Day Out With Thomas is a 2.5 year old’s dream come true and a brilliant marketing event. If you haven’t come into contact with a toddler in the past two decades, I guess I need to explain that Thomas and his train friends star in a British kids’ TV show that started in the ’80s.
Other than Thomas and maybe Percy, I can’t tell any of the trains apart. But apparently kids can. And they LOVE Thomas. So every year, a full-scale replica of Thomas that you can actually ride tours Canada (mostly B.C., Alberta and Ontario) and parents dutifully buy tickets and line up.
I was leery that this would be another cash grab on sleep-deprived parents but I was really impressed with the event. The B.C. one — held at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park — usually runs for two weekends in June, offering rides on “Thomas” every half hour. BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY. Here’s what you can expect:
Timing: Get there at least an hour before your train ride starts. This is important because one, you know how slow kids move. But also, you need to find a parking spot, assemble the kids and their crap, and walk from the lot into the park. I suggest booking a morning train ride so you don’t run into major lineups and afternoon meltdowns.
Parking is in a gravel lot across the main road into the railway park.
Food: Not knowing what to expect, I actually got organized and packed a lunch for us in a cooler, but there are plenty of options available for families.
There’s an outdoor area with picnic tables, as well as tables and chairs inside the CN Roundhouse for families to eat food they bought or brought.
(I made this awesome Tie Fighter peanut butter and jam sandwich for H. He was totally unimpressed and ate my regular-shaped rosemary ham, provolone sandwich instead. Jerk.)
There were some decent food trucks such as White Spot’s Triple O offering Pirate Paks ($9) and burgers ($7), and one selling donairs. There were also stands for caramel corn and mini donuts ($5 for a bag, $10 for a bucket).
However, the best value is found at The Beanery, the railway park’s permanent food stand. You can buy a hot dog for $3, kids’ peanut butter and jam sandwich for $2, and chicken or spicy black bean wraps for about $6. It also sells veggie sticks, fresh fruit and muffins (all for $1.50). This amazed me: a food vendor that has reasonable prices AND healthy choices for kids. Nice.
Amenities: I was blown away that there were separate curtained areas for changing diapers and for nursing. These organizers GET IT. Almost everyone I saw had a toddler/preschooler and a baby in tow. There are ample bathrooms (where you can hear regular conversations like, “Don’t touch anything. DON’T TOUCH THAT. No, DON’T TOUCH” and “Do you have to pee? Are you sure? You’re dancing like you have to pee.”)
Activities: The train ride itself is about 25 minutes long. You have to park your stroller before you get on. It’s really a simple route on the track around the park and back, but the kiddies won’t notice. They’re too excited that they are RIDING ON A TRAIN. Kids will be enthralled with a conductor who comes around to check tickets, a guy playing the ukulele and a lady blowing bubbles during the ride.
Tickets to ride Thomas were $25 per person (anyone over 2 years old) but that includes lots of other activities. I stayed on the ground with the baby so I only bought a park admission ($15 per adult) at the door.
In an old mail train car, the kids got to write a letter and then mail it to any of the trains. The railway’s permanent mini-train was also busy with riders.
One of the buildings had some train tables set up for kids to play, along with a bouncy castle, stage for live music, face painting and temporary tattoos, and an area to take a photo with Sir Topham Hatt (aka the Fat Controller). Another building had storytime and videos.
We will definitely return next year.