With my husband and son being major train enthusiasts, it’s no surprise that we’re also big Thomas the Train fans in our house. We took Henry and Charlotte to their first Day Out with Thomas event at Strasburg Railroad when Henry was just shy of 2 years old. (Charlotte was only 7 months old but was also happy to come along for the ride!) We’ve gone several times since, including a few days after I had an emergency surgery and during the scaled down pandemic version of the event in 2020. So I obviously think it’s well worth the long drive and ticket price! After our most recent Day Out with Thomas, I posted a few pics to Facebook, and a friend of mine seemed surprised that the event was more than just a ride on Thomas. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some more details and photos here in case others were unaware of what the event entails.
Day Out with Thomas is the licensed name used by Mattel for tourist events that take place on heritage railways and feature one or more engines from the popular children’s show, Thomas and Friends. In our area, the event comes to Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County. It typically takes place over two weekends annually, once in June and once in September. This year’s tickets were $23, and that includes a 45-minute train ride on Thomas plus all of the other activities. There is one small Thomas ride (think something like you’d see in a mall) that costs 75 cents, but everything else is free with admission. To give you an idea of how that compares with other train experiences, a regular train ride from Strasburg is around $10 for children ages 2-11 and $16.50 for adults. And a coach train ride in New Hope is $22.99 for children ages 3-11 and $24.99 for adults. So it’s extremely reasonable if your children enjoy Thomas. (And if you like trains, but you don’t care about Thomas specifically or want to avoid any crowds, Strasburg is also fun and relatively cheap any other time!)
When you purchase your tickets for Day Out with Thomas, you pick a train time. That’s what time you’ll ride Thomas, but everything else you do is on your schedule. Since it takes us over an hour to get there, I usually buy us tickets for mid-morning, around 10 a.m.
This past Day Out with Thomas, the kids and I invited my dad along for the fun. He also went to the scaled back pandemic version of the event with us in September, so he was able to now see it mostly back to normal. We got to the area a little earlier than we needed to, so we stopped at The Red Caboose Motel before going over to the railroad. We’ve never actually stayed at The Red Caboose yet, but if you’re coming from farther away or looking to make a weekend out of your visit, I’d definitely check it out. The rooms are converted train cars!
While we haven’t stayed overnight, we almost always stop at The Red Caboose on our way to or from Strasburg Railroad. (Sometimes both to and from!) There’s a really cute restaurant there called Casey Jones’ that’s built into a real train car. There’s a gift shop with tons of train toys, books, shirts, etc, small petting zoo, horse and buggy rides, and you have a great view of the train tracks while you eat! This past visit, we stopped at The Red Caboose first thing in the morning. Charlotte had been talking about seeing the animals, and I wasn’t sure if we’d be eating lunch there later or not.
After a short stop at The Red Caboose, we headed over to Strasburg Railroad. Parking is free, but keep in mind that it can be a hike during these big events. Your Day Out with Thomas ticket includes unlimited rides aboard Strasburg Railroad’s miniature steam locomotive and the cranky cars, both of which are BIG hits with my kids. We rode the mini steam train first since there wasn’t a line.
Then, it was onto the main event – our ride on Thomas! Sometimes, they also offer shorter rides on Percy, but he was just there for photos ops this time. Your ticket gets you on the train, but you can sit wherever you like. Tip: The seats flip, so if you’re a group of more than 2 and you’d like to face each other, you can flip the seats around to create two rows that face one another. The train ride is a scenic 45 minutes, going past numerous farms with cows and horses and Cherry Crest Adventure Farm. We haven’t been to Cherry Crest yet, but I’m hoping that we’ll make it there this summer or fall! I highly recommend bringing drinks and snacks for the train ride. We love to grab some boxes of popcorn from the cart right by the ticket booth.
We spent the rest of the morning enjoying the different attractions. The cranky cars were a repeat stop for us since Henry quickly realized that while it SEEMED like a good idea to see how fast he could make the little car go … it meant his turn was over faster than he wanted it to be! It was actually a bittersweet moment to see that he can now move himself around the track with ease. During our first visit, he had to be pushed from behind!
In addition to the miniature steam train and cranky cars, there’s a small playground. Here, you’ll find a wooden train that kids can climb on and pretend to ride, as well as a playground structure with a few swings, slides and climbing features. Even though we go to playgrounds that are bigger than this all of the time, my kids always like playing here. It’s right next to the bathrooms (which were just redone), so it’s also a great spot to take a break if you’re taking turns in the bathroom.
While some of these attractions are at Strasburg Railroad all of the time, there are special things to do only available during Day Out with Thomas. Day Out with Thomas sets up tents on the opposite side of the railroad tracks. This is where you can get your picture taken with Thomas, Percy and Sir Topham Hatt. They’ll give you a photo pass that you can scan throughout the day if you’d like to buy professional photos, but you can also take your own with your phone or camera.
In addition to the photo ops, there’s an area with a dance floor and DJ, a bubble zone, temporary Thomas tattoos, games, ride-on Thomas toys and more. I didn’t take many photos here, but you can check out a bunch of videos in my saved Instagram Story Highlight. All of these activities are free, but there’s also a pop-up Thomas gift shop with tons of different Thomas toys, clothes, etc. At 4 and 3, my kids tend to get overwhelmed and go a little crazy in gift shops, so I try to avoid them. But if your kids handle that better, you can find some cool stuff. I like to bring little Thomas/train-related things that I buy ahead of time. (Read THIS post for some ideas for that!) If I hadn’t come stocked with surprises though, I would have gotten them the Thomas minis package. (Photo below.) I’m pretty knowledgeable about prices on these things, and this was actually a really good deal.
Inside these tents, they also have tables where you can sit and eat lunch. There are some grab-and-go type foods, or you can also buy food from Cafe 1832. They also had grills outside selling items like hot dogs. We opted to snack at Strasburg Railroad and then eat lunch at The Red Caboose on the way home. I will say this was probably our biggest blunder of the day! While we typically love eating at The Red Caboose, it was PACKED, so we had to wait quite a while. While writing this post though, I visited their Facebook page and saw that they were recommending reservations during Day Out with Thomas! I had no idea that they took reservations, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re dining there during the event.
I hope this gave you a good look at the fun during Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County. This is a favorite of ours, and I’m sure we’ll be back again! And as a reminder, tickets are on sale NOW for September 2021’s Day Out with Thomas.
For more ideas on where to take your little engineers, read THIS post.