, names and characters from the show. The whole area is centred around a miniature Knapford Station, and the rear part surrounds a pseudo Tidmouth Sheds housing models of the steam engine characters. Jolly music constantly plays from the balcony of Knapford Station taken from the show, films and also purposely made for the attraction. This can sometimes get annoying, and maybe a little to loud in volume on some tracks. The layout is simple, with rides and stalls placed apart, giving plenty of room at the front of the area. I thought the rear part could get a little congested in busy times however, as this is where the popular Cranky the Crane and Harold's Heli-tours is. The area is all faithfully painted and decorated accordingly in the Thomas theme, and very little behind the scenes stuff is visible. This makes it very convincing for a child's eyes, and even to an adults too, it all brings a smile to your face and creates comfortable and happy feeling.
There is a considerable amount of rides packed into such a small area, three acres I believe, all without feeling to compact. Overall, there are twelve rides in this area and another at the other end of the train line. Most are perfect for a 3 and up year old, but there are height restrictions on some rides. The mixture is good too for all lower ages. Mild rides like Lady's Carousal, Blue Mountain Engines and Sodor Classic Cars are great the under two's, rides like Rockin' Bulstrode, Diesel's Locomotion Mayhem and Crazy Bertie Bus are for the older and more adventurous, and then you have the rides for the most daring children with Harold's Heli-tours, Jeremy's Flying Academy and the Troublesome Trucks roller coaster, the most adventurous can ride on the 8 metre tall Cranky the Crane drop tower! All rides are themed beautifully both in appearance and sounds, and with the added game and sweet stalls, static models and friendly actors playing the human characters. I found the staff, who are dressed in Thomas and Friends attire, mostly well mannered and cheery, and the whole area quite child safe. There are baby-changing and child toilets available, which are clean and tidy, just as is the rest of the area. Every now the then, there is a song and dance show performed by the actors from the Knapford Balcony, this is also fun for the family in the pantomime way of things. On our visit, we didn't visit Emily's Indoor play area, but this is a typical soft play area not unlike a Wacky Warehouse. As predicted, the prices for food and drink both here and around the main park are rather inflated, so don't expect any cheap drinks. Bring a packed lunch, as the park don't mind this at all and there areas that accommodate picnicking with welcome.
--Thomas Train Ride and Farmer McColls Farm--
The highlight of Thomasland is of course riding Thomas himself on-board Annie and Clarabel to Tidmouth Hault station where Farmer McColls Farm is located. This is housed inside the wonderfully themed Knapford Station building, (which also is home to the adult rest area and coffee bar). Normally, two trains run every ten minutes, and these can be either Thomas, Percy or Rosie. Unfortunately, Rosie was only running in the morning we spent in Thomasland (we were told Thomas and Percy were having work done in the sheds), so this meant a 20 minute wait for the short train journey. This was not a problem as there was lots to see and do whilst waiting for the train. The actual engines are small diesel powered models of the characters, but are very well presented with the right colours and moving eyes. It's only a short ride through the woodland, passing the maintenance sheds (where we saw Thomas and Percy being painted, and the station of Dryaw with it's model people. The seats in the carriages have enough space for the adults, and there are buggy and pram spaces for convenience too. It's a pleasant little journey, and before you know it your at Tidmouth Hault Station, where you have to alight. It's a shame that Thomas himself wasn't running at that time as my daughter was a little disappointed, but on the trip back he was back on the tracks and so passed him on the return to Knapford, and saw him turn on the turntable too.
At Tidmouth Hault is the Farmer McColls Farm themed area, where there is another adult rest area cafe, a well kept zoo with interesting and exotic animals, Spencer's outdoor play area, a dinosaur trail area, Terrance's Driving School ride and a Thomas and Friends Exhibit. I found this a more relaxing area of Thomasland, there is plenty of space as the train ride naturally limits and amount of people in the area. Also, families like to choose to picnic here, with the many picnic tables placed around the cafe and serene trickling stream which flows though the middle. Of course, many of the animals are in enclosures which are safe without wandering toddler fingers, particularly the Emu's and Ostriches. Pathways clearly mark the zoo parts, and intertwine with the play area's. I found the outdoor play area, consisting of slides, climbing frames, and wooden platforms great fun for my youngest while my eldest had fun on her own. It's all wood chipped based and is rather safe for most active 4 and up year old's. It's not as clean and tidy as the main Thomasland area because of it's nature as a zoo, but again it's well themed and fun. The Terrance's Driving School is also good for an older child, as they have to drive the tractor models themselves, but a kindly instructor/attendant was at hand help. My daughter loved this because is was a very independent activity. The Thomas Exhibit is a large converted shed housing real models from the original series, which is also rather interesting and absorbing, but maybe difficult for the children to fully appreciate. The only negative about this part of the park was a rather sickly looking cat sleeping on one of the display shelves, odd, but I think it was a stray looking for a place to dwell.
