To Lancaster County We Go!
(Long Island, N.Y.) I was looking for a fun place to take the kids for a couple of days—that didn’t involve plane tickets. Something cool and different and reachable by car. So I did what most parents do these days, I hit the net. I surfed around a while for ideas and inspiration, but came up empty.
My son was playing with his ‘Thomas’ trains on the floor making such a racket, I couldn’t even think clearly. He’s obsessed with those trains—it’s a sickness, really. Anyone with young children might know the symptoms: Rattling off the names and numbers of ‘Thomas’ and his many ‘Friends’, humming that silly rail road song, a sudden invasion of wooden tracks. I tripped over one of those trains running for the phone. This gave me a brilliant idea. Some moms mentioned that kids can actually ride on a life size ‘Thomas’. The event is called A DAY OUT WITH THOMAS and it travels around the country. Maybe this little blue train that I almost broke my foot on, is a really useful engine after all. I hobbled back to the computer.
A click here and a click there—and bingo—‘Thomas’ will be the Strasburg Rail Road. Perfect. Strasburg is located in Lancaster County, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, famous for its landscape and rolling farmlands. I learned there was plenty to do: there’s the Amish, shopping, amusement parks, museums, theaters. Sure sounded fun. Not too far, definitely something different. Its official… to Lancaster County we go!
Take This Trip Tip: Leave at night.
The night of our trip to PA, we loaded the kids in the car around 8PM and headed off into the sunset (via the Long Island Expressway). Due to my husband’s superb navigational skills (AKA: me reading from a printout of Driving Directions), we managed to make it there in just about three hours. Leaving at night was a great idea. The kids snoozed in their car seats the entire way. Traffic was a breeze–there were hardly any cars on the road. Somewhere on the NJ Turnpike, I relinquished my Driving Directions duties and joined the kids in dream land. When I finally woke up I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I had died and woke up in “outlet heaven”. Who knew the Amish countryside had tons of brand name outlets. (Look, it’s a gigantic Pottery Barn outlet. I could do some serious damage here!)
We were minutes away from our destination, driving on the main highway through the hub-bub of hotel and restaurant chains. Flashing signs, buffet advertisements. It was not exactly how I envisioned Lancaster’s Amish country—but then we made a turn off the busy highway and drove down a few minutes off the beaten path, towards our hotel. There it was, The Netherlands Inn & Spa. As we headed down the quiet road, the Inn was breathtaking. It was all aglow with lights. I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath. The air had a sweet and calming scent. The grounds were surrounded by farms and all looked so serene, it was dark, but I knew I was going to love our lodgings. I couldn’t wait until daylight to soak up the sights.
Take This Trip Tip: Stay at the Netherlands Inn & Spa
The Netherlands s Inn & Spa is simply,an excellent choice if you plan to visit Strasburg. The Inn has 104 guest rooms, ranging from traditional to luxury. Our room was traditional. The décor was simple, yet spacious and welcoming. The beds were really comfortable. By 12 AM, we all fell back asleep, excited to begin the next day.
7AM the kids were up and so excited to get dressed.(Since when?) Our room included a full country breakfast for two (kids were free) located in the Inn’s Grand Ballroom. Breakfast buffet was a big hit— fresh squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs, French toast, yogurt, potatoes, bacon–the works. Then we headed off to have a look at the grounds–18 landscaped acres. The scene was so peaceful. There were farms and hills in the distance. My kids waved to the horses in the nearby field and ran freely on the green grass. We found a great Amish-style play set and while the kids climbed up and down the slide, we relaxed on a bench and began to plan our day.
Our next stop was Dutch Wonderland. An amusement park for kids just minutes away that actually looks like a giant castle from the outside. The park didn’t open until 10 AM, so we let the kids run around the grounds, exploring and skipping up and down the hills.
Take This Trip Tip: If you’re going to Dutch Wonderland—go early.
We arrived just as the park was opening and I was amazed how quickly and easily we hopped from ride to ride. There were no lines. We chose a ride, dashed to it—and enjoyed. As the day progressed the lines started to build up, but by then we had already zipped through the park in record time. Dutch Wonderland is sparkling clean and it really does cater to parents and children. The bathrooms have these cute little toilets for the kids—even little sinks to wash their hands.
