Day Out with Thomas the Train

A few weeks we ventured up to Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum for their “Day Out with Thomas” event. This was our first visit to the museum, and if you have a train lover in your family, this place would be a must do in the area!

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There were so many different train cars to see and explore. Many of them were set up to let kids go inside, climb around, push buttons, and see what real train cars are really like. Other cars had model train displays set up in them. The Thomas event set up different stamping stations all over the museum where the kids could stamp their paper passports they were given.

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Miniature train display even had Thomas!

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Once it was time for our train ride we got in line and walked up onto the platform to board. It was all open seating and the train had been decorated with little flags. The train ride itself was a little…meh. The train wasn’t in the best condition with some seats being covered by some dingy looking cloth covers. Our window had a big crack in it where it looked like it either was hit by a rock or a bb gun pellet. They played Thomas music which was fun for the kids who knew it and also passed out certificates to all the kids riding. The scenery was bleak at best. The area around the B&O museum was littered with trash and graffiti. I think the ride would’ve been more fun in a more scenic area. It was rather quick at just 25 minutes. I am also comparing this in my mind to the steam train ride we did at Roaring Camp Railroad in California. That train ride was much more enjoyable for me.

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After the train ride, we had a chance to wait in line for one of two photo ops with Thomas, either from the side or right in front of him. We chose the side view. It was nice they had two lines going at once to get as many people photos in a timely manner. Then we had plenty more time for a carousel ride, some bouncy houses, and playing on a playground. It didn’t take long for the kids to spot the ice cream truck so we got a couple cups of soft serve and sat down near the magic show to eat.

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All in all I think this is a great event for kids who are super into Thomas and/or trains. My son was excited to see Thomas, but he’s not *that* into it. We didn’t know the songs, and he didn’t recognize Sir Toppham Hat who was also there for photos. My daughter’s favorite thing about the day was the bouncy houses, lol. So for that reason, if your kids are not die-hard Thomas fans, I might consider skipping this one. At $100 for our family of 4, I found it to be a little much for kids who were probably just as happy to go to the bouncy house as they were to see Thomas. I will say that we went with friends of ours whose kids LOVE Thomas and I think they had a really great time. There were a good variety of other things going on besides just the train ride to keep the kids entertained. We spent about 4 hours total at the event. Have you been to see Thomas before? How was your experience?

Day Out With Thomas

Mount Vernon with Kids

mount vernon.pngWe spent a lovely spring Sunday afternoon at George Washington’s former farm residence, Mount Vernon. This popular Virginia attraction has a great number of different activities and things to see. When you buy your ticket, you will be given a timed entry ticket to tour Washington’s main house, the centerpiece of the property. You can also buy tickets for special tours and a boat cruise. You can purchase tickets online in advance which is always a good idea-especially if you plan to visit at a popular time.

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We started our visit by leisurely wandering the grounds near the main house as well as the upper and lower gardens. Near the upper gardens you can find the slave quarters which are set up to resemble what they would have looked like while in use. Depending on timing, you may also have a chance to meet Lady Washington (Martha Custis/Washinton) herself. There is a character actor portraying the original First Lady, recounting her life, how she met George, about her children, etc. She’s very friendly, interactive, and even brought my kids up to take a picture with her. You may also find other members of the Washington family wandering the grounds ready to converse with you about the family history and Mount Vernon itself.

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Upper Gardens with the former slaves’ quarters in the background.

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Sometimes playing in the dirt is more exciting than history.

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Getting to meet and take pictures with Lady Washington!

Our tour of the residence was interesting with informed employees in the various areas of the house explaining what you were looking at and answering questions. You are kept on a path through the edges of rooms or in the hallway, which I was actually grateful for because it meant my kids probably couldn’t cause any trouble that way 😉 The tour is long enough to peak your interest but not so long that little kids can’t make it through. I was nervous that they would have a hard time or be disruptive, but I didn’t find this tour to be overly stuffy or lengthy and the kids did just fine.

You can also feel free to hang out on the back patio of Mount Vernon relaxing in a chair and taking in the views of the Potomac River. I visited Mount Vernon as an 8th grader on a school trip, and my one memory is sitting out there looking at fireflies.

In addition to the main house, you can also see the stables where we found hogs, sheep, and new baby lambs. You can also walk or take the shuttle down to the Pioneer Farm. If you’re lucky you’ll be there on a day where there are demonstrations of colonial life taking place. There wasn’t much going on during our visit but we did get to learn about fishing in the Potomac and salting fish to preserve it. My daughter really enjoyed interacting with the colonists and getting to try some hands on activities with them.

