Day Out With Thomas The Tank Engine At Mid Hants Railway – Watercress Line

We have visited the Watercress Line a couple of times already as both daddy and son are big train enthusiasts. However, we never attended a Meet Thomas Day.


For those whose never been there, the Watercress Line is located in Alresford, Hampshire. It’s a heritage railway which was saved by enthusiastic volunteers in 1973, and Watercress Line was re-open as a tourist attraction four years later. A 10 mile line is operating currently with steam locomotives between Alresford and Alton. They regularly do Meet Thomas The Tank Engine days, in every few months.

Visiting the Watercress Line is great fun every time, we especially like stopping at Ropley, where all the engineering works are being done, and can be watched too. Fascinating for train enthusiasts. There’s a playground for small children (I’d say from 3 years up) and picnic area. Snacks and drinks are also available in the station gift shop. The King’s Cross bridge from one of the Harry Potter episode is moved down to Ropley, so even Harry Potter fans will find something exciting.

Visiting the restored ticket office and the station masters lounge makes you feel, that you stepped back in time. Even the toilets are made to look vintage. Another times we also stop at Medstead and go for a picturesque walk to Alton, visiting the Jane Austen House in Chawton village.

This April we booked tickets (£18 for adults and £12 for children) to see Bobcat’s favourite character Thomas The Tank Engine. We arrived early to make the most of the day, as you’re entitled to unlimited travel on the day, so we stopped at every station, marvelled the engineering works, watched the character trains pulling into Ropley station. The trains were running up and down between the stations in every half an hour.

We went for a few rides on the miniature train, which was one of the top favourites of the day. We packed lunch and had picnic, whilst the little guy spent some time on the playground and went for teacup rides – he was way too excited to eat. Outside of the station we even met with Bertie the bus, his second favourite character from the show. Apart from Thomas, some other tank engines are present (don’t ask me names, all I know that, they all have a name and a number) and running between the stations. He also shook the Fat Controller’s hand – the organisers really paid attention to the smallest details.

There was a tent with story corner where they did daily story time and DVD shows. Also some tables and chairs with Thomas themed coloring sheets and play sets. Bobcat received a certificate and some Thomas stickers too. The only thing we didn’t try was the big bouncy slide, it said from 3 years+, but Bobcat was too small for that, we thought. But he didn’t mind, he was perfectly happy with all the other fun things. Naturally, fell asleep on the way home and had an unusual long nap which resulted him bouncing around till 11pm that night. Oh well.

 

Real Mum Reviews
Bridie By The Sea

Family Dayout Series: Drusillas Park East Sussex Review

Drusillas Park is located in East Sussex, short drive from the lovely coast. Our first time visit left me with ambivalent feelings. Some parts of it are really nice, but others are just run-down or just random. It has no apparent concept either: bit of a mix of everything, but not too original or exciting. The park tries really hard though: there are loads of extra summer activities, adopting options, be a keeper for a day and even birthday parties available. They definitely bring the best out of it.

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The zoo

It’s a decent size zoo with a lot of monkeys and must-have meerkats and lemurs. Unfortunately, a lot of animals are behind a glass panel and some monkeys don’t seem to have enough space. The lemurs, however, being the mascot of the park, enjoy extra attention and living space as well as interaction with the visitors: you can take a stroll in their little habitat and pet them. Which is quite fun: the lemurs want to check your bags, pockets and even the buggy for food. Therefore, you are not allowed to take any food inside their place. (The lemurs will body search you anyway.) Lots of feeding times too.

The main theme park (Go Bananas, Go Wild, Maze)

This part of the park is really run down. The plastic bits are faded and outdated. Daddy got nearly stuck on the snake slide. The treasure hunt maze is proper scary (and run down too). My little boy was in tears when he tried to “save” me (awww) from entering a one of the dead ends of the maze with a mechanical talking parrot. We had to take him straight on the Thomas the Tank Engine ride. Three times.

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Thomas mini train ride

Cute, but very short. Prepare yourself for queueing too. Kids get stickers too.

