If you don’t believe in magic, then perhaps you haven’t taken a young, train-loving child to Day Out With Thomas. I urge you to do whatever you can to get to one of these events if you have the opportunity to go. If the day goes well — and hopefully my list of tips below will help make that happen — you’ll end up with memories of smiles beaming brighter than the fire in Thomas’ firebox.
We went to Day Out With Thomas for the first time last year, and how I wish we’d gone the year before as well! When the Little Engineer first fell in love with trains two years ago, I was attempting to keep the Thomas part in that to a minimum. A misguided quest, if you ask me now, but that’s a subject for another time. I heard that the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, a town not too far from our home in Seattle, hosted Day Out With Thomas in the summer. I knew that my son would love it, and the museum itself . But given the connection to the Thomas franchise, I assumed it was an event purely intended to make money off of an over-marketed character, as I thought of him then (sorry, Thomas!).
My attitude toward the little blue tank engine changed over the following year, and we bought tickets when they went on sale and counted down the days. Only a short way into our time at DOWT the following year, I realized how very wrong I’d been in my assumptions from the year before.
While it might be a Thomas & Friends event, the people running the show at the Northwest Railway Museum were local volunteers with a true love of trains. That completely changed the tone of the event from what I had imagined a year before. I suspect the same is true at other DOWT events, given the kinds of railways that seem to host them.
Sure, there’s a life-sized Thomas, tons of other Thomas activities, and, of course, Thomas merchandise to buy. But at our DOWT, there were also rides on the museum’s “speeder” following Thomas a short way down the track.
You can imagine how tightly I was holding onto the Little Engineer…and how tightly he was holding onto Meekat!
A gentlemen ran his live steam model train, which fascinated the Little Engineer so much he didn’t notice the life-sized Thomas right away when we first got there. And we got to explore the museum’s own collection of engines and other rolling stock, some with cabs open for visitors (and some with locked doors, as the Little Engineer discovered below).
Add in the live children’s music and the local food vendors, plus a visit to the museum’s own gift shop (where we got our Instant Foam Railroad and Made By Me! Wooden Train, among other train treasures), and it really felt like a community event. The Snowqualmie Depot is a beautiful Victorian building, and the combination of it and the vintage passenger coaches leant to the steam-age atmosphere.
But the real proof is in the joy that emanated from the Little Engineer as he ran around the grounds of the museum. Watch this short video of our day, and see for yourself!
This year, I’m not sure who is looking forward to Day Out With Thomas more, the Little Engineer or his mama! I’m really excited to go, especially now that I know what to plan for.
Here is my best advice for making this amazing day go as well as possible, with the caveat that the specifics may be different at events in other locations.
1. Plan your little engineer’s outfit
For the best photos, think bright, solid colors. Combine that with hickory (engineer) stripes if you’ve got them. The Little Engineer would highly recommend the hickory stripe shirts and overalls from Oshkosh, his favorite clothes of the moment. But the number one piece of any train outfit would be, of course, an engineer’s hat!
2. Show up early, and plan to stay for a while
The Northwest Railway Museum recommended showing up at least one hour before your train departs. This is definitely necessary, and I would suggest showing up even earlier. There’s a lot to see and do, and your child may need some time to process that before the train ride.
2. Get in line as soon as the train before yours leaves
At our event, anyway, being near the front of the line meant that we had our pick of passenger coaches. We, of course, chose the one right behind Thomas. Our coach had windows right up in the front so we could see our favorite tank engine chuffing along ahead of us through the whole ride. It was so much more exciting that way! Plus, getting on first means that you get more time on the train while you wait for the other passengers to board.
On the other hand, your child will likely not want to stand in line that long. Which brings us to the next tip.
3. Bring a group…
In addition to the three of us, we brought along all four grandparents and my sister-in-law. The benefit of this is two-fold. First, if you have a serious train fan, from your child’s perspective this could be one of the most important days of their lives thus far. Who doesn’t love to share in the joy of that?
Second, it was very helpful to have extra adults around. My parents offered to stand in line for us while the rest of us toured the Little Engineer around the grounds. Various family members kept track of him at different times.
Of course, you don’t need the whole extended family to come along to have a great time, but it sure is nice when it works out!
4. …and a favorite “friend”
As long as you can keep track of it all day long, bringing a favorite stuffed animal or train can make the day even more meaningful for your child. The Little Engineer loved having Meekat with him on the train, and in his photos with Thomas, and it’s still something he talks about when we remember that wonderful day.
