We were absolutely thrilled to experience another amazing Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road in beautiful Lancaster County, PA. This was our second year, and it was just as exciting to see Thomas and his best friend, Percy, face to face, ride the trains they pulled, and enjoy all the fun extras around the historic train station. Now that we've been to this awesome event a couple of times, we have a few tips and suggestions on how to make the experience easy and fun for every family.
1. Don't Freak Out if You Have to Park Far Away
The first time we arrived at A Day Out with Thomas, we were surprised to discover that the parking areas around Strasburg Rail Road were completely filled, and we were directed to park at the Sight and Sound Theatre about 5 minutes drive away. We were upset thinking that this meant we'd have to wait awhile in line for a bus to get there and then get back, and that we'd be in a real jam if we left anything behind. However the busing situation was run just as smoothly as the rest of the event with buses making trips every few minutes. Not 15 minutes after we locked up our car did we find ourselves at the train station (and many, many families took trips back to their car in the middle of the day to drop off lunch coolers or to go back for strollers).
2. Buy Your Tickets in Advance
A Day Out with Thomas is one of THE MOST POPULAR events held at Strasburg Rail Road during the year (yay that it comes three times!), and tickets sell out - especially for the weekend trains. In order to cut down on significant stress on whichever day you choose to visit, have those tickets already purchased!
Tickets for A Day Out with Thomas come in different packages from just a ride on Thomas to experiencing both Thomas and Percy as well as one of the nifty steam trains native to Strasburg Rail Road. You are going to at least want to ride both Thomas and Percy. Even if you've only decided to ride behind Thomas, you will find yourself at a point during your visit where you are going to want to upgrade to tickets for Percy as well. It's going to happen, so you might as well just plan to ride both trains from the get go (Bonues: Percy is NOT a timed ticket, so you can hop on board at any time during the day).
4. Get a Good Seat on Percy
A friendly conductor on the train gave us this little tip. By sitting all the way to the back of the train (right by the diesel that actually pulls his coaches - shhhhhh...) and staying to the side facing the station, you'll get a great view of Thomas pulling out on the tracks alongside. The cheers from your little traveling companions when they spot him accompanying his best friend on a short train ride will be worth walking all the way down the aisles. (We also like to be on this side of the train rides, because it gives us a great view of The Red Caboose Motel just down the tracks.)
5. Arrive at Least an Hour Earlier than Your Train Time
One of the things we love the most about A Day Out with Thomas is how well it is run and how helpful the staff is at accommodating families with little ones (since the average age of Thomas fans is 2 to 4 years olds). But even with well timed buses and well trained staff, bathroom breaks, feeding schedules, and random scrapped knees and dropped toys are bound to happen en route from your car to the train. Give yourself enough time to make the experience fun and easy instead of having to rush.
6. Bring Something Entertaining for the Train Ride
In a similar vein of planning for mishaps or midday crashers, prepare for your little one to get bored in the middle of the train ride. The time on the trains vary between Percy, Thomas, and the Strasburg Rail Road trains, but even enthusiastic riders may quickly tire of watching farmland go by after a couple of minutes. Many passengers had their own Thomas train toys and books to play with and read. Our own group enjoyed showing their Thomas and Percy toys the scenery and having them cheer on their big versions out the window.
It's definitely worth it to stop and meet the Chairman of the Railway himself. Not only is it a fantastic photo-op, but it brings The Island of Sodor to life even more for all the little visitors. The line goes quickly so don't worry about being stuck for a long time (no confusion and delay here, Sir!).
8. Line up for Thomas and Percy Photo-Ops BEFORE They Arrive
While the lines go very quickly as well for getting your picture with the Thomas and Percy Trains, they are only in the station for a set amount of time before they head back out with more coaches full of passengers. The line is pretty much non-existent while the trains are out and then fills up quickly after everyone spots them again, so we highly recommend already being in line ahead of the rest of the crowd. We did this with Thomas and Percy, and it only took us about 5 minutes of waiting and then 30 seconds to get our group shot and be on our way to our next fun stop.
One of the best reasons to do A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road is all of the fun extras they have around the entire station all day: hand-cranked cars, a little pufferbelly steam train, the Imagination Station presented by MegaBloks, shops to browse, places to stop and eat, lots of photo ops and fun banners, plus all the different views of Thomas and Percy coming and leaving. Our first year we didn't realize there would be so much to do, and we wound up missing a lot of it. This year we made sure to give ourselves lots of time to just play at the train tables and with sidewalk chalk and coloring pages and just roam and do anything that caught the little ones eyes. Almost all of it is free with your Thomas ticket, so definitely make a day of it.
Among the extras around the station, are a handful of things that you will need quarters, pennies, and a few nickels for. There are a few coin-operated rides for the little ones (including a Thomas, of course) as well as a place to squish pennies into souvenirs. And the nickels will come in handy in Strasburg Rail Road's main shop where a fun player piano is waiting to be danced around.
11. Head to the Storytelling/Video Viewing Area for a Break
A Day Out with Thomas is VERY exciting! It's so exciting that sometimes the little ones we bring get too excited and then wind up crashing in the middle of the day. Fortunately Strasburg Rail Road has a seated area set up (not too far from the cafe - hurray!) where families can take a break and rest. Get some snacks and drinks and spend a little while watching some of your favorite Thomas and Friends videos before heading back out for more fun with renewed enthusiasm.
Strasburg Rail Road always has their own shop set up with a huge selection of Thomas items (as well as other brand train and farm toys), but during A Day Out with Thomas there are a few extra places to shop set up including a huge temporary store near the Imagination Station. Our group was on the search for specific characters and new books for the ride home. We browsed through all the shops until we found exactly what we were looking for. (Searching for already decided on toys also helped reign in the impulse buying that invariably happens when you're surrounded by so many potentially awesome buys.)
13. Rely on Staff to Help You Out
Both years we attended A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road proved to be a lesson in what happens when a location and event properly trains and prepares their staff. Everyone from ticket takers and cashiers to photographers and conductors were helpful at providing answers to any question and patiently solving the issues that tend to crop up in a place with so many little ones trying to get around. We are always very impressed by how kind and amazing the staff is.
This is the big moment (probably even bigger than riding the actual train). Visitors hear the familiar whistles they've heard time and again in Thomas and Friends movies and episodes, and then suddenly there they are! Full-sized Thomas and Percy steam engines who not only whistle, chuff along, and let out steam - they also smile and TALK! Definitely make sure to be there at least once for that moment for your family to experience being greeted by Thomas and Percy. Above everything, that is the lasting magical memory that stayed with our group.
THOMAS & FRIENDS WILL BE BACK
AT STRASBURG RAIL ROAD in JUNE!
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