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Kids talking with a colonist about fishing for shad and salting it to preserve it.

The final thing we did was a boat cruise on the Potomac. The cruise was about 45 minutes and took us to see Ft. Washington down the river a bit. For whatever reason we were on a boat that was similar to a commuter boat/ferry, but our friends who visited another time were on a more luxurious looking yacht. Our boat only had popcorn and drinks available but apparently the fancy boat had full meals you could order.

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Osprey nest near the boat dock, I’ve decided they must be named George and Martha 🙂

We bypassed Washington’s tomb and the memorial for the slaves. We also missed out on the education center which I hear is wonderful! There is a children’s room that has a doll house sized version of Mount Vernon, story time, crafts, puzzles, and other activities. We just ran out of time. We got there mid day and to really enjoy everything, a full day would have been best. Just writing this I’m already thinking I need to find a day to go back!

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Blowing dandelions on the Colonial Farm.

Mount Vernon hosts many special events throughout the year so be sure to check out their events calendar to see what will be going on during your visit! Who else has been to Mount Vernon? What did you love about it and what tips do you have? Please leave your input in the comments below!

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A Guide to Tours and Events at the White House

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Since moving to DC about 9 months ago, we have been very fortunate to visit the White House a number of times and partake in different events. We have been able to do so much because we happen to know a couple people who work at the White House who have been so gracious with helping us get set up with tours and tickets. Some of the things in this post are things that are open to the public, and others can only be done if you have a connection on the inside. I would recommend no matter when you visit to carefully look at the rules and restrictions for your event. They are different depending on what you do. Here’s an overview of our experiences, hope it’s interesting and helpful for you!

White House Garden Tour

There are garden tours offered twice a year, one weekend in the fall and one in the spring. We attended in the fall. This event is open to the public, the Nation Park Service distributes same day tickets from a tent on Constitution and 15th. You need one ticket per person in your group, everyone must be present to receive a ticket. It will be a timed entry and we were able to walk in at our time without waiting in any long lines.

The “tour” is not so  much a tour as an open house. There is no one guiding you around, but you are given a program that tells you about different areas in the South Lawn. It is all outside, you will be able to walk very close to the White House but will not be able to go in it. There is also some live music, the Marine Corps band was playing while we were there. You may bump into some recognizable people from the administration so keep your eyes out!

I think we spent about an hour meandering around, taking some pictures and enjoying the scenery. The website for the Spring Tour can be found here if you are interested in attending.

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Trick or Treating

This year the trick or treating happened the night before Halloween. The event actually was moved a day due to weather (thankfully because I would not have wanted to be out there in the rain). I’ll be honest in that, I actually have no idea how people go about getting tickets for this. I never heard of a lottery. I’ve heard military people are often given tickets but have no idea how true that is or how many tickets they get access to, etc.

We had a timed entry for the event. I had asked for the 5:00 time slot thinking it would give us plenty of time with the light to get some great pictures, and early enough that our kids would not be melting down before bedtime. I made the mistake of thinking because it was timed, we would not need to be there early, that we would be able to just walk right in at our time. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We arrived to the White House about 4:40 and were greeted with a long line down the street. We asked volunteers who were working if we were in the right spot and were told we were. So we waited, waited, and waited. By looking at the timestamp on my photos, we didn’t actually start reaching the fun until about 6:25. We were very unprepared for this. We didn’t bring snacks or a stroller. Our little one was wanting or needing to be held the entire time to keep him happy and off the grass (the people in charge kept telling kids to get off the grass).

This event is also outdoors and on the South Lawn. There were tables and displays set up by different government agencies along the path. Each one was handing out either candy, stickers, bookmarks, coloring books, postcards, or other little treats. There was fun Halloween music playing and the White House was decorated and all lit up. The President and First Lady typically make an appearance and hand out treats to the trick or treaters who happen to be there at the same time. We did not see them, but there were staffers dressed up handing out the treats, and they are generous with them! Each kid got at least three giant decorated cookies, and plenty of candy including special presidential M&M’s.

Overall, we were happy we went but would’ve done things differently had we known what we were getting into. If you ever get the chance to go, my recommendation would be go to the earliest time slot, and arrive at least an hour early to wait in line. Parents of little ones, bring a stroller or comfortable carrier, and snacks!

East Wing Tour

Currently the White House offers tours of the East Wing which has various historical and ceremonial rooms. Tours have to be requested through members of the House of Representatives or Senate, the link with the information is here.

