Reviewed: Drayton Manor
Drayton Manor Park consistently attracts over 1 million visitors each year with its wide variety of attractions which have broad appeal amongst young children, thrill seekers & families alike. The annual gate figures fluctuate as you’d expect according to external factors such as weather, and indeed the recent recession. The park employs approximately 600 seasonal staff, with a portion of those being permanent to continue to work on the park throughout the closed season for ride maintenance, marketing and to continue running the business.
Drayton Manor agree that part of their most recent success is largely due to the introduction of their Thomas Land which is
phenomenally popular amongst children, their families and indeed the big kids too! Thomas The Tank Engine is such a well-known brand – both with younger children and parents. This area offers an excellent variety of attractions for its visitors, in addition to the main park’s wild rides, or the calming zoo for those not wanting to experience such a hectic day.
It’s worth noting that Drayton Manor park has been with us for some 60 years, making it one of the most established parks in the UK. Here’s a little more about the park’s heritage:
Drayton Manor was first opened to the public by the current owners, the Bryan family, in 1950 after husband and wife co-founders, George, OBE, and Vera Bryan, converted 80 acres of derelict land, which once belonged to the former British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel and his family, into a wonderful family attraction. Today, set in approximately 280 acres of beautiful woodland and countryside, the family owned and run Drayton Manor Theme Park features some of the biggest, wettest and scariest rides around, including Shock-wave, G-force, Maelstrom, and Apocalypse!
Website & Pricing
We took a look at the website and with us being regular visitors to park websites, Drayton Manor’s new site has to be amongst the best website we’ve seen. It’s an extremely clean and fresh looking design with easy navigation to all the information you require; the menu bar across the top has a hover facility which expands the selection, along with a handy shortcut section giving you direct access to the essential information such as Opening Times, How to Get There and, something we’ve not seen easily available for users before on a park website – Special Needs Guide.
The website has a real-time rides & attractions news feed which is nice to see, so guests can see what rides are not operational before they travel. The rides pages have extensive technical information about the attractions including videos for the major rides (though we couldn’t get the Apocalypse video working, despite weeks of trying). There is also a sub-section for the park’s very own Thomas Land, though this area simply has a rides list with a brief description; we’d like to see additional photos/videos like the main site, as this would be useful for parents when planning a potential trip with young children.
Here’s a look at the Pros & Cons of the website:
- Exceptional graphic design and easy navigation.
- Extensive ride information with media (for main park).
- Dynamic News feed with latest news from the park.
- Easy links to Social Networking feeds.
- 2011 Hotel Construction mini-site.
- High Google search rankings.
- Works on mobile devices without the need for text alternative.
- No interactive park map/guide (simple JPG of park map)
- Limited information for Thomas Land.
- Music auto-plays when main home page is loaded (and doesn’t remember that you turned it off).
Overall, Drayton Manor have the best looking theme park website we’ve come across so far with an equally successful navigation system.
Ticket Prices (as of October 2010) Standard/Online:
Adult (age 12+) Â£28/20.95
Child (age 4-11) Â£24/Â£18.95
Grandee (age 60+) Â£14/Â£14
As with most parks these days, visitors make a saving if they pre-book online, and at Drayton Manor this saving is quite substantial over the gate price; saving up to Â£7 per person. We can’t argue with a ticket price of Â£20.95 considering the number of attractions the park offers. It’s an excellent price, just make sure you prebook!
The price for over 4s seems fair too – since the introduction of Thomas Land, this opens a massive array of attractions to the younger visitor, coupled with the Zoo,the kids have plenty to be going on all through the day.
Rides & Attractions
With over 40 attractions, guests of all ages are sure to find something they enjoy. Drayton Manor really does have a great selection of rides; from the freefall terror of Apocalypse; to the classic, Vintage Carousel.
The park is home to 2 major Rollercoasters, Shockwave and G-Force. Shockwave was built in 1994, and is, to this date, Europeâ€™s only stand up coaster. The ride features 4 inversions; A Vertical Loop; Zero-G roll and 2 Corkscrews. Unfortunately, Shockwave was closed, due to technical difficulties on the day of our visit, so we are unable to give a detailed report on the ride. G-Force, Draytonâ€™s 2nd major Coaster, was built in 2005. This ride is unique, in the fact that, although this is a Multi-Inversion coaster, the trains are fitted with hip-hugging lap bars, that secure around your waist. The ride also features a â€˜Humpty Bumpâ€™ Lift Hill. This resembles a standard vertical lift hill, with a lift chain going up one half of it.
