As you’ll know, we were kindly invited to have a mid-week stay at Bluestone in October 2017 as part of the Bluestone Blogger Programme and we stayed in a Grassholm Lodge. Here is our Grassholm Lodge at Bluestone review.Continue reading “The Grassholm Lodge at Bluestone Review – A Lodge for 8”
If your little boy is anything like BattleKid, he is a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan. Every afternoon after nursery before we left the UK, BattleKid would make a beeline for our cwtch room and ask for Thomas and his friends to be put on the TV. It was on so often I even knew the words to the theme tune. But imagine my delight when I discovered we could bring BattleKid on a fun day out with Thomas the Tank Engine.
While researching family days out in the UK, I came across the Thomas the Tank Engine Days Out. I discovered that these days out were held across various locations in the UK and were a chance for fans to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. Looking at which locations were near us in South Wales and on what dates Thomas and his friends would be there, I found a suitable date at the end of October at the Forest of Dean Railway. This was just over an hour drive from our house in South Wales, perfect for a family day out.
I booked our tickets many months in advance on the Day Out with Thomas website and they arrived promptly in the post. All that was left to do was wait until the day for our visit arrived.
A Day Out with Thomas is a family day in which your little fans can meet a real Thomas the Tank Engine and some of his friends, as well as the Fat Controller. There are many locations across the UK to choose from and I’m sure there is one near you. There’s even a chance to meet Thomas and friends in Denmark in 2018!
We left our house just after 9am on the Saturday of our visit with Thomas and friends, and headed for the Forest of Dean Railway. We arrived before our friends who were joining us for the day and parked up. There is a large car park just a short walk from the entrance to the Railway. Once our friends had arrived we got ourselves ready and headed in for our fun day with Thomas.
A day with Thomas the train starts at the entrance to Norchard Station and we immediately had a certain little boy shouting “Thomas”, who happened to be pulling into the station just as we arrived. Norchard Station was decorated for Halloween as we visited towards the end of October. After we had handed in our tickets at the office, we were given little goodie bags for the boys which had some activities and sweets inside. There was even a Halloween spider in the bag for BattleKid, much to his delight.
We decided to leave our ride on Thomas himself until the end of our day and we began by heading to the café for some breakfast rolls and a cuppa while we caught up with our friends who joined us for the day. Next up, we went to Platform 3 for the train to Parkend. As we waited for the large steam train to arrive, we spotted a naughty Diesel on the tracks. Once our train arrived, we found a seat and off we set, bound for Parkend.
We were greeted by a marquee and a large bouncy castle. This is where the other fun activites were held. There was a Brio-type train set on a table for little ones to play with. Story-tellers were reading different Thomas the Tank Engine characters’ stories, and there was also a magician. We spent about an hour in the marquee and managed to avoid a rain cloud that had rolled in.
After this, we let the boys run off steam at the bouncy castle before getting the train back to Norchard for our date with Thomas himself. Thomas pulls Toad the brake van up and down the track and this is your opportunity to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and ride with him. BattleDad agreed to stay with S, who had their buggy with her, while BattleKid and I went on Thomas with W and L. You are pushed back along the tracks a certain way before Thomas pulls you back to Norchard Station, leaving a trail of steam behind him.
With peep-peeps and a steam trail, BattleKid was thrilled to be on real life Thomas the train and was singing the theme tune the whole way. We left the Forest of Dean Railway just after lunch with a very happy boy who slept the whole way home. He talked about his visit with Thomas and friends for months afterwards. Here’s a little vlog from our fun Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine.
Things to note if you are planning a fun day out with Thomas the Tank Engine
- A Day Out with Thomas is held across various locations in the UK (and now in Denmark) on selected dates throughout the year. Check out the website for more details and the Day Out with Thomas schedule.
- Day Out with Thomas tickets cost £16 per adult, £10 per child and under 2’s are free.*
- For the Forest of Dean Railway, we had unlimited train rides throughout the day between Norchard and Parkend, and all fun activities were included in our ticket.
- Norchard Station had baby-changing facilities, toilets, a gift shop with lots of Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise and a café.
- There was ample parking at Norchard Station.
- The station was also wheelchair accessible.
- I would suggest you look into the facilities available at your location of choice as they may differ slightly from place to place.
- The Forest of Dean Day Out with Thomas opened at 9.30am and closed at 4.30pm.
We had a great time during our fun Day Out with Thomas and I can highly recommend it, especially if you have little Thomas the Tank Engine fans in your house. With lots of activities and unlimited train rides included in your ticket, it’s great value-for-money and makes for a brilliant family day out.
If a Day Out with Thomas isn’t enough for your Thomas fans, why not spend an entire day with Thomas and friends at Thomasland at Drayton Manor. Here’s a great post with hints and tips from Learning Escapes.
And if you are looking for another train-themed day out in South Wales, I highly recommend a visit to the Brecon Mountain Railway!
*Prices correct at the time of writing this post.
