Out with the old in with the choo
It’s been a busy winter at Drayton Manor. The English amusement park has ditched its entire children’s area and replaced it with a new one – Thomas Land. On behalf of the park, Andrew Mellor gives Park World an exclusive peak during construction.
Many of the attractions added at Drayton Manor in recent years have been aimed at older guests, but this year the Staffordshire park is out sending out a very clear signal that it has not forgotten about families with younger children. Based around the hugely popular Thomas and Friends franchise, Thomas Land stands on the site of old Robinsons Land, which was sponsored by the soft drinks brand of the same name.
Created in conjunction with HIT Entertainment, which owns the Thomas rights, Thomas Land has been designed by the London-based studios, RMA Ltd. It is the only themed land of its kind in Europe, and the first on this scale since the original Thomas Land opened at Japan’s Fujikyu Highlands in 1998.
“Some parks have put in a Thomas train, for example,” notes Drayton’s project manager Edward Pawley, “but we wanted to do a whole land. We wanted to replace Robinsons Land with a branded attraction and felt Thomas and Friends would be perfect. We have no less than 27 characters featured in the new area; it will offer a very immersive experience.”
Construction began while the park was still open last September, and many of the Robinsons Land rides were moved to other areas of the park for the remainder of the season. The planned opening schedule includes a press day on March 12, ahead of the official public opening on March 15.
The new area will be used by Drayton Manor to significantly extend its operating period. The full 2008 season dates are March 15 to November 2, but the park will now also add a “Christmas Experience” in December and open during the February half-term school holidays.
All but one of the old rides have been removed, sold to Funland at Hayling Island, and in their place come a host of Thomas and Friends rides and fully themed buildings, sure to delight devoted followers of the smiling steam train.
The centrepiece of Thomas Land is Knapford Station, from where Thomas and Percy will provide train journeys for passengers along 600-metres of track to the Drayton farm area, which to be renamed Farmer McColl’s Farm, and Tidmouth Hault. The impressive Knapford station building is complete with a fully operational turntable and complemented by a café bar, three party rooms, a dockyard scene and a fully functional signal box in which youngsters can play with a variety of interactive elements.
The rides at Thomas Land include two 60-seater trains, Thomas and Percy, by the German manufacturer Metallbau Emmeln; the Troublesome Trucks runaway coaster (a junior coaster from Gerstlauer); and Terence’s Driving School, from SB International in Sweden. A total of seven rides have been supplied by Zamperla: Jeremy the Jet’s Flying Academy (a Telecombat), Crazy Bertie Bus (Crazy Bus), Lady’s Carousel (a platform merry-go-round), Diesel’s Locomotion Mayhem (Demolition Derby), Harold’s Heli Tours (Samba Tower), Cranky’s Drop Tower (Sky Tower) and Rockin’ Bulstrode (Rockin’ Tug). All the rides have been selected by Coen Niewenstein of ARC in The Netherlands, HIT Entertainment’s strategic development partner.
The one attraction that remains from Robinsons Land is the Veteran Cars, which have been rethemed as the Sodor Classic Cars, Sodor being the fictional island on which the Thomas and Friends/Thomas the Tank Engine stories are set. At approximately 6,000 square metres, Thomas Land is in fact larger than the former Robinsons Land and the 11 attractions within it also offer increased rider capacity.
As well as the new rides, there is also a three-storey indoor play area, Emily’s Play Arena by SPI of North Wales, plus a new outdoor play area within Farmer McColl’s Farm, built by Eibe from Germany.
The Thomas Land Shop, meanwhile, is possibly the largest Thomas themed retail outlet ever built, and is expected to become a significant source of secondary income for Drayton Manor thanks to the strength of the Thomas brand. Seating areas, landscaping, photo opportunities and theming throughout will complete the Sodor Island effect and provide eager children with the ultimate Thomas and Friends experience.
“The project has certainly grown since the original plans were discussed,” notes Pawley, revealing that the initial budget of £2 million (€3.4m) has more than doubled. “We are now spending round £4.5 million, but this reflects the confidence we have in the brand. The fact that we’re a family business has also meant that we’ve been able to take these decisions and add to the project without delay as our enthusiasm for it has grown.”
That enthusiasm permeates throughout the Drayton team, so much so that the park is even manufacturing its own Thomas and Friends props to include in the new land. Full-sized replicas of the Terence and James steam engines are being built as add-ons, in addition to five other steam engine figures that will appear on the outside of the engine shed for photo opportunities. Full steam ahead!
Pictured here is Drayton Manor’s proud managing director, Colin Bryan, with Cranky’s Drop Tower ride (by Zamperla). See the February/March 2008 issue of Park World for exclusive construction photos.