Taking your child to see Father Christmas is an essential part of the festive season for most parents.
However, a trip to Santa’s grotto can now involve so much more than standing around in a long queue for a brief face-to-face with the man himself.
But if you’re looking for a full day out with plenty to keep the little ones busy, you won’t go wrong with Drayton Manor’s Magical Christmas.
The theme park has transformed itself into a winter wonderland full of twinkling lights, giant candy canes and a 30ft Christmas tree which lights up to familiar festive music every half an hour. It’s the tenth year Drayton Manor has organised a Christmas event and in that time it has welcomed more than half a million visitors and held almost 160,000 Santa meet-and-greets.
This year, Father Christmas himself has set himself up in the Castle of Dreams and those wanting to see him need to pre-book a time slot before their visit. One of the biggest downsides of visiting a theme park in late November or December is always going to be the cold weather, but Drayton Manor have done what they can to make the experience more pleasant by adding heaters to the outdoor queuing area.
In reality, we waited only moments before a friendly elf ushered us into a cosy room to meet the man in red and white. He was friendly and took his time to make small talk with our children, including a very shy and reluctant three-year-old.
Once he had wheedled their Christmas wishes out of them, he gave them a special secret mission to complete once they were back in the theme park. There was then the chance to pose for a family photograph – which, of course, you can buy afterward – and each child was given a goody bag to take away.
As far as gifts go, you don’t have to worry about having to add to the mountain of plastic tat at home. Each child is given a lovely hardback book telling a story about Father Christmas at Drayton Manor and a chocolate lollipop shaped like a snowflake, which went down well with our brood on the journey home.
There is also a golden ticket for a return visit to Drayton Manor during 2018. This is essentially a voucher which will get you a free child admission for each paying adult.
My only criticism would be that every child receives the same gift regardless of their age. This also means that if you have a few children, you’ll also end up with a number of identical books.
One of the big plus points for mums and dads at Drayton Manor, though, is that you can tick off quite a few experiences from your child’s Christmas to-do list all in one place. There are real reindeer in the zoo (along with 130 other animal species from all over the world) as well as festive face painting, countless Christmassy photo opportunities, Ice Age: a Mammoth Christmas showing in the 4D cinema and a small skating rink called Slide & Glide.
The indoor synthetic rink probably won’t impress seasoned skaters used to real ice, but is an ideal introduction for young children and beginners. Housed in the area where the dodgems normally live, visitors can pop along to Slide & Glide without having to book a time slot or pay any extra charges, making it a great way to find out if your child actually likes skating before shelling out on a visit to a larger rink.
The entire theme park isn’t open, but there is still more than enough going on to fill a day. The action centres on Thomas Land and its rides, although there are also a few of the gentler attractions elsewhere in the park operating along with the zoo, soft play area and Tiny Tots Play Farm.
Within Thomas Land, here is a balcony show featuring the Fat Controller and his friends. And if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you might (almost) get your wish with foamy snow showers three times a day.
The theme of the balcony show is continued in a small parade and show at the end of the day which leads the crowds from the heart of Thomas Land to the giant Christmas tree which is the ideal viewing point for a fireworks display over the lake.
A trip to Drayton Manor won’t be the cheapest way to see Father Christmas this year and it probably won’t hit the mark for older children or Santa sceptics.
But if you have a teeny Thomas fan in your household or simply a little one who loves children’s rides, then you’ll certainly end up with a lot of magical memories for your money.