Gone are the days when a visit to Father Christmas involved a quick trip to a department store to sit on Santa’s knee.
Now families wanting a face-to-face meeting with the big man in red are spoilt for choice with a huge selection of festive experiences on offer. Drayton’s Magical Christmas – at Drayton Manor theme park, near Tamworth – offers a full day out with real reindeers, live Christmas shows, skating and fireworks as well as a meeting with Santa.
Most children will know Drayton Manor as the home of Thomas Land – an area dedicated to the friendly steam train and his friends with 17 themed rides, a soft play area, an outdoor playground and a model railway.
It may have been more than 75 years since the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry first invented Thomas the Tank Engine to cheer up his son as he recovered from measles, but the little blue engine is still a big hit with pre-schoolers.
Visitors to Drayton’s Magical Christmas will find all the usual Thomas Land rides open for business despite the chilly weather.
The only difference you’ll notice is that the water guns have been switched off on two of the rides – Captain’s Sea Adventure and Flynn’s Fire Rescue – to avoid anyone being blasted by an icy jet of freezing water.
The whole theme park has also been given a Christmas makeover with jolly festive tunes, twinkling lights, decadent decorations, giant trees and regular flurries of pretend snow.
In addition to Thomas Land, there are a selection of family rides open as well as a zoo with more than 100 animals from all over the world.
The 4D cinema is showing Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas and visitors can get their skates on and take to the ice at Slide and Glide, a small rink which is included in the standard admission charge.
Father Christmas himself is located in the Castle of Dreams – a fairytale setting for a magical childhood experience.
The queuing area is heated and friendly elves spend time talking to each family as they wait to make time pass more quickly.
When you make it to the front, you’ll be ushered into a special room to meet Santa himself so you can make sure he knows what to stuff into this year’s stocking.
The experience is relaxed rather than rushed and there’s an opportunity to buy a photograph of the meeting afterwards.
Every child who meets Father Christmas is given a soft toy and some vouchers and the gift is much nicer quality than many of the items given as presents in Santa’s grotto.
There’s also free face- painting and a sleigh to pose for photos in before you leave the castle to get on with your day.
The event ends each day with a live Christmas parade and show followed by a tots-friendly firework display with no big bangs to hurt little ears.
If you’ve got young children, you’ll struggle to find a festive experience which packs more in - your biggest challenge will be finding time to get around it all.
Drayton’s Magical Christmas runs until December 31. Visits with Santa must be booked in advance and are only available until Christmas Eve.