Riding the Rails with Thomas -- Was it Worth it?
We, my friend Karon and I, and the little one headed out at 9:45 a.m. since our tickets were for 1 p.m. and we were advised to arrive an hour early.
The little one slept on the way down so was refreshed and ready for some fun. The advertising said, "Take a ride with Thomas, meet the railway controller Sir Topham Hatt, have fun in the Imagination Station, see authentic engines and enjoy tons of other activities in a city near you! This year some events featuring Thomas's best friend Percy! All Aboard!" We had purchased our tickets in advance and had them at the ready.
The imagination station was a large tent filled with tables of play tables and train sets.
There was a train-shaped blowup bounce house but there were too many big kids in there for a 2-year-old to go in unaccompanied. Not appropriate for grown-ups to be in there and without a "bigger kid" the bounce house was not the experience that was non-threatening for a 2 year old. One station with a the IPTV guy showed films from IPTV - pretty much what we have seen a million times. We were able to take a picture of the IPTV guy who exudes excitement about Thomas, IPTV, and Reading -- and both of us gave a thumbs up. Pryor was able to chase bubbles being produced by a bubble machine at the end of a large red caboose. Chasing them and climbing onto the platform at the back of the caboose was entertaining. Just right for a two year old.
Then here comes Thomas down the track. Whistle was very underplayed and one might have missed his arrival if one hadn't been right there. Once he moved into the stopping spot pictures would not have been possible as he was beyond the area where passengers were allowed.
The ride was short - 15 minutes by houses and through the countryside. Five minutes standing still and then pulled back into the station. Only action on the train was the conductor coming by to high-five the youngest passengers, and a photographer offering to take family pictures (to be purchased at an inflated price - we declined). When we disembarked there were plenty of gifts to purchase in the train station, and the Thomas gift tent, a lot of food vendors -- although we were told Sir Topham Hatt was around -- we could not find him. But surely he was there somewhere as the photographer on the train quoted a price for a combination package with Sir Topham Hatt and the train pictures. But once we were near the gift tent we did get a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon ($12.00) and a mechanized James the engine train set ($33.00)
What could the organizers done differently?
- Perhaps playologists in the imagination tent to supervise and manage when a larger child takes trains away from littler children (parents should not have to manage other people's children) -- Pryor managed on his own but several other children and parents had difficulties. No assistance was available in the craft area (which wasn't really too exciting anyway).
- Something, anything, on the train to make it speak "Thomas." If one had not seen the engine - and that is quite possible, one would not have a clue that they were on the Thomas train. How about: some music from some of the Thomas shows, could Sir Topham Hatt come through the train? Perhaps a baseball card type of souvenir rather than the b/w hand out.
- There was no welcome (at least that we could hear in our car), and nothing that made the train ride anything but an ordinary train ride. So perhaps a more energizing welcome with a special whistle as we moved out.
- Some type of organization to the grounds -- seemed very disorganized and no "map" of what was where (such as where was Sir Topham Hatt?). Staff was around but mostly for selling things ... few had any answers about where something or somebody was, or who was responsible for a beverage machine that took money but delivered nothing.
Books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends are written by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, and later his son Christopher. The books were part of the series The Railroad Series. Thomas is a steam engine with the #1 painted on its side. He emerged as the most popular of the characters and is now the star of a television spin-off called Thomas & Friends. The books were originally published by the Golden Press (Little Golden Books) which is now owned by Random House Books for Young Readers. There are many versions and many stories. Thomas made his first appearance in 1945. So this year 2015 Thomas is 70 years old.