My idea of a relaxing weekend away does not normally involve the phrase “Day Out with Thomas™, The Friendship Tour.” However; we recently survived a weekend in North Conway riding the Thomas Train, meeting Humpty Dumpty, and a sharing a hotel room. And it WAS relaxing.
Here are my tips for planning an excursion the entire family will enjoy!
Don’t Attempt a Day Trip.
According to GPS, North Conway is only about an hour and a half away from the Seacoast. But when you factor in inevitable traffic, snack stops, meltdowns, and diaper changes, you’re facing a two-hour plus road trip. Sure, packing is a nuisance and while it’s an extra expense to stay at a hotel, you do buy yourself essential down time.
Pick a hotel that caters to the whole family.
We stayed at the Fox Ridge Resort for this reason: outdoor pool bar. When we mentioned this to two other couples who were also travelling to the Thomas the Train event, they promptly switched their reservation! The Friday we arrived, all three couples were happily sipping wine and beer while the kids splashed around in the pool. My husband said he “felt like he was on vacation in the Caribbean.” While this was a bit of a stretch, it was nice to mix in some responsible adult fun with toddler pool time. Other pluses: the hotel boasts an indoor pool and hot tub, a small mini-golf course, a playground, and special events like marshmallow toasting and horse carriage rides. It’s adjacent to its sister hotel, the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort, with shuttle access to its Kahuna Laguna indoor water park.
Share your experience with friends (adult friends, too).
We planned our trip with another couple and coincidentally a second couple happened to be making the trip at the same time. We enjoyed a great child care ratio – six adults to three toddler boys. The kids had each other and the adults had buddies too. This cut down on all kinds of meltdowns and made for adorable pictures and excellent memories. After all, you need to be able to laugh with another parent when your son drops his ice cream into the pool.
Understand that you are not going to linger over gourmet dinners.
My son typically does not eat at restaurants. There are so many people! It is so exciting to look around! Thankfully, the region boasts plenty of take out restaurants and convenience stores to buy a sandwich, chicken nuggets, or other kid fare that won’t break the bank. We did eat at one nice restaurant, Merlino’s Family Steakhouse, (loved my baked stuffed shrimp) and now my son’s new Polo outfit is forever stained by his spaghetti dinner.
Pick an event or two – you can’t do it all.
I know my toddler needs his day broken into two segments: pre-nap and post-nap. We focused our time on two major venues—the Day Out with Thomas™ event and Story Land. Did I wish we could have gone on a hike or taken a dip in Echo Lake? Yes, I do. However, little ones can only absorb so much excitement and need to break frequently for rest, snacks, and the potty. Although my son was thrilled to ride on Thomas the Train and go on his first roller coaster at Story Land, he was equally thrilled to roast his first marshmallow.
Weekend Bonus Tips!
I like how Story Land allows you go attend the next day “for free” if you arrive after 3 p.m. the day before. This is a perfect option for young kids who would never last a full day at an amusement park. Yes, ticket prices are steep – $33 per adult – but children age two and under are free. There are plenty of rides and activities for small children. I love that the park included animals, a slide structure, character appearances, and a small splash park area. If your kiddo isn’t into rides there are still plenty of other surprises.
Day out with Thomas was NOT a rip off in the least, as some people told me. The event kept my son and his friend busy from about 8:30 a.m. until noon. It featured a train ride, bouncy house, activity tent, barrel rides, meet and greet with Sir Topham Hat, and model railroad displays. North Conway’s setting provided a nice backdrop for the event and the staff and volunteers were friendly and welcoming. It never felt crowded or overwhelming.
North Conway is not just for summer getaways!
GOOD NEWS: the North Country really blooms again in October. Most attractions stay open through Autumn, pools are heated, and hiking is at its peak. And don’t forget the Fryeburg Fair! With the vibrant foliage on the drive and the air at its most crisp, fall is a beautiful time of year to make the Northern trek.