Get Wet

Best fun by far. You have water jets, ground geysers, twirling streams and spiraling sprays, slides. We had a real hard time to drag Bobcat away after spending almost an hour here. Take double sets of changing clothes! The slides are just a little bit too big for a 2 years old.

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Hello Kitty Secret Garden

Good fun. Bobcat doesn’t mind just yet about “girly” looking things. He favours purple and pink colours and also likes cars. Double win. He loved driving around in the little electric car so we went for a few rides. Also enjoyed the tea cup ride, had to try both the blue and the pink tea cups, and the pink tea cup obviously performed better. 🙂

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Good point for:

Having a decent changing room not only for little ones but for disabled adults too.

Bad point for:

Smoking areas. Not at all hidden. It’s a theme park for children!

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There is a small shop for wasting some money for stuff the kids only want in the heat of the moment and breaks by the end of the day anyway. We didn’t eat here, but there’s a big pic nic area if you buy food here or take your own.

Family Day Out Review Series: National Motor Museum Beaulieu

The National Motor Museum Beaulieu  was a big hit for our vehicle-fan toddler. So was for daddy and mummy too. Here’s why.

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The toddler’s favourites:

Monorail – train on elevated tracks! Also going through the building of the museum. Fun to watch it too, but a ride is mandatory.

“WHEELS” – it’s a ride, sitting in a little pod whilst we can listen to the history of the wheel. Toddler cares only about having a ride in the dark though, singing the Wheels On The Bus to himself. Exciting!

Getting to “drive” old cars – great fun for the toddler (good photo making opportunity for mummy).

Craft station – in one corner of the museum kids can sit and create different cars related art. Not very busy.

Playground – designed for the little car lovers: tractor, bus and oldtimers to climb on and “drive”. Plus an ice cream hut. Good luck parents 😉

Palace – no, not the boring paintings of boring people, but the garden, where the kids can try and play old victorian games such as hoop and stick, quoits, skipping rope and bagatelle.

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Mummy’s favourites:

Vintage cars – lovely old cars and history: Harrods’ first electric delivery car, Lalique mascots on display and caravan car from the 60’s.

On The Big Screen Exhibition – famous cars from famous movies on display.

Palace – loved the kitchen with victorian equipment, the secret staircase and the staff on site dressed as maids. Also caught a funny little show in front palace where the driver was about to teach the lady how to drive an automobil.

Golden Arrow – a fantastically Art Deco looking car from 1929, which set a new speed record in its days.

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Daddy’s favourites: 

World of Top Gear and simulator – do we need an explanation here? 🙂 Original Top Gear car designs on display including some of the best: pensioner’s car and Fiat Panda limousine.

Racing cars – it’s a rather cool part of the museum: old and and some recent (well, some 15-20 years old) racing cars exhibited alongside with the history of car racing and memorabilias.

Bluebird – a famous gas-engine car which set a new World Land Speed Record in 1964.

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I strongly recommend to arrive early, as it can get really busy. It’s not cheap, tickets are £25 but the kids got in for free and there’s plenty to do. There’s a cafe too for nibbles and some ice cream huts scattered around.

 
One Messy Mama

Review: Aquatopia Antwerp – Doesn’t Worth The Money

A few weeks ago we visited my cousin who lives near Antwerp and we wanted to spend a couple of hours in Antwerp: visit some children-friendly place and have a nice lunch near the train station. We found both challenging. Our first idea was the zoo, but most of it was under reconstruction so we decided to visit Aquatopia which was just around the corner.

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Initially, we thought we will spend about 2 hours in there, but we were done in an hour including some soft play time. And that was the best part of it. It’s very small, not much to do, a couple of enormous fish tanks with fishes, some rays and some reptiles. All very-very dark. Bobcat was actually scared at some points, that dark. There’s some extra features which also doesn’t make any sense: like a corner imitating the inside of a submarine, but only a big stirring wheel and two metal panels. The reptile section is so stinky and stuffy that we just rushed through. I was wondering if the animals actually looked after properly. Most of it looks a bit run down too. (See the photo of me and Bobcat with that tired looking octopus?) It’s also quite pricey for what it is: we paid €54 for 3 adults and a child. The only nice (ish) thing is a small soft play area by the cafe, but nothing special really. Just a ball pool and some climbing area.

