The problem with January is that it follows December with all its tinsel and twinkle and tidings of comfort & joy. So in contrast, January is just well, grey. And cold. And snowy. Which is why I love it when a “holiday” event holds over into the new year. It’s like you get to have one last breath of the holiday spirit before you just have to settle for seeing your own breath outside in the sub-freezing temperatures 🙂
So I was delighted to find out that the Connecticut River Museum’s annual Holiday Train Show runs from November all the way into February (for the 2014-2015 season the end date is February 17th). (For a quick sneak peek, check out this segment from our friends over as WFSB!)
The Connecticut River Museum is located in Essex, CT. Wait. Can I just tell you how adorable Essex is? It’s like a little taste of the Berkshires but here in Connecticut. How did I not know this?! And this is in the middle of winter. Just imagine what this will look like in June!
I’ve been coming here annually for the Day Out With Thomas event at the Essex Steam Train, so there’s really no excuse for my ignorance. Anyway, check out Essex. You won’t be sorry!
So back to today’s outing…The Connecticut River Museum.
After almost 9 years as a Connecticut resident, I’m a little ashamed to say that I know very little about the history of our state. And my knowledge of the Connecticut River is pretty much limited to the frustration I feel when I (living east of the river in Glastonbury) have to get somewhere west of the river and get trapped on the bridge in traffic. Grrrrr.
But long before the Connecticut River was making Hartford area residents choose sides, it was a life-line for the new world. And the Connecticut River Museum, housed in a wonderful historic building on the Museum’s campus at the Essex docks, is on a mission to preserve and celebrate that heritage.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Thanks for the history lesson, Shawna, but what the heck is in it for my 3-year-old?”
One of the great surprises that has come from writing this blog and exploring our state from a mommy perspective, is that I’ve realized that sooooooo many places that I would have imagined to be completely unsuitable for little kids are actually designed with families in mind. And the Connecticut River Museum is no exception.
First of all, let’s start with the logistics. Plenty of convenient parking, whether it be adjacent to the Museum in their parking lot:
Or on the street right out front:
The entrance is right there under the sign.
So here’s your first clue that this place is family-friendly: kids under 6 get in free! Now if that’s not encouragement to bring your little ones with you, I don’t know what is 🙂
The admission desk is right there when you enter.
And that’s the gift shop right back there.
There is also a place to hang your coats just to the left as you enter. It does get a little hot in the building, especially as you go upstairs, so you might want to shed some layers before heading to the upper floors.
Despite its apparent age, the building is surprisingly accessible, with an elevator that will take you all the way to the top floor. The galleries are a little tight though, so I wouldn’t recommend a stroller unless you absolutely have to bring one. But it’s nice to know that you can bring your wheels with you.
And I guess while we’re doing the grand tour I can also point out that the restrooms are on the first floor too. Women’s Restrooms are at the front of the building, and the Men’s Restrooms are to the back.
Since we were really there to see the train exhibit, we figured we better hustle up to the 3rd floor and get to it, just in case the kiddos decided to get antsy. At least then I would have my post for the week 🙂
The thing is though, the other exhibits immediately caught our attention. And yes, I do mean Boo too. Here are some fun things we found on the first floor:
That’s a submarine, by the way. Yup. You read that right.
Even walking up the stairs was pretty cool as there is a map of the Connecticut River illustrated on the wall.
Look! There’s my town (Glastonbury)!
The second floor was even more captivating for Boo than the first, with all kinds of model ships and even a captain’s wheel he could operate.
If you look out that window there, it even seems like you are really at the helm of a ship, right?
Finally, we made it to the third floor and the famed Holiday Train Exhibit, now in its 21st season. Can I just say, wow! This display is 26 feet long and must include hundreds (maybe thousands!) of incredible miniatures. There are trains going every which way, and the detailed scenery is fascinating. It’s all the work of model train artist Steve Cryan, and whatever your age, you’d have to have a heart like the Grinch’s (you know, before it grew three sizes) not to enjoy this fantastic display.
He also enjoyed this smaller, toddler-sized train layout off to the side where he could start the train by pressing a button (hello! kid-friendly feature!).
