While I always love family treks to faraway places, I also am a huge fan of day trips close to home. These excursions are great ways to introduce kids to new stuff in their own (proverbial) backyards. They also usually are cheaper and less disruptive of the family routine.
One of our favorite “local” day trips in recent weeks was a holiday-themed ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The excursion represented my parents’ Christmas/Hanukkah gift to my 3-year-old daughter, Little R.
Considering how much fun I had, it might as well have been my gift, too.
Our experience started at the bustling depot in downtown Napa, where hundreds of families waited patiently (and some not so patiently) for engineers to signal it was time to board. A large number of these folks waited in queues to have their photos taken with Santa. We lingered near the platform, marveling at the size of the train wheels and admiring the train itself.
This was a wise spot to wait; when it came time to board, we were that much closer to the front of the line. Everyone had assigned seats, so once the ticket-taker let us through, we headed toward the rear of the train for Car No. 11, where we were escorted to a spacious booth in a refurbished dining car. The booth became our home for the next two hours. As the train headed north toward Yountville, the four of us colored pictures of trains (with crayons provided by servers in the car), played word games with each other, and watched in amazement as the world zoomed by outside.
(A bridge! A vineyard! A truck full of bottles! )
Of course we snacked, too. Though food wasn’t included in the $30 ticket fees, servers in our car presented us with a menu featuring a handful of (reasonably priced) breakfast goodies (such as fruit, pastries, etc.) and a variety of drinks (non-alcoholic options, such as milk and hot chocolate, for the kids; alcoholic options, including wine and spiked eggnog, for the grown-ups).
As a family, we went in for a bunch of different stuff. (Little R is not a fan of cheese Danish. Now we know.) Dad got sparkling wine. I got the eggnog.
By the time the train stopped outside Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, to turn around, R was ready to get some wiggles out. Thankfully, that’s precisely when a cavalcade of mascot-like beings started making their way through the train to interact with kids and pose for pictures.
First came a person dressed as Frosty the Snowman. Then came someone dressed as Rudolph. There also was a giant gingerbread man. And, of course, Santa. R took in all of it, clapping and smiling and staring at every one of the characters. When the train started moving again, she was transfixed by the scenery as if she was seeing all of it for the first time.
And when the train finally stopped back at the depot in downtown Napa, her comment was, quite simply, “But I want to keep going on the train!”
Sure, there was more to our afternoon in Wine Country, including lunch at the Oxbow Public Market (C Casa in the house!) and a stop at The Model Bakery in St. Helena for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. But the highlight of R’s 2014 holiday celebration was a special ride on the Wine Train. As far as day trips go, you can’t get much richer than that.
What sorts of family day trips do you like to take from your home?