**We were not asked to write this review.
So, you’ve got a train-mad little boy, a nice sunny day in South Wales and nothing planned of a Saturday morning. What do you do? You visit the Brecon Mountain Railway of course.
The Brecon Mountain Railway is situated just a few minutes from Merthyr Tydfil and is a railway with a steam engine to thrill the hearts of any train fan. It is also located just 15 minutes from our South Wales home and was somewhere we had been meaning to visit but hadn’t until last year.
Running from Pant to Torpantau, the Brecon Mountain railway follows part of the original route of the Brecon and Merthyr Railway which closed in 1964. It takes you into the Brecon Beacons, through Pontsticill and along the full length of the Taf Fechan Reservoir before climbing up to Torpantau high in the Brecon Beacons.
On the day we visited the Brecon Mountain Railway, we drove to the Pant Station, parked up and bought our tickets in the office before making our way to the platform. We passed the locomotive running shed and workshop on the way to the platform and the smell was lovely. Grease, oil and engine smells. There is also a model railway as you approached the platform which BattleKid loved.
We waited patiently for our train, boarded and handed the conductor our tickets. The train left Pant Station and started its journey through the stunning Brecon Beacons towards Torpantau. We saw the peaks of Pen-y-Fan and the Pontsticill Reservoir.
Although it had been sunny when we left Pant, the clouds got thicker as we ascended towards Torpantau. We alighted the steam train and a certain little boy wasn’t too sure about the steam coming from the engine.
The engine spends a few minutes changing around before everyone gets back on for the journey back to Pontsticill. There, you have 25 or 30 minutes to enjoy the views, have a refreshment in the small café or spend some at the playground, as we did. You can even spend longer there if you want to, and get a different train back. We chose not to.
Back at Pant Station, we visited the traditional sweet shop and bought some rhubarb and custards for BattleDad, his favourites, before heading home. Although we had only been at the Brecon Mountain Railway for less than 2 hours, it was a fun filled 2 hours. BattleKid thoroughly enjoyed his ride on the steam engine and his time at the playground.
Things to note if visiting the Brecon Mountain Railway
- There are 3 or 4 train journeys a day, depending on the time of year. There were three the day we visited.
- Adult tickets cost £14, children cost £7 (up to 15 years of age), and seniors cost £12.50 return. Under 3’s are free.
- There is ample parking at the Pant Station and it is free.
- The Brecon Mountain Railway is mostly wheelchair and buggy friendly, although wheelchairs are limited to manual ones and cannot leave the train at Torpantau Station.
- There are toilets at both Pant and Pontsticill Station and baby changing facilities.
- There is a tea room at both Pant and Pontsticill Stations.
- There is a gift shop at Pant, while the Steam Museum (which is free) is located at Pontsticill Station.
- A children’s playground is located at Pontsticill Station, which we can highly recommend for young children.
- The Brecon Mountain Railway also holds special days throughout the year such as for Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day. They also hold Santa Special Trains throughout the month of December.
- Trains run non-stop to Torpantau and return to Pontsticill for 25 or 30 minutes. Passengers are allowed to stay longer at Pontsticill and get a different train back to Pant station.
- For timetables and up-to-date news, it is best to check the Brecon Mountain Railway website.
We thoroughly enjoyed our few hours on the Brecon Mountain Railway and would highly recommend it for families as a day out in South Wales. It would particularly appeal to Thomas fans and fans of trains in general.
*I was not asked to write this review.
Those of you who have read our USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries will know that we visited the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI as it is known, while we were in Portland. This had been recommended to us and was on our Portland Bucket List. In this post I’ms haring with you our visit to OMSI as well as some useful information should you plan a visit there yourself.
The day after we arrived in Portland we decided to head there. I was quite excited as I had found out they had a Pompeii Exhibition on at the time of our visit to OMSI. BattleDad is a huge fan of Roman History and we’d love to visit Pompeii at some stage so to see the exhibition was an unexpected bonus. Our only reservation for our visit to OMSI was whether BattleKid would enjoy it. We need not have worried.
OMSI was founded in 1944 and was originally located in Washington Park at the site of the Portland Children’s Museum. However, as visitor number grew, and exhibitions got bigger, a new location was found for it on the east bank of the Willamette River.
The OMSI building is huge and houses no less than 3 auditoriums, a planetarium and numerous exhibition halls. They also have a submarine exhibit in the form of USS Blueback which was used for the film The Hunt for Red October before being towed to its current location at the pier adjacent to the main OMSI building.
Exhibition halls include the Featured Hall for special touring exhibits and the Turbine hall with exhibits for engineering, physics, chemistry and space travel. There is also the Life Sciences Hall which is all about biology, and includes talks and demonstrations with live animals. The Earth Science Hall features geology-oriented exhibits with two specialised laboratories. The Planetarium holds astronomy and laser light shows. And there is the Science Playground which we spent the most time in.
We arrived shortly after 9.30am after driving from our hotel and once we’d bought our tickets for the Pompeii Exhibition (including museum admission) and planetarium tickets, we made our way to the café for a quick cuppa and bite to eat. There I had my very first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was quite nice.