There was a lot to look at in here. Half the fun was scanning the train layout for all kinds of silly scenes and some unexpected surprises 🙂 Another fun feature was a video camera attached to one of the trains so you could get the track-level perspective. It was also fun to see yourself on the big TV screen when the train went by you. Can you kind of see Boo’s face there on the left?
Another entertaining activity is a scavenger hunt for items throughout the train layout, which you’re given at the admissions desk (or you can find it there if no one hands one to you). There are different levels. This one was for the younger kids (what did I tell you? Family-friendly!).
The little guy seemed to enjoy it too.
Although, I’d be lying if I said this was his favorite part. Do you know what my 1 1/2 year old likes best about this museum? The stairs. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. (Funny story, I actually happened to meet one of our readers here at the train display and she was nice enough to introduce herself to me; then later, she saw me in the stairwell chasing the little guy up and down–guess the jig is up! Here’s what it’s really like on an Out and About Mom outing. Ha!)
Oh, and fair warning. This is very true. Hubby totally has this, by the way 🙂
After we had finished checking out the museum, we went outside to take in the beautiful river views. I’m kind of impressed by my photography here. Some of these pictures actually look artistic! (Total accident. Ha!)
Of course, coming to a place like this with two small children means that hubby and I probably didn’t get to spend as much time as we would have liked to perusing the exhibits and reading all the grown-up stuff. But it was still really nice to be able to come here and feel that our small children were very welcome. Hopefully we can make the Holiday Train Show an annual tradition for our family, and maybe by the time the kiddos are teenagers I will have actually learned the history of the Connecticut River Valley 🙂
Phone: (860) 767-8269
The Holiday Train Show runs through February 17th for the 2014-2015 season.
Winter Hours: (Columbus Day – Memorial Day)
Closed Mondays – except December 22 & 29, 2014 and January 19 and February 16, 2015
Tuesday – Sunday 10AM – 5PM
Summer Hours: (Memorial Day – Columbus Day)
7 Days/Week: 10AM – 5PM
Closed: Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day
The Holiday Train Show is included in the price of general admission.
- Members – FREE
- Adults – $9.00
- Seniors – $8.00
- Students – $7.00
- Children(6-12) – $6.00
- Under age 6 – Free
- Military & Immediate Family – $8.00
- Stroller Friendly: Sort of. You definitely can maneuver a stroller around in there (and there are elevators to get you to the upper floors), but if you are going to see the train display, I would recommend using a wearable baby carrier if you’ve got a non-walker. It’s tight in there.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: You know, I thought I had taken a picture of a sign that said ‘no food or beverages allowed’, but now I can’t find it. So I’m going to go with “no,” but I could be wrong. Sorry!
- Restroom: YES.
- Baby Changing Station: NO. At least, I did not see one in any of the restrooms.
- Parking: YES. Free parking is available next to the building.
- Food for Sale: NO.
- Outside Food Allowed: See “Coffee Mug Friendly” above. But there is also plenty of green space outside (and even some benches near the water, so when the weather is warmer this will be a great spot for an outdoor picnic.
- Cash Required: NO. Major credit cards are accepted.
- Dress Code: Nothing special, but it can get a little warm in the building, so you may want to dress in layers.
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES.
- Discounts: YES. AAA card holders receive $1 off admission.
- Connecticut Children’s Medical Center – The state’s only free-standing hospital that offers comprehensive, world-class health care to children. Based in Hartford, Connecticut Children’s also provides services at several locations throughout the state.
- Family Dental Practice of Bloomfield – Located in Bloomfield, this dental practice offers Family Dental Care, Invisalign, Cosmetic Dentistry, and IV Sedation. Visit their calm, convenient location with a friendly staff and state of the art technology. Kids are welcome!
- The Independent Day School – Located on a rural campus in Middlefield, CT this private pre-school, elementary and middle school serves families from over 20 communities.
- Mandell JCC – The Mandell JCC, Zachs Campus, 335 Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford, CT, welcomes and serves families and individuals of all ages, stages, backgrounds and faiths. Our fitness, wellness and recreation, arts and culture, camp, early childhood education programs, classes, clubs and services are open to all. You Belong Here!
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