A Parents Guide to Day out with Thomas {Union, IL}

Thank you to Day out with Thomas for providing tickets for this story.

As a mom of two boys whose ears perk up at the sound of any kind of engine Thomas the Tank Engine has practically become a member of the family. I have seen every incarnation of the show from stationmaster Ringo Starr, narrated by George Carlin and finally the fully CGI animated ones. I’ve built hundreds of miles of train track and peep! peeped! my way through more stories about cheeky engines than I care to remember. A rite of passage for most Thomas loving children is Day out with Thomas, and we’ve been three times. If you’re considering going for the first time this Parents Guide to Day out with Thomas will help make the day fun for everyone.

parents guide to day out with thomas

Every Summer Day out With Tomas tours around the United States and Canada. Day out with Thomas is a live adventure day that includes character visits, games and activities and life size real working Thomas the Train that kids can take a ride on. It’s a Thomas lovers dream come true. The Illinois one is hosted at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union.  This is an amazing place for train lovers, even when Thomas is not there. They have a playground, multiple barns full of old trains and various weekends with trains running. We have been on multiple weekends without Thomas and always have a great time.

Best Age for Day out with Thomas

The official answer is Thomas the Train fans of all ages and sizes, you will see families of all different ages from infants through reluctant teens. As I said I have been 3 times, twice with 2 year olds and this last time with a 4 year old. Every time we have gone the kids have loved it. The light up, they are amazed, they can’t believe Thomas is real. My experience is that doing it with the 4 year old was the absolute best. He was excited but also understood waiting and taking turns and there was no meltdowns. Trust me there will be meltdowns and sometimes it’s the parents. This is an exciting event! There is so much to see and do and everyone wants to do it all. My parental suggestion is that it’s best for children ages 2 through 6 but should be noted that my 10 year old had a great time this year.

day out with thomas

What is there to do?

So, so much. It’s called Day Out because you really can spend the entire day there. Every ticket comes with a ride on Thomas (see video at the end). This is by far the highlight of the day for every child. You should plan on arriving at least 1 hour before your ride – rides are timed entry when you purchase your ticket. Thomas and Percy run continuously all day so you will see (and hear) them over and over again. Prepare your child by letting them know that every child only gets 1 ride on Thomas. Children can ride Percy as well for an additional fee.In addition to Thomas and Percy the IRM had trolleys running a loop around the park that is included with your admission. My son could have ridden these around all day long, he loved it (and it goes faster than Thomas so there was a nice breeze).

In addition to the main feature – Thomas- you will find themed activities all over the park. There are backdrops for pictures, train cars that are open for tours have Thomas playing in them as well. Their are stations set up around the park that include a visit with Sir Topham Hat, temporary tattoos, Arts & Crafts, bounce houses, and more. At IRM they had an area set p with mini Thomas the Train ride-ons, a large pile of sand with buckets, and a model train tent. We have been through all of them (except sand, I hate sand) on one visit or another. This time we opted to stick to the trains and took a short break for the bounce house and playground.

day out with thomas
© M. Haak | Little Lake County.com | 2017

The Thomas the Train Ride Experience

The train ride is what you pay for, it’s a once (or 3 times) in your child’s life experience and it’s what the day is made for, here are my tips for making it a great ride and not a meltdown.

  1. Choose a ride time that works best for your child.
    Every time we went with our 2 year olds we chose early morning times so we could leave after lunch and they could still nap. It’s very crowded in the mornings. We learned on this last visit if your child can take an earlier nap or doesn’t need one go late in the day. We had 3:00 tickets and it was by far the best experience we have had. It was not crowded and everyone enjoyed it.
  2. Line up early
    The seating is first come first serve. There is a large field with corrals and a tent set up where people start lining up about 30 minutes before the ride. On a hot day this is brutal, we had a nice day and the sun still baked us. The tent provides shade and is a bit cooler but can be loud – they play Thomas music on continuous loop. There are also bathrooms (port-a-potty) here. Strollers, food and drink are not allowed on the train so you will need to leave those until you get back.
  3. Sit in one of the last two cars
    Your child is going to want to be int he very first car behind Thomas, don’t sit there. Hear me out, that first car is packed, everyone wants to be by Thomas, but once inside you can’t see him. The last two cars are less crowded and children can see Thomas pulling him. For the best views sit on the side that next to the field (right hand side when you get in). The way the track curves on the ride you will get the best views of Thomas.
  4. It’s Loud
    If your child has never been no a train this can be scary. The trains are loud, Thomas is loud, and there is music playing through all the train cars on the Thomas ride. Our ride at IRM was not too loud in the cars but friends at other venues said it was hard on adult’s ears it was so loud. If your child is sensitive to sound bring headphones or ear plugs.
  5. It can be overwhelming
    Try to embrace the chaos of the day, it’s very exciting for little ones and that excitement alone can lead to over stimulation and meltdowns. There is a gift shop, and balloons, and treats, and so so much that you can add on to the day Set out expectations head of time. Pre-purchase a new toy before you go so you have something to give them or be prepared to spend more than normal. Note that unlike many special events we were never once dumped into a gift shop. All the shops and stores were clearly marked so we could easily avoid them.

Watch our ride experience on Thomas and the Trolley’s, it gives a great view not just of the ride but the whole park as well:


Food, Parking, best times, etc.

  • IRM has picnic areas and you are allowed to bring in your own food. Every other year we have brought a picnic and ate there. Lunch time is very, very crowded and finding tables can be hard pack a blanket and you can eat in the grass along the tracks and watch the trains go by. If you choose to eat there you will need cash to pay for it.
  • Bring water. Lots and Lots of water. There are water fountains but the water is well water and can taste a little weird to kids used to Lake Michigan water.
  • If you can make it work for your child the late afternoon afforded us the best experience. It was not to crowded, the lines weren’t long and everyone had a really great time.
  • Pack your camera! Of course you want to capture this thrilling day!
  • Parking is FREE and will be open at 7:30 a.m. each day. Gates will open at 9:00 a.m. – lot is not paved it’s gravel and grass.

If you have a Thomas fan all of it will truly be worth it for the smiles you will see all day long.

day out with thomas

Day Out with Thomas – Illinois Railway Museum
Saturday & Sunday, July 15 and 16
7000 Olson Road, Union | 815-923-4000
Parking Lot opens at 7:30 a.m. – Gate Opens at 9:00 a.m.
First Rides at 10:00 a.m.  Last Rides at 4:00 p.m.
Tickets are $21 per person age 2 and older
Check website for full schedule and pricing information

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Psst… want to win tickets? Head over to our Facebook page, we have some to give away and it’s only open for 24 hours!

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Disclosure: the writer received tickets to Day out With Thomas in order to facilitate this review. All thoughts and opinions are her own, no other compensation was received.

About Melissa Haak 626 Articles
Melissa is mom to 4. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She can be found on most social media sites as @PBinmyHair because with this much hair and four kids, you're bound to find something in it.

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