The youngest (human) Raum just had a birthday! Niall turned 7 last weekend! Now.. we used to do big, crazy birthday parties, but since we moved to Florida, we’ve started doing more “experiences” than parties. If you don’t know yet, Niall is a HUGE train enthusiast, so looking for something train related was an obvious choice for his birthday.
We settled on the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, FL. It’s about an hour and a half away, near Tampa, so we decided to make a weekend of it. We have a membership at the Orlando Science Center that gets us into a few places for free in Tampa – after some browsing of websites, Niall decided he liked the look of the Glazer Children’s Museum. We quickly decided on a complete itinerary: Children’s Museum Saturday afternoon, dinner at IHOP, sunset at Clearwater Beach, bedtime at the Embassy Suites Westshore, then Fort De Soto in the morning, followed by the Florida Railroad Museum. Niall wanted to spend most of his birthday budget on presents (all trains, of course), so we picked things that were free (the museums and beaches) or cheap (the hotel and IHOP – though that was a coincidence, Niall just loves IHOP).
The Glazer Children’s Museum was a big hit. It’s relatively small, but they sure pack a lot into that small space! If you ask Niall, he’ll say that his favorite part was the tiny amount of wooden railway they had, but they spent the most time in the pretend-play areas like Publix and the Animal Hospital. Even Colwyn and Lachlann found enough to do for an hour or two before they started complaining.
We probably spent about three hours total at the children’s museum, then went to check in to our hotel. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a snafu. Our room wasn’t ready (despite it being after check-in time), so they gave us a bag of chips and a water bottle and told us they’d come get us in 15 minutes. Well.. 45 minutes later, we were still sitting there. There was an enormous line to check in, which is why it took so long to get back up to the counter to find out what was wrong. It turns out, they’d forgotten about us. They did give us vouchers for three free desserts from room service, which, as you can see below was pretty fun (we got a few extra, ’cause I mean, there are six of us). Overall, the hotel was okay for what we paid. The beds were too soft, but that’s a pretty much universal complaint of mine. The real annoyance was that they only had a small parking garage and no lot.. and there was no elevator in the garage. We had to lug all of our stuff down from the fourth level because the check-in area was full.
IHOP was yummy, as usual, and Clearwater Beach, where we went to enjoy the sunset, was amazing (also super windy and chilly). It was gorgeous, and Doug and I immediately started talking about how we really need to spend more time at the beach!
The Embassy Suites Westshore offered free breakfast, which was a slight step above the usual continental breakfast fare. There was a custom omelette counter, as well as stuff like potatoes, pancakes, grits, oatmeal, etc, etc. We ate pretty quickly and then headed down to Fort De Soto. We wanted to go there after watching out a video from one of our favorite YouTube travel families, Less Junk, More Journey. We toured the fort first – the kids were super impressed with the big guns and the view from the top, and I was impressed with the guide who was sharing all sorts of information with anyone who would listen.
The beach itself was just gorgeous, though. We ‘splurged’ and rented an umbrella for $12 and it was probably the best $12 we ever spent. We usually only go to beaches in the evening when the sun isn’t as glaring, but I can now say that we don’t mind the beach at noon, so long as we have an umbrella. The kids had an amazing time swimming and playing in the sand, and I loved that the bathrooms and concession stand were so close.
Once we had gotten cleaned up as much as we could, it was time for our real reason for heading to Tampa: the Florida Railroad Museum! This is a cute, free museum kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s got various engines and a caboose that you can check out from the ground and a Pullman car you can walk all around in. There’s a decent giftshop inside an air-conditioned car, and it looks like they have a model train display inside another car, but it’s undergoing refurbishment or something.
The big thing that the museum does is train rides. On Saturdays and Sundays you can go on an hour and 20 minute train ride for $14 for adults, $10 for kids. They also have lots of special events, which presumably cost more. We thought about getting there in time to ride the train, but I thought that sounded like a long time on a train, considering the last time Niall rode the commuter rail, he said 20 minutes was “really long.”
We did get to experience an amazing bit of luck, though. As we finished up our visit, we decided to buy Niall a t-shirt and let him pick out a small toy. I happened to mention to the cashier that it was Niall’s birthday today and that we came all the way from Orlando because he loves trains so much. Well, she informed us that the train was just returning, and if we were interested, she could radio the engineers to see if they’d let him climb up into the engine for a minute. As it turned out, the engineers were so gracious and actually let him ride in the engine for a good 200 feet or so as they backed up to where they park the train.
It was a really special moment for him, and not something he is ever likely to forget! We will definitely head back down again for one of their special events!
If you’d like to see more of our trip, including Niall’s train ride, check out our video!