Amtrak Adventures With Kids

Train rides offer nice mix of fun and function for families
The Silver Star
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.


Categories: Family, Food + Fun, Things To Do, Travel