--Troublesome Trucks Rollercoaster--
Back in the primary area of Thomasland, and second only to the Thomas train in terms of prevalence is the Troublesome Trucks roller coaster ride. It's entrance is on the opposite 'platform' of Knapford station, on the left side of the park, and is a little tucked away so can be missed easily. The ride itself is a small steel Gerstlauer coaster, which takes a small weaving course out of the boarding platform, up a 18 foot lift hill and descends in a double spiral and a sharp turn back into the loading bay, and then repeats for a second circuit. The cars are modelled like the trucks from the Thomas series with their familiar cheeky faces, and the whole ride is well themed like a small quarry in Sodor. As a more mild coaster, it can still get quite quick down the spirals and pulls some lateral G forces on the last turn too. The cars are a good size for a 4 and up, and also have enough room for a average sized adult too. The lap bar restraints are secure and mostly comfortable. Adventurous for some maybe, but it's all great fun and my daughter loved it. Children have to be over 0.9 of a metre to ride however, like many other rides in Thomasland, so take note of this to avoid any disappointed offspring.
--The Main Theme Park--
As with all good theme parks, the main part of the park is separated into themed areas with all the rides and stalls following any given theme. Unlike other theme parks I have visited, the layout is very simple, like a large L shape hugging the side of the lake. With clear and frequent sign posting, colourful stalls and marked queue lines, this makes it very easy to find your way around. It can be a little confusing with some of the rides so close together, but this is small issue. The Central Plaza with it's general colours following the logo design is the hub of things, which mostly includes shops, stalls and an alternative entrance to the zoo. Not every different themed area is obviously marked off from each other, but the colours of the signs and buildings theming generally gives it away, with the most popular area's being Action Park, Fisherman's Wharf and Arial Park, which can get very busy at peak times. Some of the rides operate above or around the pathways, so always be wary of this. Maelstrom and Pandemonium are fun to watch from these places but you have to be aware of what may fall down, and the Drayton Manor Railway 'Polperro Express' runs over walkways with small signal alarms alerting you to the oncoming trains. Typical fairground games, arcades and amusements are placed around the park, all have to be paid for independently, some for prize winning and some just for fun. It's a mixture of ball throwing games, hoopla, arrow and shooting, and the arcades include coin-push machines and grab-crane games, so there is plenty of options. Some of these, like the Wild West Shoot out could do with a bit of refurbishment I feel.
There was reports a few years back about the general poor cleanliness of the park's walkways, lake and grasslands. This has been rectified it seems as I found the park mostly clean and tidy, with many covered litter bins scattered around, the lake free from floating litter and the grasslands rather neat too, albeit maybe a little overgrown in places. With certain rides, this overgrowth was more obvious, like nettles and reeds growing around Stormforce and Splash Canyon while on-ride. There are many picnic tables dotted around, mostly by the lakeside, and also many benches and resting points nearby the main attractions. These are all in a fair condition too, but most are uncovered. Covered area's are confined to the cafe's and eateries. As you can imagine, the noise levels massively vary from area to area, don't expect it to be too peaceful sitting in Arial Park, but there are plenty of places around the lake that are far enough away from the screams and music to relax your ears a bit, or failing that take a trip on the Drayton Queen, an old style cruise paddle-boat around the lake for some peace and quiet.
Built in 1994, this was part of the '94 blitz of expensive ground-breaking roller coasters built all over England. (The others were The Big One at Blackpool, and Nemesis at Alton Towers) The Shockwave is a stand-up over track steel coaster which includes a vertical loop, two barrel rolls and a heart-line twist, the only stand-up coaster in the world to have this element. Built by Swiss manufacturer Intamin, it's only 120 feet high, but picks up to an impressive top speed of 53mph and is still the only stand-up roller coaster in Europe. Themed around a coastal town ruined my a storm in the Action Park area, wooden shacks and damaged houses are home to the boarding platform and extensive indoor queue line. This is all presented well, even if some of the theming is clearly ageing a tad. For a ride coming up to nearly 20 years old though, it's all been kept well, and the ride itself is definitely still an adrenalin gusher, the stand-up aspect being quite unique. However, it's not the smoothest of coasters I have ridden! The position of standing can be a little awkward to get comfortable in, being short or having wider hips can make even getting into the restraints difficult. As a flagship ride for the park, it's still stands out and is very popular, and the other big rides also help to ease the pressure off it now. It was constructed simultaneously with Splash Canyon, a river rapids ride which is directly underneath most of the track, which makes things even more fun for riders on both attractions. Ageing maybe, but Shockwave for me goes down as a classic and is a must-ride if you like your roller coasters.
