Thank you to the Essex Steam Train for providing our families with tickets to this event. All opinions are 100% my own.
UPDATE 4/27/15: For the third year in a row, we were so lucky to be able to attend Day Out With Thomas at the Essex Steam Train! This year’s event is called “The Celebration Tour” and there’s still time to experience it yourself as the event continues to run this coming weekend on May 2nd & 3rd (you can check ticket availability here). Happily, many of the logistical details remain the same as we saw on our first Thomas adventure (detailed in this original post) and on our second time at Thomas in 2014 (you can read that post here). So today I am going to spare you all the nitty gritty talk about restrooms and parking lots and just show you all the fun you can have when you spend a day out with Thomas!
Here we are enjoying some of our favorite activities such as the shuttle train ride in from the parking lot (bonus train ride! yay!), seeing the historic trains, amusement park rides (all FREE with the price of admission!), playing with all the Thomas & Friends train tables and new Thomas & Friends MEGA BLOKS, checking out the huge variety of Thomas trains and accessories in the gift shop (especially some of the hard-to-find characters–this year we scored a “Kevin” and a “Winston”), admiring the impressive model train layout, bopping along with the music show, and more!
We also discovered some new and exciting things this year. For the first time, Thomas’s best friend, Percy is out on the tracks! Plus, we found this adorable Power Wheels Thomas course inside the gift shop area just for kids ages 1-3. And also a diesel train simulator that the kids could go inside and pretend to drive.
But of course, the highlight of the day was our ride with Thomas himself. Be sure to wave at everyone as you go by!
It was another successful Day Out With Thomas this year! And we’re already looking forward to next year’s event 🙂
Keep reading for more information about what to expect on your visit to the Essex Steam Train’s annual Day Out With Thomas event….
Questions about the event? Leave a comment with your query below, and we’ll do our best to answer it! You can ask us anything…really 🙂
2014 POST HERE
This past weekend, Mandy and I were lucky enough to be able to bring our families to experience Day Out With Thomas™: The Go Go Thomas Tour 2013 at the Essex Steam Train in Essex, CT. I had heard lots of mommy chatter about this event in the past–all high praise–but I had no idea what to expect. After our visit, I can come up with lots of words to describe the experience. Words like “super” and “fantastic” and “awesome.” But if I had to come up with just one word to encapsulate the event, I would have to use “organized.”
Now, I know that’s not the flashiest adjective out there, but let me tell you, if you are a mom (or dad or grandma or grandpa) contemplating taking your little ones out for a day trip to this festival-esque destination, that word should be music to your ears. This event is so expertly and efficiently organized, that you are pretty much guaranteed to have a great time. There’s no muss, no fuss, no worry and no hurry. Just a wonderful day out with your little ones and their favorite tank engine. So here’s a sneak peek at Day Out With Thomas™: The Go Go Thomas Tour 2013.
To begin with, you need to buy a ticket for your actual train ride. This is the highlight of the day, where your budding engineer gets to board the authentic Essex Steam Train as it’s “pulled” by a real Thomas the Tank Engine. How neat is that?!
Our tickets were for the 10:30 a.m. train ride. The website suggests getting there an hour before your scheduled train ride so that you can partake in the various other activities (more on those later), but we were actually running a little late (as usual) and ended up getting there promptly for our train ride, and then hanging out after to experience the rest of the event happenings. That worked out great for us, especially since Boo’s afternoon nap keeps getting pushed back later and later, so he’s really good to go for the whole afternoon.
Essex is a very easy drive from the Hartford area (where we are), and the Essex Steam Train grounds (where the event takes place) is right off route 9, so it’s very easy to find. But just in case, you will find the entire area plastered with bright blue Thomas signs telling you exactly where to go (and where to park). They all look something like this:
So the first thing to know about getting there, is that there are two places to park for FREE. The first is actually right at the Essex Steam Train (my guess is that’s primarily for the early birds since it was already full at 10:00), and includes handicap parking as well. You can also drop off at the main entrance even if the lot is full. Just let one of the lot attendants (likely standing at the lot entrance waving you on to the next lot because that one is full) know that you need to drop someone off
Right next door to this lot, there is another lot (not affiliated with the event) where people are trying to gouge you by charging $20 for parking and proclaiming that this lot needs “no shuttle.” Well, that may be true, but to be honest, the shuttle may be one of the highlights of the day. It’s another train ride! So don’t let them fool you into spending that extra money to avoid something that your kids are going to love.
