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Go Ask Mom

Road Trip Destination: Wilmington Railroad Museum and carriage rides

Posted January 29, 2015

The tours are offered daily.

I never really got the allure of toy trains until I had kids who absolutely loved them.

I have two girls, but that's doesn't mean that my house isn't full of toy trains, tracks, Thomas books and all manner of train-related toys. They have spent hours creating cities with their blocks, tracks and trains. In fact, my five-year-old's top Christmas wish was a new train set. 

The folks over at the Wilmington and Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau recommended a trip to the Wilmington Railroad Museum when I was there late last year. My family took a rare week day off before my older daughter's soccer tournament to go to Fort Fisher Aquarium, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, and spend the afternoon in Wilmington, checking out the train museum and taking a carriage ride through downtown.

I had few expectations or hopes other than a fun day out with my family. So it's always nice when your expectations are more than met.

The Wilmington Railroad Museum in downtown Wilmington isn't big or fancy. Outside, there's a steam engine, car and caboose. Inside, the front section features glass case exhibits that explore the history of the railroad in the region and state. They can get kind of wordy, but some of the cases held some interest for my kids - the model of a Pullman berth or the uniforms worn by railroad employees, for instance. But my kids mostly breezed through this section. I wondered if maybe we set aside too much time for our visit.

I was wrong. Because then they rounded the corner and entered the Children's Hall. Here, you'll find a large-scale model train layout that's built at the perfect height for kids.

Standing on tiptoes is generally not required for kids to get a full view of the scene, which includes everything from a McDonald's drive through to playground swings to a Thomas engine. Kids can press buttons to make different pieces move and the trains chug along.

The space also includes a train table for kids to build their own tracks and various other train toys. There's something here for all ages. There's even a miniature caboose with pillows that kids can climb in for quiet play or stories. When the kids needed a break, they took a moment and watched the Thomas the Tank Engine DVD that was playing on a TV.

And then there is the almost mind-blowing Model Hall. Here, modelers have created multiple scenes across a layout of 750 square feet. There is 1200 feet of installed track, according to the museum's website, which stretch between various scenes. A carnival, a pine forest, a rock quarry, several towns and other scenes, including a hot air balloon that floats through the air. Again, buttons let visitors operate many of the pieces and make the trains move.

In the Model Hall and the Children's Hall, my family just stared and wondered and marveled at the creativity, time and energy it took to create such a massive display.

We spent about two hours at the museum before we walked the short distance for a horse drawn carriage ride through downtown Wilmington. Rescued horses are used to pull carriages through the city's streets on tours that focus on everything from visitor destinations to architecture to history. 

Our half-hour narrated tour on a carriage with four rows of seats took us through some of Wilmington's historic neighborhoods. The knowledgeable tour guide shared with us all kinds of tidbits and fun facts about the city.

The 30-minute tour is a perfect length for kids. Because there were so many people on our tour, the girls got to sit up front, right next to the tour guide, who asked them questions and pointed out things just for them.

It was a relaxing end to a long day. I'd love to do it all over again.

The Wilmington Railroad Museum is at 505 Nutt St. near the Cape Fear River. It's open all year from Monday through Saturday and on Sundays for much of the year. A storytime, which is $5 per family, is at 10:30 a.m., on the first and third Monday. Tickets are $9; $8 for seniors and military personnel; and $5 for ages 2 to 12. 

The horse drawn carriage tours start on Market Street and are offered daily. Hours vary depending on the time of the year. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for kids under 12. Coupons are available on the website.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds, Triangle family destinations and road trips.


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