Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum
When Camden was two years old, he loved Thomas the Tank Engine. I wanted to take him to Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum, but then the whole world shut down, and DOWT was canceled.
Last year, Cam was three and still loved Thomas, so I wanted to try again. Turns out, it was happening the week before I was due with Lawson, so a six hour round trip at 9 months pregnant was out of the question.
Finally, finally, this year, Cam is four years old and still loves Thomas. Last weekend was the first of two weekends for Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum, and I grabbed our tickets months ago. Here’s our experience, and all the tips I can give you to make the most of your experience.
Parking and Entering
Parking is free, and fills up fast in the morning. Our Thomas ride was scheduled for 11:30, and we got there about 10:00 (the parking opens at 9).
By 10:00, the main parking lot was full, and we parked in the overflow parking, which is right next to the main lot. It’s a large grassy field, and volunteer Scouts were directing everyone for the parking. Simple, easy, free.
We walked from there to the entrance, and found that there were numerous port-a-potties right outside the entrance so you could use the restroom before you go. There was even a family port-a-potty, like a family restroom.
Have your tickets ready on your phone – I downloaded them so I didn’t have to worry about the connection. You’ll only have your Thomas tickets scanned here; if you bought Percy tickets as well, they take care of those later.
Riding Thomas the Tank Engine
When we walked in, we had time to take a photo with the inflatable Percy, and Camden rode the little Fisher Price Thomas toys.
Then we headed to get in line for Thomas. The Thomas ride is to the absolute right when you enter the grounds, and they recommend you get in line 15 minutes early. There are several lines along the train car loading areas, and each has it’s own stroller area too.
We chose a line toward the back of the train. Most people want a car up front, because it’s closest to Thomas, but once you’re on the train, you can’t see Thomas. If you sit in a back car on the left side, toward the loading area, you have a fantastic view of Thomas as you go around the curve, because it curves left.
We sat in the second to last car and it was perfect.
The ride is about 20 minutes: 10 minutes forward and then 10 minutes backward.
After you detrain, there is a spot to get in line if you want a picture with Thomas at the front. Cam had no interest in standing in a line for a photo; he was there to ride Thomas, not take a photo! So we didn’t do that part.
They require scheduling your Thomas ride and Percy ride 45 minutes apart, because you’ll need 20 minutes to ride Thomas and about 10ish to walk to the other side of the museum grounds to where Percy is located. We scheduled ours at 11:30 for Thomas and 12:45 for Percy, and we had plenty of time to stop and play at the playground near Percy’s loading area.
Percy boards the same way as Thomas – they’ll check your time on your tickets as you get on. The train ride is the same as Thomas – 10 minutes one way, then 10 minutes back the other.
It’s fun to be able to ride both trains, but they’re not really any different from each other. We did them both, and probably would next time, but it’s a fun extra that you can save money by choosing not to do.
The Illinois Railway Museum Trains
The IRM has their early 20th-century trolleys running; Cam was so excited because they look a lot like Trolley from Daniel Tiger and he was sure that’s who it was. You can hop on and off the trolleys at multiple different stops: near Thomas, near the activities, near Percy, and at the back where there’s a big grassy area and a creek. No strollers are allowed on the trolley, though. There are stroller parking areas.
The IRM also has numerous barns full of trains. They have boardwalks in between the trains that are big enough and smooth enough for strollers. Many of the trains are open so you can walk through them. We walked through a caboose – and learned how dangerous they actually were on a moving train – as well as a cattle car and a refrigerator ice car. Andrew and I enjoyed the history, and Cam thought they were so neat, too!
Activities at Day Out With Thomas
There are sooo many fun activities at Day Out With Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum.
DOWT has several activities as you walk in. There are the ride on mini Thomas engines, as well as a giant sand pile to dig in. We saw two different fun bounce houses, but Cam is uncomfortable bouncing around with kids he doesn’t know, so he passed on those.
Sir Topham Hatt is available for meet and greets. By the time we finally saw him, it was close to 2:00 and Cam was tired, so he didn’t feel brave enough to go meet him. But it’s a neat experience, and I’m sure he’ll want to next time!
The Day Out With Thomas Play Tent
After the train rides, the play tent was Camden and Lawson’s favorite place! There were at least 6 wooden train tables, plus a section of plastic track play space. Camden and Lawson tried out every single one!
There were MegaBlok tables to play at, and also a ring toss game. They also had a neat Thomas temporary tattoo station, where volunteers were putting temporary tattoos on kids.
Right before we left, Cam got caught up at the ‘Ready, Set, Play!’ station, which had three tablets available with Thomas apps on them to try out. We ended up downloading the apps – they’re all free – on my phone and Camden’s kids’ tablet and he plays them allllll the time now.
The Illinois Railway Museum Playground
Cam and Law were fascinated with the playground. Of course, it is train-themed. There is a little kids structure and a bigger structure, as well as a rock-climbing structure. The boys could easily have played there for an hour. And there are picnic tables right there too, so you can eat lunch while the kids play.
Eating at Day Out With Thomas
There were numerous food trucks on the grounds to get food from. They ranged from a hot dog truck, a chicken truck, a Filipino food truck, and a Mexican food truck to a Dippin’ Dots cart and ice cream tents.
You are also free to bring your own food. We took sandwiches for lunch and we brought lots of water. If you don’t bring water, expect to pay $2 a bottle at most food trucks. There are picnic tables all over, and it isn’t hard to find a place to sit and eat. We also took a blanket to throw on the ground and eat.
We did grab some food to eat for dinner on the way home. Andrew and Cam each had a hot dog, which they said was fine, nothing special. But I got chicken nachos from the Mexican food truck – I wish I remembered the name of it – and they were GOOD!
As you walk in the entrance, there is a tent off to the right that is the Day Out With Thomas merchandise shop. There’s a variety of Thomas merch in there, and the souvenir-type items are pretty overpriced (think $10 for a sling bag and $20 for Thomas bubble blaster).
But the wooden train toys and the Trackmaster plastic tracks are pretty similar to Target and Amazon prices. Cam saved his money for months and he spent $25 on this set.
The Illinois Railway Museum also has a gift store with lots of train themed books, toys and merch. We just did a quick walkthrough of that one, but there’s a lot there.
In a Nutshell
Lots to do.
Bring water (and food if you want to save money).
So many trains. So much fun.
We would absolutely take the boys to Day Out With Thomas again – maybe next year, or maybe we’ll wait two years – but we will for sure be back again.
If you want to see everything we’re seeing and doing, check out my Instagram!