Once at the peak of the loop, the train is released and speeds down the opposite side. The layout also features an airtime hill, and a Bent Cuban Eight â€“ the only element of its kind! G-Forces queueline is housed underneath the station in a bland looking metal warehouse. On two of the walls are large visualisations, similar to what you would find on Windows Media Player. We welcome any attempt at theming; however, we feel this would be a lot better if it played a â€˜Pre rideâ€™ video to help build tension. There are also two large Tesla Coils located on the ceiling of the queueline building. Unfortunately, these were turned off on our visit; however, we are sure that when working, they are a brilliant effect. A pet hate of ours is one train operation. G-Force however, has permanent one train operation, as they have only bought a single train. We can understand budget constraints; however, on busy days the queues can reach an unnecessary length, which would be avoided, had Drayton Manor invested in another train.
Another of Draytonâ€™s more prominent rides is Apocalypse. It is the tallest ride in the park, reaching a dizzying height of 180ft. The ride is an Intamin Drop Tower, which features 3 different seating configurations. Firstly there is standard seating, as found on most rides and drop towers. Then there is a stand-up option. In this configuration, riders stand on a platform, and raise a saddle between their legs. They are then secured via an Over the Shoulder Restraint. Lastly, for the true thrill seeker is a Stand-up Floorless version. This works in exactly the same way as the standard stand-up; however, there is no floor beneath you, leaving guests bodies completely free to move. This ride is definitely not for the faint hearted, and though not as forceful as itâ€™s fellow Drop Towers; such as Detonator at Thorpe Park, itâ€™s sheer height and seating options will leave riders feeling very shook and vulnerable. Oh, and did we mention â€“ All of this is happening whilst you are tilted forwards at an angle of 15Â°.
Thomas Land has a variety of attractions aimed at the younger audience including Diesels Locomotion Mayhem, Cranky The Crane Drop Tower and our particular favourite; Troublesome Trucks. We rode this coaster several times at both the front and back, and we believe it to be the best kiddie coaster in the UK by far!
New For 2010 – Happy Feet 4D
New for 2010 is Happy Feet 4D. Happy Feet 4D is a 12 minute cut of the feature film, Happy Feet, which follows the tale of Mumble, a penguin on a mission to save his colony from starvation.
The film is presented in 3D, which is exceptionally good. Usually with 3D films, especially ones at Theme Parks, the 3D effect is sub-par. However, the 3D in Happy Feet 4D produces a brilliant effect, with no evident ghosting (Seeing double images). Whether this is due to the 3D system employed, or the quality of the film being watched, weâ€™re unsure; but for whatever reason, guests can expect a thrilling, depth-filled journey into the world of dancing penguins. The attraction uses several in-cinema effects to create a more immersive experience, and therefore adding the 4th dimension.
The standard features, such as water sprays and seat movements are used in film, and do provide some fun and surprise; however, it is the more unusual effects that really make this experience stand out. Bubbles. By far our favourite effect we have ever seen in a 4D film. They felt so â€˜magicalâ€™, and we can only guess at how enchanting they must be for a young child. The use of both real and on-screen bubbles created a brilliant effect. Another notable effect was a long strand of plastic; this was located below the chairs, behind the guestâ€™s ankles. These were triggered at a certain point during the film, and flay side to side, creating the illusion that something is rushing past the guests ankles. The attraction also uses different lighting to further enhance the experience.
Overall, Happy Feet 4D is a brilliant attraction, and is definitely a worthy addition to Drayton Manor’s portfolio.
Food & Beverage/Retail Sales
Drayton Manor is home to a variety of varying food outlets – there’s plenty of choice on park to keep everyone happy. Though we didn’t eat on park on this occasion, we have eaten here before at the Chicken Diner which is located in between Shockwave and G-Force. Food here is priced on accordance with most UK Theme Parks, and we found the quality of the food to be OK, though the portions could have been better.There are many different food options – we particularly like the atmosphere in the Rainforest Pizza Restaurant; it’s an indoor food court that is themed as though you’re in the middle of the rainforest with animals watching over you as you eat! There was a family Pizza Meal available here for Â£18.99 but we weren’t sure if this would be sufficient to feed a hungry park-going family of four.