We have done this tour twice, once at Christmas time and once this spring. Each was enjoyable, but if you have the chance Christmas is particularly fun because of all the Christmas decorations. You can take photos on this tour, but the restriction was no cameras with detachable lenses. Always check the restrictions for these tours and events because they could easily change and are different depending on the event you’re attending.

The tour is self-guided. You are given a program with information about the different rooms you’re seeing. There is also a small gift stand set up toward the beginning of the tour where you can buy White House souvenirs. You may also be able to get some of the same things in gift shops outside the White House, but it is fun to buy from inside. There will only be this one shop, so if you want something go ahead and buy it then because you won’t have another opportunity on the tour. Keep an eye out for all the different portraits of presidents and first ladies, check out the view from the Blue Room upstairs, and take your picture under the Presidential Seal at the end of the tour. Families with children are welcome to take this tour.

Here’s some side by sides of the rooms at Christmas and in the spring:

 

Here’s a couple more pictures from our Christmas time tour:

 

Here’s a couple from the spring tour:

West Wing Tour

These can only be arranged if you know someone who can set it up for you and take you on the tour. They are conducted after business hours, so don’t expect to see the President sitting in the Oval Office. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the West Wing, but we could take pictures at the entrance to the West Wing, inside the Press Briefing Room, and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which was part of the tour. We were allowed to see the doors to the Situation Room (not inside it though), Oval Office, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, the Press Briefing Room, and we were taken over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where a large majority of staffers work. I saw other tour groups with children, I would just advise to know whether your children can be quiet and respectful on a tour like this.

 

Bowling at the White House

There is a bowling alley at the White House! The Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley is a two lane bowling alley that actually resides underneath the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Again this is something that has to be set up by someone who works there. We were able to take our family there while they were visiting us. We had a couple hours to bowl and have fun. We all really enjoyed it! We were even able to put up bumpers for the kids and they had a little ramp they could roll the ball down to help them.

Easter Egg Roll

The Easter Egg Roll is a long standing tradition at the White House. This year was the 140th year! It is open to the public. In the spring the White House will announce when the lottery for tickets is open and anyone can apply for a chance to get tickets. Results were announced about a month before the event. So even if you live out of town, you could apply and have time to make arrangements for a trip to DC if you won. The President and First Lady also usually make an appearance at one of the time slots, this year they came out around 10:30 A.M.

This was also a timed entry event, and after Halloween and reading other people’s experiences we knew to be there early. We arrived an hour early and I felt that was a good time. Each time window was two hours, you have to leave when your time is up no matter what time you arrive. We were not at the front of the line by any means, but we entered the South Lawn about 10 minutes after our start time, which still gave us plenty of time to do all the activities we wanted.

The event included the namesake Easter Egg Roll, an Easter Egg Hunt, egg decorating, cookie decorating, lawn bowling, story times, coloring cards for troops, lots of characters walking around the lawn for pictures, hard boiled eggs on sticks, live music by military bands, and more.  We found this event much more enjoyable than Halloween. There was so much to do, and not being held to a line once we got in the grounds was nice. There were some lines to do different activities, but we found that they moved quickly and we were able to do everything we wanted to do. Just a note on characters, if you see one you want a picture with, get in line right away. They rotate out and the line for them may close as the characters need to take breaks. We missed out on pictures with the characters from Zootopia for this reason.

The weather this year was chilly and it had been raining the night before so we opted for rain boots as we knew we’d be walking around the grass the whole time. My recommendation would be to dress nicely-you’re going to take pictures and you want to like how you look, but also be sensible! Especially about your shoes. It’s a lot of standing in line and walking in grass. You don’t want to ruin your heels for the sake of this 🙂

I was happy we had a stroller, mainly for the waiting in line before the event, and after when we had to walk to lunch and the metro. It also gave us a place to stash coats and treat bags. Also you do not need to bring your child’s Easter basket. The only thing they would use it for is the egg hunt and they had baskets for the kids to use and then return after they were done.

When you leave the event each child under 13 will be given a goody bag. Each goody bag had candy and an official White House Easter Egg. I read a tip to exit through different lines so that you get different colored eggs. We did and ended up with a green egg and a pink egg, so it worked for us! Not to fear though, there was also a stand set up near the exit where you could purchase more eggs if you wanted. They were $8.50 each.

We really enjoyed the Easter Egg Roll and would love to do it again!

 

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I think that pretty much sums it all up! If you have any other tips or experiences to share, I would love if you left them in the comments below! Also if there are any questions I can answer for you please feel free to reach out, I’m happy to try and help!