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Member Name: Foxy-Lady
Day Out with Thomas - York National Railway Museum (York)
Date: 25/02/08, updated on 23/03/10 (1587 review reads)
Advantages: Thomas, Thomas, Thomas!
Disadvantages: Gift shop a tad over priced
I'm talking about Thomas the Tank Engine of course, the classic little blue train that was first created by Reverend W. Awdry back in 1946. He began telling stories of different imaginary railway engines to his son who was confined to bed during a long illness. His stories are now loved by children virtually all around the world!
The Day Out With Thomas tour gives the Thomas experience a whole new dimension. I'm sure any child who is a fan would simply love to meet a 'real life' Thomas train, as well as other characters that they recognise from the popular stories. The tour moves around the country throughout the year, visiting the National Railway Museum just once and running for two weeks. On our visit, the event conveniently coincided with the half term break.
So off we went as part of a group of nine - consisting of six adults and three children aged 18 months, 2 years and 6 years. On arriving at the museum we found that we didn't have to queue at the main entrance as our tickets had been pre-booked. This got us off to a great start as there's nothing worse than having to wait for ages, making the kids grouchy before you've even begun!
To get to the Thomas area you initially have to stroll through the rest of the museum which you are free to explore if you wish. At this point we decided to bypass the displays, thinking that we'd perhaps take a look on the way back if the cherubs were still up to it. It seemed to take quite a while to walk across the museum and reach the Thomas check point - by which time we had some very excited little boys on our hands!
On entry, everyone is given a bright green wrist band to wear as identification that you've paid to see Thomas. You can then freely walk back into the museum and return to the Thomas area at your leisure. We received a great piece of advice by the attendant...write your mobile phone number onto your child's wrist band so they can be quickly re-united with you if they happen to stray.
The designated Thomas area is outside and immediately sets the scene with themed banners, posters, signs and boards showing pictures of the various characters. On first walking through the doors my 2 year old went absolutely wild! He's a huge Thomas fan and didn't know where to look, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. He tried to make a dash to the nearest posters but reins prevented him from disappearing. At a busy event like this, reins are a necessity with Jack as he tends to get easily distracted and run off a lot.
So, where to first? A programme which includes a site map is provided but to be honest it's not really required. It's not as if the site is to the scale of somewhere like Alton Towers! All of the different activities are within short walking distance and clearly signed so you know exactly where you are.
It was decided that first stop would be a visit to the train himself, Thomas - located in the aptly named Thomas Engine Shed. He's presented in life size form. A real engine that is made up and decorated to look like the Number One blue train. It's a static train but unfortunately you can't climb on board. This was a tad disappointing but it's still great for the kids to see Thomas brought to life. And who else should we bump into? Sir Topham Hatt! This is an actor dressed up as The Fat Controller. A stage is positioned directly in front of Thomas' smiley face - the ideal spot for a photo opportunity with The Fat Controller and various other performers in character dress providing entertainment. Photos are taken by a photographer and small queues form as the children take their turn to pose for the camera.
The Thomas Engine Shed is also home to a life size Daisy which is again motionless and not available for access. She's just there to look pretty! A traditional train is set up though for the children to climb aboard and have their faces painted. A short wait is to be expected but they come out with some really lovely designs adorning their smiling little faces, adding to the excitement of the day.
Located next to the face painting train is a large projector screen showing episodes of Thomas & Friends. Unfortunately the sun was shining so brightly through a nearby window that it completely distorted the projection and we couldn't see a thing...although we could hear it. Not to worry though, we weren't there to watch TV. In fact, it may have been a blessing in disguise because if my son had noticed that Thomas was on he would've become glued to the screen!
Another lovely attraction in the Thomas Engine Shed is a model railway set with mini Thomas, Percy and James trains on the tracks. So small but holds so much fascination for children. Luckily this was behind railings to prevent little hands pulling it to bits.
Back outside and there are more static trains to look at - this time it's Henry and Fergus. Hang on a minute, who's that? It's Percy...and he's moving! Take a seat in either Clarabel or Annie, who are traditional style carriages, and green steam engine Percy will pull them along a short stretch of track and back again. The scenery isn't particularly fantastic and the journey isn't very long (10 minutes maximum) but the kids still seemed to be delighted. It was Jack's first ride on a train! Running parallel to Percy is Diesel pulling the Troublesome Trucks. It's standing room only on this one and more of an open air experience as you don't actually climb into a carriage as such. This trip follows the same route as Percy.
Time for refreshments! Right in the centre of the Thomas site is a picnic area with plenty of seating available in the form of benches and tables. These are situated outside a kiosk serving a selection of the usual hot and cold snacks and a variety of drinks. We'd taken along our own supplies as we didn't know what the facilities would be like regarding eating but we certainly wouldn't have gone hungry! There's also the opportunity to grab an ice cream. The more civilised National Railway Museum cafe can also be found indoors.
