It was bad luck, really, that our trip to preview the new Ben 10 Ultimate Mission ride at Drayton Manor themepark near Tamworth in Staffordshire concided with both the Easter holidays and a spell of unseasonably fine weather, which meant that the park – if not the ride itself, which properly opened two days later – was rammed. My boys had been to the seaside the day before, but as we stood sweltering in queues in the fierce sunshine, all I could think about was how I would much rather be on the beach.
The Ben 10 ride – a ‘Junior Boomerang’ with a minimum height requirement of 1.1m – went down well with my eldest son, eight, who liked the fact that it completes the track forwards and then does a backwards return trip. My husband thought it takes more than painting a rollercoaster bright green to make it special, although he said the themed, interactive queue line with its touchscreens and alien paraphernalia looked impressive. And boy, will people need the distraction if the queues this summer are anything like they were when we visited.
With a day out at a British themepark costing a family of 4 about £100 before travel and snacks/refreshments are factored in, going on a busy day can represent seriously bad value if you want to go on some of the most popular rides – and who doesn’t? Then there’s the problem with having kids of different ages or fear levels who want to go on different rides, meaning parents either separating to take kids on the rides they want to go on, or else kids (and parents) queuing for ages for rides they can’t or don’t want to go on. We – or at least the train-obsessive in our family, three-year-old Zac – would have loved to spend more time in Drayton Manor’s Thomas Land (indeed, more than 24 hours later he's still asking when he can go back). But this part of the park is more crowded, in terms of the number of attractions, than others, and was also the busiest when we were there, meaning we could only bear to queue for a couple of attractions before fleeing.
The lack of any signage at Drayton Manor means you often can’t even begin to guess how long you might have to queue for – or that, by the time you do, you’ve already queued so long you can’t bear to let the kids down by pulling out. Nor does it offer any premium-price fast-track tickets on the big-hitting rides. Overall, though, it’s not a bad little park, set around a cooling lake on which you can take steam-boat rides and with the benefit of a small zoo that can help keep younger kids entertained as older ones go on the big rides if you’re prepared to split up. Indeed, it’s worth noting that with kids 2-3 costing just a couple of pounds to enter Drayton Manor, and ages 2 and under going free, one parent could bring a younger kid purely to visit Thomas Land when the park is less busy overall. There’s also a special adult + toddler and slightly cheaper grandparent + toddler rate in force during Staffordshire term-times. Otherwise, look out for vouchers offering 2-for-1 tickets or other discounts.