This post was written in 2012, and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, some information may be out of date. Please visit their site for the latest information and event details. And don’t forget to check out our updated 2018 post for more details about a visit to the Connecticut Trolley Museum.
There is something particularly magical about a nighttime holiday event. Last year, when the kids were still pretty small, we took them to see the holiday light display at Goodwin Park. This required no more than buckling them into their car seats and letting them enjoy the show as we drove through. Now that we’ve got some seasoned walkers, we thought it might be fun to try something a little more adventurous. So this past Sunday, we headed out to East Windsor to check out Winterfest at the Connecticut Trolley Museum.
We arrived just as the evening festivities began to get underway at 5:00 p.m. There is plenty of parking in a large, open lot that, unfortunately, was too dark to photograph with my little camera. But rest assured that the parking is plentiful and very conveniently located.
Actually, while we are on the subject of pictures, I should give you fair warning that my shots from the night are, um, less than stellar. Darkness + dim lighting + point-and-shoot camera = fuzzy photos with lots of red-eye. I tried to gussy them up the best I could, but at some point I realized you’d be waiting on this post until next holiday season if I didn’t just give up and move on 🙂
First thing on the agenda: the trolley ride through the tunnel of lights. We weren’t entirely sure where to go for the tickets, but after wandering around outside for a bit, and pausing to let the kiddos marvel at the giant inflatable snow globe,
we ran into a few of the trolley operators who directed us to the main building, the Visitor Center, and the ticket window, which is located in the gift shop.
We got wristbands for everyone plus blue tickets for the kiddos, which we were told would be good for a “gift from Santa” later. And a songbook for singing on the trolley, which is encouraged but not formally organized or anything.
We also got the scoop on the trolley schedule. The trolleys run about every 20 minutes, and the ride is about that long too. There is actually a choice between the enclosed trolley, which is somewhat warmer, and the open electric sleigh.
They both run on the same track, so the only difference is well, one looks like a trolley and one looks like a sleigh. We opted for the enclosed and warmer trolley 🙂
The first ride of the night (departing around 5:00 p.m.) is always on the sleigh, and Santa will always be on that one. After that, he’ll be greeting the kids indoors after you get back from the trolley or sleigh ride.
If you happen to arrive between trolleys and you need to pass some time, there is a toy train table and some coloring materials just outside the gift shop/ticket window, as well as plenty of bench seating.
Back out on the trolley, we passed the time taking some family pictures and letting the kids explore a little.
If our trolley operator didn’t show up soon, Bruiser was ready to take over 🙂
After a bit of a wait to let the electric sleigh get far enough ahead of us, we were ready to go. The trolley glides down the track and through a “tunnel of lights,” which is just enough show to keep the little ones entertained. Every so often, the driver would toot the horn. Most kids loved that. Boo had a meltdown. Although, after three or four horn blows he eventually mellowed some. It is a loud sound, so if you have a skittish little one, you might want to prepare him or her for it.
When we reached the end of the line, the trolley stopped and the drivers prepared for the return trip by switching a whole bunch of trolley paraphernalia from the front to the back. I’m not all that familiar with trolley maintenance to begin with, but add in the darkness and it was pretty much a lost cause. I couldn’t really tell what was going on outside, but inside the lights came back on (we’d been traveling in the dark, which is why I have no pictures) and everyone took that as their cue to move from the front of the trolley to the back (which I gathered would now be the front). The seat backs actually flip both ways, so you can just turn around and face in the other direction.
This part lasted a good five minutes, and some of the little ones did get restless. It might be a good idea to bring a little snack or toy with you just in case.
Boo was much more relaxed on the ride back.
After the trolley ride, we headed across the festively decorated lawn to the Visitor Center (the same place we’d gotten the tickets).
This time, we headed straight back through another door and into the main part of the building, which was trimmed to the hilt in holiday finery.
Everywhere you looked there were model trains. I don’t know who was more excited, the kids or my husband (read about our other adventures in train sets here).
There was also live holiday music (she was really good!), snacks and beverages, and plenty of places to sit and relax.
Bruiser and Sparkles redeemed their tickets for their gift from Santa (we won’t spoil the fun by telling you what they were).
And Sweetheart was, well, a sweetheart for her first picture with the jolly man in red.
At about 7:00, we knew it was time to head out if we had any prayer of keeping the kids on their regular schedules.
But first I did a quick sweep of the other areas of the building. I checked out the restrooms (of course). There’s a baby changing station and a sink with lots of counter space in the stall all the way at the back of the women’s room (sorry guys, I forgot to snag hubby to check on your situation).
There is also a little theater showing a continuous film of model trains zooming around different layouts (Boo would have been totally mesmerized by that).
And the store has a really nice selection of train-themed gifts.
Once we got everyone bundled back up, we practically had to pry the kids away from the play area.
All in all, Winterfest was a hit. A fun trolley ride, festive displays, and holiday entertainment all in a low-key, toddler-friendly environment where mom and dad can enjoy themselves too. Now that’s truly magical 🙂
Thanks to the Connecticut Trolley Museum for providing us with complimentary admission to the Winterfest events. All opinions are 100% my own.
Connecticut Trolley Museum Winterfest
58 North Road, East Windsor, CT
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission
November 23rd to December 23rd: Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
December 26th to December 30th: Daily from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Seniors (Age 62+): $8
Youth (2-12 years): $6
Under age 2: $3
Museum members receive discounted admission.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Dress warmly as even the enclosed trolley is not heated. If you are planning to ride on the electric sleigh, we saw some folks toting blankets with them to keep cozy on the ride.
- Tickets for the event, which includes the trolley/sleigh ride and the indoor train displays/holiday entertainment are sold inside the Visitor Center in the gift shop.
- The trolley/sleigh runs about every 20 minutes, and the ride is about 20 minutes long.
- The trolley rides departing are announced on a loudspeaker outside, but it is hard to hear if you are waiting inside. If you only have a few minutes to wait, you may want to hang out on the trolley to make sure you don’t inadvertently miss it.
- Your admission wristband is good for unlimited trolley/sleigh rides for that evening.
- Santa is always on the first ride of the night that departs around 5:00 p.m. (on the electric sleigh).
- The inside portion of the event is stroller-friendly.
- If you have a really little one (like Sweetheart), consider bringing a wearable baby carrier (like Mandy did), which will work great for all portions of the event.
- There is a Drive-Thru Dunkin Donuts on the road to the museum (for hot beverages or treats for the kiddos) and a nearby Cracker Barrel in case you want to stop in before or after for some dinner.
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