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I don’t recommend it at all, waste of time and money. It was also completaly empty, we only met a few other dissapointed people on Saturday morning.

Roaring Camp and The Redwood Grove Loop Trail (US)

If you’re looking for a day out for a curious toddler and a husband with mild train obsession – this is the place to be near San Fransisco and Santa Cruz.

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We purchased our tickets online which is strongly recommended to avoid queueing. However, it will not save you the fight for seating, this bit was a little annoying with a small toddler. There’s no time slot booked with your ticket, so you can get on any train you catch. I suggest to be early and visit in the morning or late afternoon and take one of the last trains.

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There’s two train routes to choose from: the Redwood Forest Steam Train Route and the Santa Cruz Beach Train Route. We opted for the steam train ride which is about an hour and 20 minutes but it only feels like a half an hour because you’re just enjoying the scenery of trees and the ride itself. The cars were open air with bench seating along the perimeter. The train does stop halfway and you can get out for a little walk in the magnificent redwood forest. Wonderful park-like grounds with some historical-looking buildings giving you an old-town feeling (I loved the room showing silent movies) and a lots of green field area for the little ones to run around. All employees wear historical costumes from the mid 1800’s. If you can, take your own food and have a picnic. The picnic area is great and the food you can buy at the cafe is quite bad. The best you can eat is hamburger and corn dog (yuck!). There’s a BBQ area where you can also buy food, but we didn’t eat there.

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To make the most of your day trip you can combine your Roaring Camp experience with a side trip to the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park, which is just next door. You can easily walk the Redwood Grove Loop Trail after your train ride, as it’s only 0,8 miles. It’s a wonderful walk and apart from the gorgeous old trees you can see some deers too!
Capturing Moments

Monterey Bay Aquarium – great fun for kids and grown-ups

I was a little bit sceptical about the day trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium because aquariums normally just keep animals locked up like a zoo and train them to perform shows. We don’t like that. Well, the prejudice couldn’t be further from the truth. This one operates as a non-profit organisation and has a clear mission: conservation of the oceans, inspire and encourage visitors to help, save animals, especially apex predators like the sea otters, sharks and bluefin tuna, share discoveries, transform markets to secure more sustainable seafood recourses and lobbying for all of these initiatives. Buy tickets online and arrive early to avoid queues: this is a very popular place to be.

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You can easily spend a good couple of hours here with all the tours, feeding sessions and just by walking through the whole aquarium. I can safely say, it’s great fun from 15 months onwards. Bobcat was only 15 months old when we took him there and he loved it. There’s a lot of sensory and interactive installations for small children, like the Coral Reef Kingdom with waterbed play area and touch pool. There’s some other educational and fun things scattered around, tubes they can crawl trough, ocean wave crash simulator and of course all the enormous fish tanks full with beautiful and colourful sea creatures. Bobcat loved jumping around the waterbed, the block area of the Coral Kingdom, the Enchanted Kelp Forest with the touch pool, watching the scuba diving session and after a little while, he started to enjoy the wave crash simulator.

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There are great views to the bay and animals to spot: sea otters, sea lions, cormorants and more. There’s always attentive staff around to ask questions. Feeding times are good fun for older children and adults equally. In the auditorium they show interesting short films for visitors of all age. Even the architecture of the building is fascinating having transformed it from an old cannery. They even do sleep overs for bigger children! We really hope to be back when Bobcat is older.

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If you’re hungry – and you’ll be if you want to explore everything – there’s a food court style restaurant, mainly with boring kids friendly food, but freshly prepared and served. Save your appetite after you left the aquarium, the town has some great little restaurants serving fresh seafood and their famous clam chowder. Also save some time for having a little historical walk on Cannery Row.

One Messy Mama