GIVEN that it is comparatively on my doorstep, it is criminal that this was my first-ever visit to Drayton Manor.
We were drawn in by Thomas Land – the section of the theme park dedicated to the popular tank engine – but found that there was so much more to offer.
It may have been a cold and rainy Friday in December, but the magic of the park and its seemingly endless attractions kept our cockles resolutely warmed throughout our afternoon.
Drayton Manor is full of activity as the Thomas Land engines prepare for Christmas, with spectacular decorations, festive music and a guarantee that it will snow at least three times a day.
The Polar Express 15-minute film experience is being screened in the 4D cinema, while children can meet Father Christmas in the Castle of Dreams and receive a free gift and a Golden Ticket to come back in the 2014 season.
Every evening during the festive period, the skies will be lit up by a fantastic array of fireworks for the whole family to enjoy.
Easily accessible off the M42/M6, we did not have to queue once during our visit, which saw us immediately head for the afore-mentioned Thomas Land – as that was the principle attraction for my three-year-old son Jack.
Within this section alone, there are 15 separate attractions, and we eased our way in with Lady’s Carousel - a gentle ride on Lady’s engine for the very small.
While on this ride, we could see the large red cars of Winston’s Whistle-Stop Tour, which wound their way around a track suspended in the air above our heads.
There was a similar ride on terra firma, Terence’s Driving School, which wound in and out of a farmyard.
Jack loved both, as he was able to sit in the front and ‘drive’ the car, while I sat in the back with his eight-month-old sister Amelie and enjoyed the ride!
We lunched at one of the cafes, which offered a very reasonably-priced kids meal (during which I discovered that Jack likes apple – good to know!), and then wandered over to the centrepiece of Thomas Land – Knapford Station.
From here, actual trains, pulled along by Thomas, Percy and Rosie, take you from one end of the park to the other.
A friendly guard was on hand to help us on with our buggy, and there was plenty to look at and point out to Jack along the way.
The train took us to the far side of the park, and it was here that we started discovering things I was not expecting to find, as we walked back.
After a quick toilet break in the convenient and well-appointed baby changing facilities, we made our way past the outdoor adventure playground to the exciting-looking Dino Park.
A fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex looms over the entrance, while inside, a variety of prehistoric beasts, all with their own educational information panel, thrill and scared Jack in equal measure.
Just past the dinosaurs were a collection of all-together more real beasts, in the Drayton Manor Zoo.
I am always a bit dubious about the morality of zoos, but this one seemed one of the better, and they proudly advertise their an environmental enrichment program.
They say: “Environmental enrichment enhances the animal enclosures to stimulate occupants to investigate, interact, hunt and display a wide range of natural behaviours.”
Among the more than 100 species, the monkeys (I’m sure they have more scientific names) were a favourite, as was the reptile house, especially the ever-increasing sizes of tortoises.
We made our way back to Thomas Land and dodged out of the rain into Emily’s Indoor Play Area – a large indoor playground where parents can rest their feet for a few minutes while the kids run around, and then braved Harold’s Helicopter Tours, a spinning, rising ride of helicopters that flies high above the park (at a fairly gentle pace though).
Had Jack been slightly older (or taller), we could also have taken in the Troublesome Trucks Coaster, Diesels Locomotion Mayhem, Jeremy Jet, Crazy Bertie Bus, Rocking Bulstrode and Cranky the Crane Drop Tower.
In the main section of the park, there is the Action Park, which includes Apocalypse, recently voted the scariest ride in the UK and Maelstrom – a stomach-churning gyro-swing which flies high (and upside-down) into the air.
There is also Pirate Cove, with appropriately themed rides and eateries; Fisherman’s Wharf and the Aerial Park, all of which we will certainly take in when I drag my wife along next time.
Tickets start at £20 for adults, with children from £5. A toddler and adult ticket is available for £30.
For more information and to book discounted tickets, visit www.draytonmanor.co.uk.