Even the food choices make it easy for parents…it’s good. My three year old son declared his hot-dog was the best he’s ever had. So, my husband laughed (ah, kids will be kids), took a bite and said, “Hey, he’s not kidding, this is really good hot-dog!” It’s really no wonder Dutch Wonderland was rated one of the top five children’s parks in the world. If you have kids, it’s well worth the trip.
Take This Trip Tip: Invite the Grandparents!
Really, what could be better for the kids than a day at an amusement park? Grandma. Yep, we headed back to Netherlands Inn to meet up with grandma, who we (brilliantly) invited to come spend time with us in Strasburg. The grandparents checked in and I checked out (so to speak). While everyone frolicked in the pool, I merrily skipped off to Spa Orange (a full-service day spa located on the premises), I slipped on a fluffy white robe and indulged in a treatment or two. Actually, it was three. A detailed manicure & pedicure and much needed 50 minute massage.
Yes! One minute I’m peeling the skin off a monster-sized hot dog at Dutch Wonderland, and the next, I’m kicking back in a country cool spa, sipping raspberry iced-tea, feeling like the Queen of Sheba. I could have stayed there for hours, but I had to get back, my husband and I had dinner reservations (for two) at Inn’s BISTRO. We sipped some wine, ate a three-course meal, walked around in the romantic, peaceful setting—the night was ours. Did I mention this was supposed to be a vacation for the kids? I’ll say it again: Invite the grandparents!
Take This Trip Tip: For Your ‘Day Out With Thomas’, Wear Sensible Shoes.
I had no idea what a big event this was. And how crowded. Here’s another tip: make sure you buy tickets well in advance. The lines are crazy. At the Strasburg Rail Road, this event is huge. When we heard that parking would be a nightmare, we were so relieved to learn that the Netherlands Inn & Spa provided shuttle buses going back and forth to the rail road all day. Whew! We thought it would be best not to bring the stroller. Bad move. The shuttle bus left room for strollers in the front seats and when our young kids tired from walking around all day, we had to carry them, along with ten bags full of goodies and treats.
When ‘Thomas’ is in town, the event attracts nearly 50,000 people—but for kids who love that little tank engine, I assure you, they won’t be disappointed. This year, the life size ‘Thomas’ (a real train) blinks his eyes and what’s really great is you hop aboard for a 25 minute train ride through the Amish countryside. My kids were thrilled beyond words. The lines were long, the day was hot, but would I do it again? Yep. We plan to return in December when the event returns. Here are the other cool things that happen at the Strasburg Rail Road during ‘A Day Out With Thomas’. The kids can:
- Get pictures taken on Percy- a life size blow up version of Thomas’s friend.
- Learn about farm animals – with a chick hatching display – a real tractor – and other farm-related fun.
- Ride the Cranky Cars – which are just the right size for young children.
- Go on the pump cars (for the whole family)
- Take a ride on a caboose.
- Ride on a pint sized steam locomotive – the Cagney.
- Find their way through a child sized hay maze.
- Get faux tattoos of Thomas and Friends.
- Shop through an infinite number of Thomas Merchandise.
Take This Trip Tip: Do It Again In December!
We all had such a great time in Strasburg, PA—we are now making plan to return in December. Strasburg is the home of The National Christmas Center, and there are plenty of events and festivals to celebrate the Christmas season. We plan to ride Santa’s Paradise Express. December 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17th, the Strasburg Rail Road transforms into a winter wonderland and the family can take a train ride with Santa! There are also carolers, musicians, storytellers and much more.
And best of all: there’s plenty of shopping. While I do plan to visit one of the many unique shops that feature hand-crafted goods and heirloom quality antiques—I’d really like some time to stroll on over to that “outlet heaven” I spied as we entered Strasburg. Or perhaps maybe even a Signature Facial or a dip in the Hydrotherapy Tub at Spa Orange. Oh Grandma…say, are you free in December?