Replacing the tired Log Flume that came before it, Stormforce 10 is another record breaking ride for vastly different reasons. It was the first 'charitable' ride, designed and themed around an RNLI lifeboat rescue mission, with a percentage of merchandise and on-ride photograph sales being donated to the RNLI. Built in 1999 as part of the ongoing enhancement of Drayton Manor, Stormforce 10 is a water flume type ride based at the lakeside, using the lake water for it's channels. It differs from other flume rides in a few ways however. Firstly, you get 'launched' from the station, as a lifeboat would, into a first splashdown. Then after travelling though waterfalls on either side you climb into a mock oil rig and then dropped BACKWARDS into another splashdown. After another calm sail around of some great theming of a crashed ship, you climb up the main drop to 60 feet and splashdown at the lakeside off a double bump drop! From the history to the experience itself, I love everything about this ride. It represents my favourite charity, it is themed brilliantly both in ride, station and queue line, and it's basically just so much fun. Take note however, some flume rides state you will get wet, on Stormforce, you WILL get soaked! Guaranteed! The only issues people may have with this are a few overgrown plants here and there, and the cleanliness and slight odour of the water. It is lake water after all. Apart from that, this is the best ride in the park that can cater for many ages, great for an adventurous family that don't mind a drenching!
I like to think I'm pretty fearless when it comes to thrill rides, only one has ever got the better of me and that sits on top on the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. However, the other ride up there was something I did go on, The Big Shot, and Apocalypse is an Intamin drop tower ride in the same vein. Okay, it's not over 1000 feet in the air, only a mere(?!) 177 feet, but it gives a sense of dread and foreboding about it in the way it looms over the park, a dark grey, dirty and evil looking contraption. Looking like a giant industrial machine, It has fives sides, and a variety of different ride positions. Sitting, standing or floorless! Drop tower rides lift you up to a maximum height, then suddenly drop you free-fall until breaks stop your decent, and Apocalypse is a fine example of how a simple ride themed correctly can create so much iilogical fear. The floorless aspect is of course another trigger, as is dropping into a building instead of open air. It did take me a while to wrench myself onto this, but after I did, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. You get the choice while queuing to opt for sitting for standing, with deliberate decay, metal fences and yellow warning signs displayed to fit the theme. High, yes. Fast, yes. Afraid, not really, but I would think some other people would be scared out of their wits! It's a brilliant psychological ride, dominating Drayton Manor's skyline like a watchful demon. It has been voted on numerous times as the best thrill ride in the UK, and is maybe the most popular ride for the thrill seekers.
~~Ben 10: Ultimate Mission~~
Drayton Manor have made a real attempt to get the balance of the park's rides as to cover the needs for an entire family unit, and this roller coaster was put in in 2011 to recognise that. It's a Vekoma Boomerang junior coaster based on the popular US cartoon network series Ben 10. As to bridge the gap from the tame Buffalo Roller Coaster to the thrills of G-Force, Ben 10: Ultimate mission gives the rider thrills without the scares. It's an impressive 66 feet tall, with no inversions but has fast banking turns and of course runs backwards. The track on this type of coaster doesn't complete a circuit, the train runs forwards, and then in reverse on the same track. I was surprised, but my daughter loved this, it even topped Thomasland for her, and she wanted to repeatedly keep going on it. Bright green in colour, with a grey futuristic building, it's the best themed ride in the park, totally on the money with the cartoon, both inside and out. The queue line has a darkly lit tunnel and maze, with neon lighting effects, whooshy alien sounds and interactive screens for the kids to pass the time. Models of the characters and aliens from the show are also presented, and while it may be a little scary for some, it's very effective and involving. Since the queue times can get long, this helps keep the restlessness at bay for while. Even for a hardened coaster nut like me, it's a very enjoyable ride, I went on it twice with my daughter. A height AND age restriction applies for Ben 10, your child has to be over 4 and at least 1 metre tall with an adult. As far as family thrill rides go, this is a first class example.