We also spotted the American Style Diner near the Sombrero ride, which looked fantastic – once stepping in you really do feel like you’ve stepped into 60s American Diner with its chrome seating, chequered flooring and a Jukebox in the corner.Overall we were pleased with the variety of food options on offer at the park, however according to Drayton’s website if you’re planning to eat in Thomas Land, there is actually only a Cafe Bar available at Knapford Station. We expected Thomas Land to have its own kids eating experience, perhaps with a Thomas train where people can sit eating in the carriages – surely kids would love this and parents would appreciate not having to leave the area to find food. Whilst on park, we decided to purchase a variety of different souvenirs/merchandise. We noticed that Drayton Manor’s pricing in this area was excellent, with an Offical Drayton Manor mug costing just Â£2.50 & a kids soft juice flask for just Â£4. We also bought some sweets while on park with Sugar Dummies costing just 60p each compared with Â£2.50 at Chessington! We’re unsure whether this was due to reduced pricing near the end of the season, however it was great to be in a theme park shop that didn’t cost the earth.
Guest Experience/Staff Interaction
It had been reported on Drayton’s Facebook page by some previous visitors that the ride hosts attitude to customer service had been a little lapse, so UK Park News were keen to find out if this issue had been addressed as the park had promised.
We spent the whole day on park from around 09:30 until closing and probably spoke to at least a dozen members of staff throughout the day. Most of the people we talked to were very friendly and engaged in small conversation which was nice – particularly when we were on Bounty and Maelstrom, the full-figured male ride-op was noticeably pleasant.
Drayton falls into the category of being a family run park at heart and although we had no quibbles with how the staff treated guests throughout the day (others as well as ourselves), the park doesn’t quite seem to have that friendly/family atmosphere like the other family run parks we’ve reviewed this year. This could well be due to Drayton Manor seemingly outgrowing its family roots and taking the transition into a larger corporate park.
The atmosphere in the park is positive, and even from when we arrived to entrance music we noticed the park to be clean, welcoming and with plenty of information to hand via the park map that we were given, and signage around the park.
With the introduction of Thomas Land in 2008, Drayton Manor has undoubtedly become a major contender for one of the best family attractions in the UK. The Drayton Manor website dubs its rides as “The UK’s Best Attractions” and the park as “The UK’s Best Family Attraction”. We asked the park about these statements/claims since they are quite difficult for any business to quantify – here was Drayton Manor’s response:
“The comment about the park being the best attraction is based on several things, such as visitor numbers, surveys with visitors and the numerous awards won, most recently was last week’s (September 2010) Group Leisure award for Best UK attraction for Children.”
It’s a fantastic achievement for the park to have received the prestigious Group Leisure Award – and a sure indication that the park is committed to providing a theme park with attractions that are recognised by external organisations such as Group Leisure as well as being household names.
The park has so much to offer for the whole family including high adrenaline thrill rides such as Apocalypse, Shock Wave (Europe’s only Stand-up Rollercoaster) and Maelstrom. Thomas Land is a sure hit for the younger members of the family and equally, for those of us old enough to remember Thomas from the first time around! Thomas Land really does feel like you’re there, with the Fat Controller greeting people at the entrance and the real turntables that the engines use each time they arrive at the platform!
There’s also the huge Zoo area for the very small children or those who are not attracted to the rides areas. The Zoo is large
enough to feel as though it is a park of its own, with a variety of different animal attractions to visit including a Penguin enclosure, reptile house and the new Dino Trail! UK Park News has experience a variety of dinosaur trail/area attractions but we thought this was by far the best with some excellent use of dinosaur models, not forgetting the huge T-Rex that greets visitors at the entrance!
As of 2011, Drayton Manor will offer guests the opportunity to turn their stay into a short break when the Drayton Manor Hotel opens in Spring. At present pricing has not yet been established, though we’re hoping for it to be affordable, allowing everyone to experience this new attraction.
Drayton Manor is an excellent day out for all the family, and highly recommended by UK Park News. Overall we love the park – it has the best website of any UK Theme Park at the moment by far (in our opinion), and we’d like to congratulate the park for this. Drayton Manor offers a variety attractions for its visitors meaning there really is something from everyone.
On our visit however the park did appear to be marred with technical faults – whilst we appreciate this can happen to any park, there just seemed to be one too many attractions unavailable to guests:
Shockwave – Closed all day
G-Force – Only operating 12pm-4pm and only has 1 train resulting in very poor throughput.
Pandemonium – Closed all day.
Sombrero – Closed for maintenance in the afternoon.
Drunken Barrels – Hydraulic lift feature not working (advised by ride op).
With one of the park’s main attraction Shockwave being closed, you’d expect a park to make the effort to Open G-Force all day, rather than having a 4 hour opening – we feel rides should be available all day, since this is what guests are paying for – more concerning is that this looked to be a permanent sign which may well be used on a regular basis.
Aside from the technical faults and the excessive use of ride/park sponsorship (Real Radio, Heart FM, BRMB & Kerrang) UK Park News considers Drayton Manor to be one of the best parks in the UK with an excellent variety of attractions.