IT’S SNOWING again – but that’s not going to stop the trains running on time. Not here in Sodor. Not with the Fat Controller in charge. And definitely not at Christmastime.
Google the location of Sodor, and you’ll find that it’s an island in the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Man and Barrow-in-Furness.
Don’t believe a word of it. These days it’s in Drayton Bassett, in the English county of Staffordshire.
More precisely, it’s to be found at Thomas Land, in Drayton Manor Theme Park, devoted to all things Thomas the Tank Engine.
This is the only official park attraction in Europe devoted to the classic children’s stories of the Revd Wilbert Awdry.
And right now, Christmas has come early. It’s a white Christmas too because snow is guaranteed. It falls several times a day, as regular as, well, the trains running.
Thomas Land’s annual Magical Christmas launched yesterday and runs all the way through to New Year’s Eve, with festive fun, family shows and rides, fireworks and – ho, ho, ho – a jolly special guest.
Grandsons Zachary, 10, and Miles, aged seven, called in at the park to see if the season is on the right track.
They’ve loved the place in the past and, although they’re getting on a bit now for Thomas (it’s more Minecraft these days), what kid doesn’t love a sprinkling of Christmas magic?
This year, the seasonal special breaks down into the Magical Christmas celebration and an (extra cost) all-new Grotto Experience if you want a personal chat with Santa.
Yes, of course you do. You’re never too old for Santa.
And when the first thing you encounter is a 35ft high Christmas tree whose lights dance to seasonal music, you know you’re probably in the right place.
None of the main park’s white knuckle signature rides are open for the Christmas season, but the 25 attractions in Thomas Land are all running, providing child-friendly thrills and fun.
They range from sedate classic car rides on a track to the Troublesome Trucks rollercoaster, designed for newcomers but delivering more punch than you might expect.
Zachary rode it for the first time and loved it so much that he wanted a repeat ride. And another repeat ride. As I said, he’s ten. It’s a given.
Both Thomas and Rosie were trundling down the tracks and back, pulling familiar carriages full of families, while the Fat Controller’s helpers were prone to bursting into song as the snow fell.
The main park’s traditional carousel remains up and running, too. There are few attractions that evoke the time of year than the old school steeds prancing and dancing on a merry-go-round.
It’s timeless, especially when surrounded by all the high-tech thrills and spills of a 21st century theme park.
The three main attractions of the season, however, are a new 15-minute live show in the 4-D cinema, the much-revised grotto experience and an outdoor Santa singalong and fireworks finale.
‘A Christmas Wish’ finds Tinsel the Elf and Santa in a boisterous song, dance and magic production with lots of enthusiastic audience interaction.
No spoilers here, but there’s some crowd-pleasing antics involving a table lamp, mince pies, milk and a tree that can only be lit by happiness. Oh, and yes, some Beyonce moves…
Children of all ages enjoyed the show (and children at heart adults too) and the fact that it’s inside the cinema means that there’s respite from the cold if the weather gets chilly.
The Grotto Experience starts with stories read by Mrs Claus, who’s in search of the jingle that’s gone missing from the bells, without which (children look away now) the sleigh can’t fly.
Ah, there’s even a fuel shortage crisis at the North Pole.
There’s the chance for the kids to make reindeer food (here’s a tip, ask Snowlexa). The elves can add some magic dust and then you can take it home ready for putting out on Christmas Eve.
Last, but not least, the chance to meet the Man. And this must be the real Santa, given that he can talk knowledgeably about both Minecraft and Star Wars with Zachary and Miles.
Come 5pm, and it’s down to the lake for a singalong with Elfis (yes, he’s in the house), Santa, Mrs Claus and the reindeer before a spectacular but not overlong fireworks display.
By the time you’ve spent the day with Thomas and his pals you’ll be in no doubt that Christmas isn’t far away. Now there’s something to give mums and dads sleepless nights.
But don’t worry, there are only 41 sleeps ’til the big day….
So, is it worth the money? It’s not a cheap day out, with combined Magical Christmas and Grotto Experience prices set at £32 a head for anyone over the age of four, when booked online.
On top of that, there’s a £6 parking fee (bah humbug!) and food and drink, of course.
If your kids are big on Thomas and Friends, and they’re old enough to go on all the rides, then they’ll love every minute. If there’s a teenage sibling in tow, better take the iPad or tablet of your choice.
Find full details and admission prices at draytonmanor.co.uk