Since we were destined for the shuttle lot, we continued down the road past the Essex Steam Train and followed the blue Thomas signs all the way to the shuttle parking lot. Now, this was about a 1.3 mile drive, so A: don’t be worried that you have missed the lot; and B: allow some extra travel time to get to the lot and take the shuttle back. Depending on whether you want to wait for the train shuttle (which runs about every 18 minutes) or the school bus shuttle (which runs more frequently), this part of your adventure could take you up to half an hour.
After you park in the lot (tons of parking, monitored by attendants who will tell you exactly where to go), head back towards the tent set up where the shuttle picks up and drops off. It’s a little bit of a walk. No too bad. But you can bring your stroller with you on both the train and the school bus shuttle, so feel free to use your wheels if that makes you most comfortable.
There are some chairs under the tent where you can sit and wait. As you might have noticed, in that first photo of the shuttle waiting area, you can kind of see the train up ahead through the trees. But in this one just above, it’s gone. That’s because we just missed the train shuttle by about 30 seconds. Bummer. We were told it’d be about 18 minutes until the train came back, and since it was already past 10:00 and our ride was at 10:30, we decided to hop on the school bus (which was leaving momentarily) for the short ride back to the Essex Steam Train. Boo was thrilled. He loves a “yellow bus” almost as much as he loves trains 🙂
Unfortunately, there is no set schedule for the train shuttle; it just runs continuously. But on the plus side, if you miss it going there, you can always try again to catch it on the way back (that’s what we did).
Both the bus and the train let you off just steps from the event entrance.
Get out your tickets if you have them, because you’ll need to show them at the entrance booth. You’ll also find the Will Call window, and a window where you can purchase tickets (although, due to the overwhelming popularity of this event, the website recommends advance purchase of tickets; you definitely don’t want to get your little one all worked up and then get there only to find out there are no available train times left).
There will also be staff members greeting you as you get off the shuttle who will give you a map that explains where all the events are and, most importantly, gives you all the show times for things like the magic shows, the music shows, and Sir Topham Hatt’s appearances. So organized!
There are so many neat things to look at once you enter (like this giant train engine). You won’t know which way to turn first!
Of course, we were running late so we had to quickly follow all the “train boarding area” signs to get us across the tracks and to the waiting area for folks on the next Thomas ride. Basically, head left after you enter, make your way through all the rides and food stands, cross the tracks where it’s indicated, and then head right back towards the yellow station building. This building is also important because it houses the only real restrooms on the premises–with a baby changing station–and a nursing area as well. There are also tons of porta-potties scattered around though.
But even if you don’t remember a word of this post, you will still not have any trouble finding your way around due to the fantastic signage. Like I said at the top, organized!
The boarding area is shaded under a tent, and there is a designated stroller parking area right beside it (no strollers on the Thomas train ride).
As you enter the boarding area, a staff member will check your tickets.
Then you just follow instructions to board the train. Everyone working the event is very nice and very helpful (and very in costume–love it!).
Unfortunately, you can’t really see Thomas from this angle. I kind of wished we’d had a moment to walk down towards the “photo area” before our train ride so that Boo could see Thomas before we boarded the train.
What’s really super cute is that everyone waves to you as you pass by in the train: people at the event, people stopped in their cars at the railroad crossings, people walking down the street where the train passes. It’s adorable.
The ride is about 25 minutes long, and it isn’t particularly scenic. But there’s plenty of music and narrative over the load speaker to more than make up for that. At one point, the conductors come around and personally greet all the children and give them this cute junior engineer certificate.
Back at the station, we hopped off the train and went in search of some other fun activities to try. There are lots! First stop was the photo area where we could finally let Boo see “Thomas Blue Train” as he calls him, and snap a few photos. Here, you can use your own camera, or you can let the professionals take a picture, which will be available for purchase later (at a booth near the exit–you’ll get a card with a number on it and you can use a computer in the booth to view your photo).
We opted for the non-professional pic.
Next, this pregnant lady needed to seek out the restrooms.
I was very pleased to find that even though it felt like there were a lot of people around, the line was not too long. There is a baby changing station inside, but it is a little cramped. For that, you kind of have to wait outside the restroom until it’s your turn. But people seemed to come up with an impromptu yet orderly system.
Next stop: Imagination Station for train tables, coloring tables, special entertainers, face painting, temporary tattoos, the movie showing area and more.
Don’t forget to get your map stamped near the movie showing area in Imagination Station so you can get a prize as you exit the event later.