5. Make sure everyone eats, stays hydrated, and gets to the potty before getting on board
All right, this is just parenting common sense, but make it even more of a priority than usual. You’ll be stuck on the train for a long time (in kid time) once you’re on it, and the last thing you want is discomfort to ruin things for anyone. In particular, give yourself plenty of time for the potty part, because there could be long lines at the bathrooms. I did well with getting us there with time to spare, but I should have forced the food issue. We were all starving after our ride. We found a brew pub not far from the railway museum where we had a great lunch, but it was a long, long wait to get a table. So, packing a lunch is a good idea.
6. Have your child hand all the tickets to the conductor
This was one of the Little Engineer’s favorite parts! Thomas’ driver and his fireman pretty much stuck by the cab, but the Little Engineer really got to interact with the conductor.
7. Be prepared for your child to surprise you
It was interesting to see how the atmosphere encouraged the Little Engineer to try new things. He has never been a fan of having stamps or stickers on his skin — except for at the end of preschool, as long as his teacher lets him pick which stamp — but look at that proud smile!
The tattoo lasted for a week, probably because he was so careful with it. Or maybe it was because I’d given up on regular bath times at that point. Either way, something I expected him to refuse ended up bringing him a lot of happiness. I’m glad we didn’t hurry him past this tent, thinking he wouldn’t want to put something on his skin.
8. Be prepared to take a lot of pictures
This is maybe another given. But it doesn’t hurt any of us to be reminded to clean lenses and double-check camera batteries and memory cards. I really appreciated that there were no photo ops that I couldn’t do with my own camera, yet another detail that proved my erroneous assumptions about Day Out With Thomas from the year before.
9. Stand in line for photos with Thomas before and after your ride
This is something I did not do last time, but I really wish I had. We took photos with Thomas before our ride, and I didn’t get ANY good ones. The Little Engineer hadn’t quite taken the whole event in, and of course the little blue engine himself was quite distracting. I got a lot of pictures of his back. Also, we were the last ones up before Thomas was going to depart, so we were a little rushed. I meant to go back and try again, but we were having so much fun that I forgot. Lucky for me, my mother-in-law is a great photographer, and she got the adorable photo on the right.
On the other hand, a photo before the ride might capture the initial excitement and wonder at seeing Thomas. So this year, I’ll probably try getting pictures both before and after our train ride.
10. Have a getaway plan
I would like to note that I have the perfect photo to go with this tip, but I’ve restrained myself from posting it. Years from now, the Little Engineer probably wouldn’t like having a photo of himself in the middle of a messy moment of chocolate ice cream bliss on the internet!
Think up a tempting transition activity for afterwards, in case your child can’t tear themselves away from all the fun. We’ll use the same one this year that we did last year: there’s a sweet shop across the street from the Northwest Railway Museum that serves up some delicious ice cream. Eating our ice cream at the table in the front window, we watched Thomas arrive and depart one last time.
11. Turn the tickets into pretend play objects to relive the fun at home…
…but do not put them through a thermal laminator if they’re printed on thermal paper. The laminator will turn the whole ticket dark. Fortunately, we saved all the tickets from our group, and we caught our mistake before we ruined them all. Instead, you can use self-laminating sticky paper. We also saved one ticket without laminating it in his train treasure box as a souvenir.
12. Make a photo frame and/or a photo album for your child to relive the experience
We got a couple of Day Out With Thomas wooden trains at the Thomas & Friends giftshop, but our favorite purchases were the Day Out With Thomas DIY picture frame and photo album. The Little Engineer really enjoyed decorating the picture frame, and insisted that I put both his name and Meekat’s on with the stickers. And the photo album is a nice way for him to call up the memories whenever he wants at home.
So if you’re going to Day Out With Thomas, I hope these tips will be helpful in making your experience a magical one. And if you were on the fence about getting tickets before, I hope I’ve shown you what a wonderful event DOWT can be. You can find out more about Day Out With Thomas events in the US and Day Out With Thomas events in the UK by visiting these links.
For those of you who live in the greater Seattle area, tickets for Day Out With Thomas at the Northwest Railway Museum are on sale now. Visit their Day Out With Thomas page to learn more about their event (they have a wonderful FAQ with everything you need to know) and buy tickets.
Have you had a magical Day Out With Thomas? What advice do you have for families attending for the first time?