I have highlighted here some of the big attractions, but there are many many rides in Drayton Manor for all ages and tastes. It claims to have that balance right, I would guess they were pretty much correct. For extra thrills for the teens and the big kids (like me) there are rides like Maelstrom, Pandemonium and G-Force, the latter being a rare X-car roller coaster with a looped 'Humpty-bump' chain lift and with very tight twists and turns. It certainly looks impressive with its bright red track and power-station styled building standing my the park's main gates. I found it a good ride, but over far to quickly, looking better than it actually was. Medium family thrills can be found with rides like The Bounty, Buffalo Coaster and the Jolly Buccaneer. The Bounty is a fair sized pirate ship swing ride which is good for a laugh, and again very well themed mounted on a platform by the lakeside. The Jolly Buccaneer is a chasing roundabout bob-sleigh ride which gets quite fast indeed. Familiar fairground rides are available too, like a classic carousel and dodgems. More gentler rides include the Drayton Queen boat ride and the Polperro Express train, that takes a charming journey under and around Stormforce, Splash Canyon and Shockwave. There is a modern Big Wheel with closed carriages and the Chairlifts, that are both more chilled if heights are not a problem for you. (The Chairlifts were actually quite hairy for me!) There is of course the walk in attractions like the Pirates Adventure and The Haunting, the latter more for the older children as it's a classic adaptation of a haunted house ride.
For me, the park does live up to it's claims and provides a wide range of rides that all the family can get involved in. Even my 70 year old mother found rides like Polperro Express, Splash Canyon and Lady's Carousal very enjoyable, as did all the members of my family for different rides. This balance for me is only rivalled by Alton Towers, as all to often theme parks focus on one direction. All of the rides on the whole have been well maintained and are well presented, as I found very little problems to speak off really. I was a little disappointed about the Buffalo Coaster, that was closed halfway though the day because of a wasp nest to close to the tracks, and the Cranky the Crane also stopped working during the day, but apart from that, I can't think of many bad points about any of the rides at all. Maybe a little more attention to the landscaping and few paintwork touch up's possibly, but I feel that would be nitpicking.
--Other Observations and Details--
There are some things to take note of when visiting Drayton Manor, some just good planning and some small criticisms of the park. The information and help point (Guest Services) is located more or less in the middle of the park, and the young lady in attendance was cheerful and helpful. This is also where the only cash machine is in the entire park, and it's a chargeable link ATM too, so make sure you have plenty of cash with you for playing the side games and arcades, and the change is also handy for the 'Human Dryers' if you wish to dry off after Stormforce. Major cards are accepted for many of the cafe's, shops and refreshment stores, but not everywhere. As is the family nature of the park, cigarettes are not sold anywhere even though smoking is permitted in outdoor area's (prohibited in Thomasland of course). Alcoholic drinks are available in the hotel bars, but are not to be consumed in the park itself. I think this policy is all common sense and fitting to keep the parks family friendly atmosphere.
Of the few mentionable negatives I have about the park, some of the staff in the main park could be a little more attentive and more cheerful. Some of the rides have young people in summer jobs operating on them and while this is great that they are working, many trudge around with shoulders slumped with miserable faces. This is not great, but thankfully not all the staff are like this. I wasn't overly happy with the 2 young women operating G-Force however, one sat with her leg up on the control panel staring at her iPhone and chatting to the other who was checking the restraints. A few more staff of various ages were a bit lacklustre too, the operative of the Jolly Buccaneer didn't take note of a disabled rider, and could have stopped the ride by the exit gate but didn't, making the man walk around the ride. Like I said, this was not constant and on the whole the staff were well mannered and smartly dressed in the parks uniform, but some just could be a lot happier in their work. Another small issue for me is that there could be more toilets placed around the park, and sometimes having to walk quite a distance for a child can prove pant wettingly fatal, and the same goes for baby changing facilities. The ones that are there are kept relatively clean though, and no serious hygiene concerns at all.
Having been to a fair few theme parks over the years, Drayton Manor is right up there with the best of them. The layout of the park is not overly complicated and not to large either. You can get around to most things in a single day if it's not during the school holidays, and I would think that when things got busy, there is plenty to see and do to enjoy to break the waiting up. Obviously, in peak times queueing times would take a fair amount of time out of your day, that's why it's good sense to visit during quiet times. Even though it's not a big park, the amount of rides, amusements and stalls is impressive and its all well planned, maintained and organised. I keep on banging this drum, but the balance of rides to cater for the whole family spectrum is absolutely spot on, having the peaceful, the daring, the fun-loving and thrillseekers all mixed up nicely.
For the price you pay on-line, I think it's worth it, but maybe not on very busy days. The full price might be pushing it a bit, as are the predictable inflated prices of the food and drink. That said, the location, the zoo, Thomasland and with the many more attractions, it does provide a lot of activities, and marries this with a clean setting and good social atmosphere. I certainly felt more at ease and relaxed in Drayton Manor than I have been at Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Chessington. With good planning and perhaps a bit of luck with the weather, I would think you and your family would have a great day at here. We did, and at the end of the day we left tired but very satisfied and fulfilled, with nobody moaning about the few negatives I have mentioned. That's a very good sign for me, and I fully recommend Drayton Manor Theme Park for a tip top day out.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug
Summary: A true family theme park that has almost everything. Wonderful and fun.
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