Bruiser got a super cool Thomas tattoo (I admit it; I was a little jealous 🙂 )
Mandy and her crew took in the magic show.
But the highlight of Imagination Station (at least for our OAAM crew) was the music show. These guys were fantastic! They performed children’s songs, they danced with the kids, they brought out little egg shakers for the kids to play…
Look at Sweetheart get right up there in the middle of the action. You go girl!
So here’s a really big picture of the music show schedule so you make sure you don’t miss it 🙂
After we had finished exploring Imagination Station, we headed up to check out the gift shop before crossing back over the tracks to the carnival side of the event.
Now let me just say that if you don’t want to end up buying your kids lots of Thomas paraphernalia (or at least have them beg you for it), steer clear of this particular area. Here you will find Thomas everything– trains, t-shirts, plates and cups, even rain gear (which is good to know if the weather happens to turn iffy and you are not prepared).
There’s also a pretty neat model train set at the back.
The gift shop is also where your little ones can meet Sir Topham Hatt (check your map for the schedule).
A little ways down from the gift shop, you’ll find the Deep River Fire Department with their super cool fire truck that the kiddos can actually climb up into and “drive”–firefighter gear and all!
There is food on both sides of the track–food stands in the area where the rides are located and a tent just down from the yellow station building. You’ll find burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and fries in both areas. At the food stands (among the rides) you’ll also find fair favorites like cotton candy, fried dough, nachos, and snow cones. For (somewhat) healthier snacks, stick to the tent.
There is a covered picnic area with tables over by the tent, but it’s fairly small and was pretty crowded at the time. So we meandered back across the tracks and found a nice spot for a picnic in front of the red barn.
There are also some picnic tables on this side of the tracks, but they are not covered.
We happened to cross the tracks while the steam train was stopped waiting for people to board for the next ride. If you can manage to get over this way and watch the train as it steams and spits and huffs and puffs and blows its whistle as it makes its departure, it’s really a spectacular sight. But don’t get too close because it also happens to be very, very LOUD, and the little ones might be a tad frightened (learned that the hard way; oops!).
After lunch, we checked out the rides.
At that point, we’d been there over four hours! We were having such a great time, but we knew Boo was probably ready for a little nap. We also wanted to make sure that we could ride the shuttle train back to the parking lot.
So we headed out (don’t forget to grab your prize from the table on the way out–I’m not telling what it is; some things still need to be a surprise 🙂 ) and over to the waiting area for the shuttle train. Unfortunately, this area has a tent but no chairs. And I was TIRED. But it was worth it to take one last little train ride.
We even got to wave “bye” to Thomas.
We had such a fun day at Day Out With Thomas™: The Go Go Thomas Tour 2013. I’m already looking forward to next year 🙂
Essex Steam Train, 25 Plains Road, Essex, CT 06426
Phone: (860) 767-0103
Main website: http://www.essexsteamtrain.com/
Day Out With Thomas: http://www.essexsteamtrain.com/dowt2013/main.html
Click here for directions from the website.
Map directions from your location here:
Hours & Admission:
April 27th & 28th and May 4th & 5th
9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ticket prices are $21 plus tax for ages 2 and up (service charges and fees may apply). Please note that tickets must be purchased for a specific train departure time.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Tickets are available on site, but it is recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance (remember this for next year!). However, currently it appears that all available tickets for this year’s event must be purchased at the event itself. Click here for details.
- Tickets include one train ride and all the other rides and activities (those are unlimited). Tickets do not include food, which may be purchased on site.
- Click here to see FAQ’s about Day Out With Thomas.
- The event is stroller-friendly.
- A wearable baby carrier will be very handy for getting around with an infant.
- Bring cash for the food stands.
- Major credit cards accepted in the gift shop.
- The ground was very dusty. I wore flip-flops and my feet were pretty filthy by the end of the day. On the other hand, it was very easy to hose off my flip-flops (and my feet!) when we got home. Keep the dust in mind when choosing your footwear.
- Whatever you decide, wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking!
- Restrooms with a changing station (at least in the women’s room; I forgot to get hubby to check out the men’s room–sorry!) and a nursing area located in the yellow station building.
- Porta-potties located throughout the event, including in the parking areas.
- Remember to build time (15-20 minutes) into your schedule to take the shuttle from the remote parking area.
- The train shuttle runs about every 18 minutes, but the school bus shuttle runs more frequently. Both allow strollers.
- Don’t touch the windows on the trains. They are old and finicky. If you’d like your window opened or closed, ask a conductor.
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