If the kids are still full of energy and not keen to take a break, you can have a seat in the outdoor children's play area and relax your feet while they play on the various climbing frames and other child friendly apparatus. Plenty of bark chippings are on the ground to provide a soft landing for your little ones if they become a bit over adventurous.
Toilets are easily accessible, aswell as baby changing facilities. There is also a baby feeding room but I had no reason to take a look inside. It's also worth noting that there is a first aid point, plus a lost children point for any wanderers.
Want to get creative? Then it's into the Children's Activity Zone, which is exactly as the name suggests...lots of activities! Equipment is provided for kids (and adults!) to colour in and create their own Thomas the Tank Engine themed paper masks and flags. Decent quality badges can also be made (with the assistance of a member of staff operating a badge making machine) in a variety of designs. This area is a really nice touch as it means you can walk away with some lovely souvenirs from your Day Out With Thomas.
So what's next? How about a ride on the miniature railway? This mini coal powered engine is a permanent fixture at the National Railway Museum so it's not actually Thomas themed. In normal circumstances you have to pay to jump on board but those wrist bands I mentioned earlier act as a pass. As part of your Day Out With Thomas you can have as many rides as you wish for absolutely nothing. Again, queues are to be expected but they aren't horrendous, and hey, it provides a lesson in patience for your eager beavers! The train ride is only quite short but it's still a fun experience for the little train enthusiasts. The coal smoke is a bit stinky though!
One thing that I dread at events like this is the gift shop. Jack always latches onto something that he wants and refuses to let go/leave without it. I suppose a Day Out With Thomas wouldn't be complete without a shop. This is also the place to pick up those photos of your children with The Fat Controller...but I hope you're sitting down for this bit...£7!!! Now I wouldn't consider myself tight when it comes to money but to me, that's a rip off. I also think it's a bit unfair that you aren't told the price before you pose for the photo. Of course, you are under no obligation to buy but what if your child insists on having the picture that was taken of them? Needless to say I didn't purchase ours. I'll make do with my own happy snaps, ta very much.
Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of Thomas the Tank Engine branded merchandise can be found in the shop. Items such as books, DVDs, posters, named door plaques, clothing, all manner of toys, stationery, cards aswell as many other nik-naks. Although good quality, some of these items seemed a tad overpriced. For example, a small push along Thomas toy was being sold for £6. I bought an identical toy in Tesco about a month ago for a couple of quid cheaper! I found that I was quite lucky on this occasion because Jack didn't insist on having anything...surprising considering how much he adores all things Thomas. I think he was too tired by this point to be bothered looking at anything. Not wanting to leave empty handed I chose some books for him though. These were reasonably priced at three for £5.
Well, that was us done. The excitement had worn the boys out and they were ready for home. After saying goodbye to Thomas, a quick browse around some of the other National Railway Museum displays completed our afternoon perfectly. On leaving, I noticed something called Thomas' Secret Path on the site map. All I can say is that it was so secret that we completely missed it! It was a shame but nevermind, we'd had more than enough to do.
Despite the Thomas event being open from 10am - 5pm we certainly didn't feel that a full day was required. An afternoon was just enough, otherwise our tired little boys would've got fed up. We were pleased that the weather remained pleasant throughout as rain would've spoilt it somewhat...something to keep in mind if you ever think of visiting. On the whole it was well worth the trip as it was an experience and atmosphere that was thoroughly enjoyed by all. The 18 month old was a little too young to fully appreciate everything but he certainly liked his train ride. My 2 year old was in his element and thought it was fantastic - just what I expected. And the 6 year old? After insisting that he was 'too old for Thomas' (?!) he soon came round to the idea and ended up having a great time. Us adults were simply satisfied to see the constant thrill on the children's faces - priceless.
It's normally free to enter the National Railway Museum but at an event like a Day Out with Thomas, tickets have to be purchased. These can be bought on the day or pre-booked. Prices are listed below, the brackets being a discounted price for ordering your tickets online...
Adults ~ £10 (£8.50)
Children & Concessions ~ £8 (£6.50)
Under 2's ~ Free!
Family* ~ £30 (£24.50)
* A family consisting of either two adults and two children or one adult and three children.
It's also worth mentioning that if you drive to the venue there is an additional car park charge of £7 for all day parking. This sounds a lot but it is actually quite reasonable when you consider that most public car parks in York city centre cost roughly £2 per hour. None of these are particularly close to the museum anyway so it wouldn't really be an option to try and park somewhere else. The museum is within walking distance of the train station though.
As I stated earlier, the Day Out With Thomas tour visits different locations around the UK. You've missed the York stop this year but you may have the option of other places. Please be aware that the 'content' of the event may vary slightly due to the facilities available. The following link provides venues and dates for the rest of 2008...
National Railway Museum
Leeman Road, York. YO26 4XJ
Summary: A lovely day out for kids who adore Thomas
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