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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Smarty Day Trip Series: Tweetsie Railroad

By Guest Bloggers Kelly G. and Amy O.

All aboard! Now that it’s nice and hot, head up to cooler weather in Blowing Rock, NC for a day of fun at Tweetsie Railroad. We took our four boys up to the park in mid-June and enjoyed a terrific outing while Thomas the Tank Engine was there, but there is so much to do even without Thomas. Here are some tips and suggestions for visiting this theme park in the mountains...

Check the schedule at Tweetsie's website before you head to the mountains. The park is open seven days a week from mid-May through the end of August. Tweetsie is only open on weekends from early May through mid-May and then from Labor Day through Halloween. They are also open for special events, such as July 4th fireworks, the Ghost Train in October, and visits from Thomas the Tank Engine and other special guests. These events, may have different hours and rules and bring bigger crowds. For the Day Out with Thomas, for example, you buy a ticket and schedule a train ride at a specific time. We scheduled ours for 1:00pm. That gave us time to get there, ride one ride, eat lunch, and then hop on the train. Afterwards, we had plenty of time left over to play and ride and eat more.

The trip is less than two hours from Winston-Salem, and a little over two hours from Greensboro or High Point. Once we arrived, we had luck with decent parking and a small crowd since many schools weren’t out yet and it was a cloudy, cool day. I have a two-year-old that naps and was expecting to leave the park early, but he hung in there all day!

Tweetsie is not a cheap outing up front (adults get in for $30 and children over two get in for $22), but once you are in the park, you only pay for food and souvenirs. All rides and shows are free. With your ticket purchase, you can also get special discounts for things like Grandfather Mountain, Biltmore Estate, Chimney Rock, Tanger Outlets (which are very close to Tweetsie and have AWESOME shopping) and the Mast General Store.

There are two levels to the park. One level has the train entrance, shops, eateries, little attractions like pretend horses to sit on, a general store, and a jail (part of the Wild West theme), a bouncy area added just for Thomas, the first aid area, as well as an area for rides, games, and Wild West-type shows. The area looks more spread out on the map than it actually is. The upper level is accessible by bus, walking trail, and skytram (picture a ski lift). There are more rides on the upper level, including a petting zoo, places to eat, a small but interesting playground that works for little guys and slightly older kids, and kiddie rides. My kids actually loved getting on the bus, and the other kids liked the skytram. There is also a small area with big-kid rides. Except for the go-carts, ferris wheel, mouse train, and carousel, adults cannot ride most of the little rides.

Be aware that the train stops for a Wild West show in the woods — even when Thomas is in town. There is a little skit with cowboys and Indians. I think two years ago we saw a more traditional train robbery, but this time it was milder with the Indians playing tricks on the cowboys. Some kids may be startled by seeing strangers jumping on the train, so warn them ahead of time unless you think they can take it.

Be careful when looking out of the train windows. Since the train is open and its engine is a coal-powered steam locomotive, it sprinkles ash constantly. My son got ash in his eye and we had to get it washed out at the First Aid center. He was upset but his eye was fine. Sunglasses on board aren’t a bad idea.

Also, in some places there was only one ride operator for every two rides, which means you wait for the nearby ride to end before you can get your kids on the other one. I don’t know if this is always the policy but it made the ride waits a little long. Still, it was hardly long enough to complain about; it was just a surprise when kids got off of one ride and instead of putting our kids on, the operator walked away to the other ride. The go-carts, train, mouse train, and I think the carousel all have a dedicated operator, and possibly the other rides do, as well, during busier times of the year.

My “litmus test” for a good outing is whether my kids want to go back. Both of my kids have both asked to go again ASAP, so as far as I am concerned, it was money and time well spent. We will be returning to Tweetsie this summer!

Have you been? Tell us about it!

Don't forget to sign yourselves up for the fabulous FREE family portrait session with Andrea Halsey Photography. This promotion ends at Noon on Friday, July 17 and the winner will be announced on July 19. You must be a Triad Smarty Pants newsletter subscriber to enter. Just click here to register. Good luck!


Ann said...

This great! I never knew Tweetsie had so much there. When you drive by, all you see is the train and the ferris wheel, so it never looked too exciting to me. Thanks for the write up.

Summer said...

You might not know that if you sign up for the summer reading program at central library and complete 8 hours of reading you get a free ticket to tweetsie!! you can sign up in the children's department and it is FREE FREE FREE

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