Amtrak Adventures With Kids

Train rides offer nice mix of fun and function for families


Published:

Photos courtesy of Amtrak

Before we get into logistics, hear this: Traveling with your kids is worth the hassle. It expands worldviews; teaches problem-solving, adaptability and patience; and creates shared memories. Worth it. Full stop. 

But if you’ve done even a little bit of travel with kids, you know that you could drive a minivan (or a city bus. or heck, even an airplane) into the chasm between the fun you have when you get to your destination and the fun you have getting there.  

On the whole, “getting there” is the opposite of fun. It’s long lines and luggage limits and potty stops and snack shortages and wiggly kids with no space to wiggle. 

Let’s hop on the rails and redeem the “getting there,” shall we? Kids don’t have to love Thomas and Chuggington to be captivated by a train ride, and even parents who don’t appreciate the vintage delight of chugging along will appreciate the practicality of train travel.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods speaks to the pragmatists among us: “Long-distance trains are conducive to family travel, as it’s much easier to take care of small children on a train than in a plane or a car.” 

She’s right, of course. But she didn’t mention the fun! Train travel turns a necessary means to an end into an adventure that kids will remember for years to come. 

Train rides offer nice mix of fun and function for families with kids because: 

  • Train stations are easy to navigate, with very little waiting in line. 
  • Spacious seats offer room for wiggling, climbing and stretching out, plus plenty of electrical outlets. 
  • Kids and grownups can get up and move through the train at any time (while keeping other passengers' comfort in mind, of course). 
  • A large luggage allowance means you can bring toys, books and snacks for your journey, as well as strollers and carseats for exploring at your destination. 
  • The cafe car has tables that are ideal for board games, puzzles, Legos and other fun. 
  • Trains inspire awe and wonder in kids. They’re huge, loud, and mysterious. There’s a reason they show up again and again in children’s literature. Kids love trains. 

My family has taken short train jaunts to areas around the Triangle and our boys (ages 2 and 4) still talk about the experience. We’ve got our sights set on an overnight train trip in the next few years.  

Seasoned train traveler Leanora Shell has traveled long-distance by train with her family around the U.S. and across the globe, and she has learned how to maximize the fun of the journey. Shell points out that a little thoughtful packing goes a long way.

“We always pack small backpacks of snacks, and charged Kindles and notebooks with crayons or pencils for our girls,” she says. “We have a couple of old iPods that the girls use as cameras now, and they love recording their trips from their point of view.”

Like any form of travel, there are some logistics you need to consider to maximize fun and minimize stress.

  • Check train schedules carefully — both ways. Consider your kids’ sleep and meal schedules, take into account travel time to and from the train station, and plan accordingly. 
  • Plan end-point transport. Public transit? Hotel shuttle? Uber? Stroller walk? 
  • Allow time to explore. This is an adventure, remember? Plan to poke around the train station, watch other trains come and go, talk to the conductor and snag a few pictures. 

Triangle residents can try a day trip to Cary by train and explore its charming downtown. Don’t miss ice cream at Ashworth Drugs and a visit to Cary’s new library. Or, for a weekend adventure, head to walkable downtown Greensboro and take in its incredible play spaces in Center City Park and LeBaur Park. Charlotte also makes a nice day trip.

Let’s reclaim the rails, parents! Getting to your destination really can be part of the adventure.


Susanna Klingenberg lives in Raleigh with her husband, two young children and an unruly vegetable garden.

 

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Cost: See website for fees

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View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

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Cost: $11

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500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


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Contact Name: Kelly
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Cost: $70/month

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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January Story Time, Puppet Show & Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic Aesop fable The Lion and the Mouse. Activities include a story time,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Carrboro Library
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Inside McDougle Middle School
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Carrboro Branch Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
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Want a wild start to your new year?When you’re facing the after-holiday blues after packing up the decorations and taking down the tree, never fear. Come celebrate the new year in a thrilling,...

Cost: $20 - $26

Where:
Animal Park at the Conservators Center
676 E Hughes Mill Rd
Burlington, NC  27217
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Sponsor: Animal Park at the Conservators Center
Telephone: 336-421-0883
Contact Name: Taylor Sharp

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
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Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
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Family Wildlife Series: Owl Prowl Saturday, January 18, 6-7:15 p.m. Venture into the night on a Blue Jay hike.  Learn about owl habits and adaptations as we listen for these nocturnal birds....

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.