By Eboni Elise
In our household, Sundays are designated as Family Sundays where we focus on spending uninterrupted time to bond as a family. This past weekend, we hit the road with my sister-in-love and nephew to visit the Illinois Railway Museum for their “A Day Out With Thomas” yearly event. Our 3 year olds love to watch Thomas & Friends, which made them excited about actually getting to ride Thomas the Tank Engine. This was our first time attending and I have to say it was worth the trip and money spent.
We often search for cool events and activities that allow us to explore our great city of Chicago but this time we were willing to travel beyond the city limits as long as it meant tons of fun for my son and nephew. And we hit the jackpot! The Illinois Railway Museum is located in Union, IL and was about an hour and 15 minute drive.
We didn’t quite know what to expect and thought it may not be worth the trip but we were pleasantly surprised. The cost for the 25 minute train ride was $21 per passenger. It seemed a bit much but the cost also covered other activities for the kids to engage in while at the museum.
It is suggested that we arrive an hour before the time of the train ride. Because we waited to purchase our tickets on site, we had to wait 3 hours for the next available train ride. “Awww naw!” was my initial thought since it was quite hot (I hate it anytime the temperature is over 85 degrees). The kids were thrilled from the moment they saw Thomas and Percy come down the train tracks. We didn’t want them to wait very long and thought they would be bored but there was PLENTY to keep them occupied.
So, what did we do for 3 hours before our train ride?
- The kids got temporary tattoos of Thomas & Friends, colored pictures of Thomas and Percy, and built a train with Legos at the Imagination Station
- We watched an episode of Thomas & Friends in the Video and Storytelling tent
- From afar, we watched other toddlers dig and play in the sandbox area and the older kids jump around in the bouncy house (our kids were not getting sweaty and dirty before getting on that train).
- We had a mini-photo shoot took by the older model trains on display
- We visited the museum store and the kids played with the train tables on display
Once we got to the boarding area, we didn’t have to wait in a long line, like some of the reviews stated. The kids loved the ride and received a Junior Engineer Certificate from the conductor. After getting off the train and taking photos, we rode a trolley around the museum grounds and let the kids burn off their energy at the playground before heading home. They slept like newborns on the car ride home. Mission accomplished.
Here are a few money-saving tips:
- Don’t pay the extra service fee by purchasing your tickets online. You can purchase your tickets in advance over the phone instead.
- Pack a lunch and bottled water in a mini cooler so you don’t have to spend money on the high priced food items (thanks Candice!). There were plenty of picnic tables under the shade and near the tracks so you can wave at the trains that pass by while you eat.
- Get your Thomas & Friends gear to wear when you’re there so you won’t be tempted to purchase it in the gift shop. I got my son’s Thomas & Friends hat at Target for $8.
- You can keep the kids occupied with car activities like reading Thomas & Friends books, letting them play with train stickers or embarrass yourself while participating in sing-alongs on the way to the event.
Do you have kids ages 3-6 who enjoy Thomas & Friends? if so, I recommend you attend this event. It was worth it! “A Day Out With Thomas Ready, Set, Go Tour” will be at the Illinois Railway Museum on August 20 & August 21 before heading to their next tour stop. For more info, check out www.thomastrainride.com or www.irm.org.