After we had eaten, we made our way upstairs to explore the exhibitions halls. As soon as we entered this area, BattleKid made a beeline for some giant cubes and dived right in. He and I had great fun at a giant pinball machine which was designed to educate children about food groups. Although he was too young to understand these, he still had fun trying to whack the balls!
There were exhibits about recycling and garbage, exhibits about animals where we saw a Dire Wolf skeleton and saw live animals, and my personal favourite, an exhibit about fluorescent materials. This brought me back to my science background.
Next, we moved onto the Science Playground. And BattleKid had a whale of a time in the Science Playground. This area has been designed for families with newborn to children of six years of age. Fully enclosed and designed so that children are visible and secure at all times, it encourages children to discover through play and imagination. It has various experimental stations including
- a stimulating infant area
- a giant sandbox
- a water area
- a reading area and
- a physical sciences area.
First stop was the water area of course. Only, we hadn’t quite planned for the wet floor. We had to take BattleKid’s shoes off as we entered but forgot to take his socks off. Wet feet were the result for spending so much time having splashy fun in the water area. It also meant he couldn’t really go into the giant sandbox as his feet were still wet and I didn’t fancy trying to get sand off his feet!
Next BattleKid had fun at the physical sciences area and was playing with other children, putting balls through holes and down ramps.
We moved into one of the rooms off the main one and he and I did a fun game with magnetic balls in a maze. I ended finishing it when he got bored!
As were we getting close to our 12pm time for the astronomy show in the planetarium, we had to drag BattleKid away from the Science Playground. This was the first time BattleDad had been in a planetarium and he and I enjoyed it. It was great being shown some of the star constellations we can see above our house in Portugal, although I couldn’t tell you their names, apart from the Plough now. BattleKid got a bit restless before the end but stuck it out thankfully.
After the stars show we made our way to the Pompeii Exhibition. They allowed entry at timed intervals, which was to allow them to show the short video at the start of the exhibition. This gave some background about Vesuvius and Pompeii and the build up to that fateful night in 79AD.
Once you had watched the video, you were let into one of the main exhibition halls which featured artefacts from Pompeii including urns, gladiator clothing and weapons, mosaics and frescoes. Between this hall and a second one, there were over 200 artefacts on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
It was amazing to see how well preserved some of the items were and the level of detail in them, particularly metalworks such as jewellery and coins. After the main hall, we were led upstairs where there was another short video. However, it was advised that it was unsuitable for young children and we were allowed to skip this video and were let into the next exhibition hall by a member of staff. #
The video we didn’t see was a 4D one in which you could experience the fury of Vesuvius in an immersive theatre with vivid sights, sounds and shaking ground. I think it was very helpful of OMSI to allow families with younger children to skip this part.
The last room of the exhibition had more artefacts and also body casts of people from Pompeii. It was a sobering place, especially seeing the body casts of children. We didn’t stay long in this room with BattleKid.
Before we finished our visit to OMSI we visited the gift shop which is well stocked, and BattleKid got a little space ship souvenir with his name on it for his room. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to OMSI and highly recommend it. Had we known how good the Science Playground was going to be we might have booked a later showing in the planetarium and let BattleKid enjoy it even more. I am so glad it was recommended to us and made it onto our Portland Bucket List.
Visitor information for OMSI
- There is a large car park adjacent to the OMSI building with a charge of $5. WE were there early on a Wednesday morning in September and there was plenty of parking.
- OMSI is served by public transport. The OMSI/SE Water Ave Station connects to the MAX, bus and Portland Streetcar lines.
- The museum is open from 9.30 to 5.30 Tuesday to Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.
- The café is open from 8.30 to 5.30 Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday and from 8.30 to 8.00 on Friday and Saturdays.
- Submarine tours are from 9.50 to 4.30 and you can even do sleep overs!
- Entry to the museum costs $14.50 for an adult and $9.75 for a child (3-13 years).
- Entry to the submarine costs $6.75. For the Empirical Theatre, which we didn’t go to, an adult costs $7-8.50 and a child is $6-6.50. Entry to the Planetarium costs between $5.75 and $7.50.
- The Pompeii Exhibition ended in October. To see up-and-coming events, please visit the Events page of the OMSI website.
We can highly recommend visiting OMSI if you are ever in Portland, Oregon. There is plenty to see and do for children and adults alike. Children will particularly like the Science Playground, so give yourself plenty of time in there.
*Prices are correct at the time of writing.
**We were not asked to write this review.
As a wanderlust family, we love to travel and do so as often as our finances and BattleDad’s work allows. We average about three holidays a year that involve flying, with weekends away thrown in for good measure. Packing a family for a holiday is no mean feat, as I’m sure most parents will agree, but one thing that is always a bug-bear of mine is getting our carry-on luggage sorted. I have been on the hunt for a carry-on bag that will fit all our needs. And I might just have found the ultimate cabin bag from CabinZero. Imagine my delight when they recently got in touch and offered me the chance to review one of their bags. They also have a special offer for you, so read on.