I’d heard about Thomas the Tank’s visits to the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer for years, from my BFF who has a son who loved the No. 1 blue train. They drove all the way from Atlanta to see it and loved it. So, when I got the chance to visit for “A Day Out with Thomas the Tank” this past weekend with my three young sons, I jumped at it.
We had a blast. My husband took the afternoon off from work and we went with our sons Wade, 3 and twins Johnny and Wes, who will turn 2 on Sunday. It was just the right blend of fun and excitement for them and ease and enjoyment for mom and dad. (Children under 2 are admitted free. Talk about just making the cut!)
The highlight was the 25-minute ride in a passenger car on board a train pulled by “Thomas.” (Rides with “Percy” are offered too.) That was worth the trip an hour north of Charlotte all by itself.
(Even going on a Friday afternoon, driving up I-85 wasn’t bad. Our tickets were for the last train at 3:45 p.m. so we left Charlotte at 2:15, beat traffic and got there by 3:20.)
Of my sons only Wade had been on a train before, and that was to ride the Lynx. This was much more of an authentic train ride experience and made me want to take my boys on a trip I went on as a child. My parents took my brother Wade and me on an overnight trip to Washington D.C. on a sleeper car when we were 7 and 8. It was amazing. We are so going to do that before it’s all said and done.
The boys were a little shell-shocked and curious when we first boarded the train – notice the pained expressions in our family photo – but as soon as we got rolling, they were digging it. By the time we passed Percy going in the opposite direction on another track, they were convinced, and smiling and bopping around our seats.
Our boys didn’t come into the experience diehard about Thomas like my best friend’s son was when he was younger. Elmo, Daniel Tiger and P.J. Masks carry more weight in our household, but I wouldn’t mind in the least if Thomas gets a bigger piece of the action going forward. Thomas and Percy really came to life for our boys Friday, which is more than I can say for P.J. Masks!
Next to the train ride, my favorite part of the experience was Imagination Station, an area set up with various toys and games. The train tables are fabulous, a great way for the littles to put their train-riding experience into action. The area also featured an elaborate model train display that would have sent Sheldon Cooper into happy hysterics. Our boys were a little young to appreciate it, but in a few years, it will be a different story.
There was a ginormous sand box too and rocking chairs stationed throughout for parents. It was like the organizers knew just want to do for Mom and Dad. Even with three toddlers liable to run in three directions, we could sit and rock for a while, while our boys played happily together. I could have stayed there for another hour, if it weren’t closing in on dinner time and a trip home for bed.
The other main attraction for us was the gift shop. It was a sight to behold, looking around at all the Thomas swag, even for the adults. We managed to keep the excitement to a dull roar by telling our boys they could each pick one thing to take home. We walked out with three small wood Thomas the Tank engines. Hey, at least there won’t be fighting over who got what, right? We kept it to a dull roar but you can do some damage in a store like that with holiday or birthday gift-buying while you’re at it.
You know an event has a lot going for it when you have a great time and don’t come close to taking full advantage of all it has to offer. Some of the things we didn’t do were the meet-n-greet with Sir Topham Hatt, crafts, story-telling and videos, passport stamps for kids at different locations, magic shows and more.
The professional photography on site was easily accessible and helpful since somebody else can take your family photo in front of Thomas the Tank. Being there in the late afternoon on a hot day didn’t put us in the best position to get a great shot – good luck trying to get three toddlers looking toward the hot sun – but I can appreciate what they were trying to do and am sure it worked out well for most people.
The event tickets include the chance to tour the transportation museum though we didn’t have time or the need to do it. But I’d love to go back when our boys’ attention spans are a little longer. In the meantime, I’m thinking going back when the Polar Express comes to Spencer this holiday season is a must!