My 3year old son loves trains. He could probably name 20 locomotives and is beginning to quote facts on them... A trip from London to York by train was therefore a special event and he was really looking forward to it.
So, before leaving, I did my research. I looked at the NRM web site. It needs to be updated. It wasn't very helpful so I called them. Specifically, I wanted to know if they had any special events planned for which advanced booking might be wise, and which of the exhibits or trains would be closed or absent. I was told that there was a special Santa train but there was no need to buy tickets as long as I didn't mind waiting in line, and that all exhibits would be open and working.
So, you can imagine the disappointment all round when I got there as was told that the model and miniature railways were both closed and that all tickets for Santa's train ride were sold out! Pity I couldn't make the management deal with the very angry child that resulted from being told that there was no room to ride on Teddy!
Still, there is the Mallard, the Flying Scotsman and the Rocket. Not to mention the Gladstone. Oh, but they forget to mention that the Flying Scotsman wasn't there either... According to the timetable, there was a cool Science show about how trains work, but it turned out that was on just once at 1.30pm...at lunch time!
The whole place was so un-toddler friendly. Lifts slow and signage weak. Some steps with no lifts at all and no places to park the buggy. Food wasn't child-friendly either, which is impressive because even plain pasta, gnocchi or rice is generally a good start and all are so easy to do. And fancy closing all those exhibits at the same time!
On the way out there was a small steam locomotive in the lobby (the Wren). It has signs on it not to climb onto the cab, but no such signs on the tender (which is basically just an open bowl on wheels. My son wanted to stand on the tender. An officious official with poor people skills told him to get down. I pointed out that the signs were on the locomotive not the tender. So he turned them round and told my son to get off.
More tears. And then I lost my patience. I asked to speak to a manager and he came.
He apologised for the single running of the science show. His excuse: the Explainers are responsible for that and they are busy with the steam train and he has no authority over them! I suggested that there needed to be more staff for such things during busy periods and he shrugged his shoulders.
He apologised for the closure of both the model and miniature railways. His explanation: "When do you advise we close them for maintenance -- it has to be some time." I replied that perhaps a good time would be out of hours, or midweek during term time...
He apologised that the shiny black, gold and red little steam train could not be touched by children. His explanation: it is part of the collection. I asked why not have something there that the children were allowed to interact with.
He offered me the chance to write an opinion card with suggestions to management.
So, what I would advise anyone thinking of travelling some way to see this once wonderful place... Plan a long time in advance. Call more than once to confirm the state of the place and the staffing levels. Get the names of the people you speak to and confirmation in writing by email of what you are told, and perhaps then you will get the marvellous day out you want for your children. And, just in case, take with you some kind of plan B in the shape of some train-related toys because they don't even have some kind of play area like that for little kids!
I should add that my son had a good time even if I was disappointed. But with how many rail exhibits there are in the world I very much doubt that we will ever go back to York and that's a real shame because it should be the best of them all.
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