St. Louis Getaway on the TRAIN!

Recently we got back from one of our many vacations planned for this year. If you recall, I shared my husbands company is no longer allowing them to roll over PTO so we have 10 weeks to use or loose this year. My hubby and I are pretty thrifty people so loosing it was never an option =-) As a result, we have various camping road trips planned for this year so we can use up a LOT of time off, without spending much money. But our get-away to St. Louis was not a road trip – We took the TRAIN!!
Amtrak Train
Our Trip At-A-Glance
As we arrived on the train we relied solely on walking & public transportation to see St. Louis. We felt that you could easily see the highlights this way. We decided based on the time we had (not wanting to spend more than 2 nights at a hotel) we picked what we considered to be highlights & opted not to do some of the other tourist activities: free zoo, Grant’s farm, Missouri Botanical Gardens, or Cardinals’s Bush Stadium (although we saw it from the Arch!).Union Station (mall across from our Drury Hotel)

  • Drury Hotel Union Station – We LOVED this hotel! It was a quick walk from the train station, across the street from Union Station (now a shopping mall), and 2 blocks from Metra station. The hotel staff was very helpful and pleasant. There was a nice pool & hot tub that our children enjoyed thoroughly. Then there are are the Drury Hotel perks – {free} hot breakfast buffet, {free} soda & popcorn daily 3pm-10pm, and {free} kick back 5:30pm-7pm (this was our dinner: hot dogs, nachos, salad, mac & cheese, baked potatoes, etc.). So we got 2 meals & a snack for free here every day!! That is what thrifty people like us like to hear =-)
  • Safety – I don’t know if you knew this or not, but St. Louis is considered one of the most dangerous cities in America (depending on the site #3 or #1 most dangerous). So although like any major city there are good areas & bad I was a little apprehensive. After having been there, I felt very safe! All the area we were in & walked around felt safe. You can tell the city is working on the problem as there are guards at every Metra station. Several times locals (strangers) off the street offered to give us their umbrella to keep the ‘baby’ out of the rain.  I would use common street smarts (like not being out after dark, staying in well traffic areas, not flashing money around, etc.) but I wasn’t worried for our safety in the slightest during our visit.
  • Our 3 day trip:
    1. We got in around noon and checked in at the hotel. In 2-3 hours we: took the Metra down to the Arch, went up the arch, and saw the free museum. Then we walked back from the arch to the City Garden and let the kids play before we walked the rest of the way back to our hotel. Then we let the kids relax about an hour before {free} kickback dinner, and swimming (YEAH!!)
    2. We walked to the City Museum & spent the entire day there (it was amazing & deserved an entire day!) Again we had our {free} kick back dinner and went swimming.
    3. Our train left ~8am. The station is small although you should plan on arriving 45 minutes early, don’t expect a seat or many food options. The trains usually board families and guests who need assistance 30 minutes early; general boarding begins 20 minutes early. As soon as we got on the train we were told that breakfast was being served – YEAH free breakfast in the dinning car =-)

The Gateway Arch
It was pouring when we went to the arch, but since we only had a couple days and wanted to actually go up the arch, we went anyway. The kids thought it was hilarious to be walking around in the rain =-) The arch itself is massive – 630 feet tall! It is actually the tallest US Monument. After going through security (like the airport) you will be in a large room. There is a ticket counter to get tickets to go up the arch (don’t miss that!) and see a movie about it’s construction (we wanted to see it, but thought the kids may not make it), gift shop, bathrooms (there are no bathrooms at the top of the arch so use them here first), and a small, but interesting museum about the westward expansion.

To go up to the top of the arch you get a timed ticket. Then you wait for one of the small “pod” elevators. If you are afraid of small spaces or heights, you’ll want to skip this. The pods have a small doorway and you’ll feel like you are entering a space pod! They seat 5, but 2 adults & 3 kids felt perfect – I can’t imagine being in there with 5 adults!! It takes 4 minutes to go up, and 3 minutes to come back down. It is kind of like riding a Ferris wheel.

At the top there are small horizontal windows to look out and get a great view of St. Louis. I’ve heard people talk about the arch swaying, but we did not experience that when we visited. The kids were actually pretty amused at the top. You are allowed to stay at the top as long as you like, although it is cramped. We spent 30 minutes round-trip (without feeling rushed) and an additional 20 minutes in the free museum.
City Garden
A short walk away is the City Garden. It is a beautiful oasis in the ‘middle’ of the city. It is a fun place to let the kids run around and enjoy a little break from sight-seeing. There are sculptures to explore, water fountains, stream stones to walk across, lots of green space, a great view of the Arch, and my kids favorite squares that make beautiful musical stones when you step on them. We enjoyed playing for 20 minutes (as the rain had ceased), but you could easily spend twice that on a nice day.
City Museum
The City Museum is amazing, one-of-a-kind, and a MUST SEE!! It is a museum unlike any other. I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it to you….It is like the creator made giant sculpture art and was a kid at heart. So there are beautiful created structures and themes, but all of it has tons of creatively integrated tunnels, secret passageways, and slides. Adults are encouraged to wear long pants to “play” too. And for the most part you can, although there are some spaces only smaller children can climb through.
This place is a child’s dream come true!! We played ALL DAY and my kids still did not want to leave! Even as a grown-up my eyes were wide with amazement, excitement, and an eagerness to explore! With that said, I will warn you that it is hard to keep track of all your kids! Each tunnel leads to several choices and those lead to several other passageways – you never know where you kids are going to end up! But all tunnels & passageways lead to a central areas in that theme ….. eventually (maybe 20 minutes later). So I don’t think I saw anyone truly “loose” their child,  but it can lead you to feel a sense of panic as you aren’t sure where they are for like 10 minutes. I felt like we had to be on our A game to keep track of everyone! There are spots (especially in the cave) that although AMAZINGLY cool, were a little frightening to my usually adventuresome 4 year old.  So I think this museum is best suited to K+ (even your teens will love it!)

  • Both my kids agreed the Cave was their favorite. It was dark with colored spot lights, small pools of water, and so many cool places to hide and explore. PLUS there is a 10 story slide that is so much fun – yep, yours truly went down!
  • The World Aquarium (separate , tax deductible cost) was cool with the tunnel that went through the shark/turtle tank, many opportunities to pet/touch, and there were some unusual animals like a 2-headed snake. They claim to have 10,000 specimens (most small that can be in a small aquarium). It was cool, but I felt a little spendy for what it was. It takes up the entire 2nd floor (but wasn’t as big as I thought it would be)
  • Treehouse & Undersea Immersion are in one big area with lots to see, climb on, and explore. There is a 5000 galloon aquarium woven into the exhibit. There are plenty of spots to sit here (and throughout the museum).
  • Monstro City (outside) was very cool, but terrifying to me as a parent of small children. It is so large so it is hard to get where your kids are or end up quickly. If you don’t actually climb & slide with them (which you can) I kept thinking someone from the sidewalk could grab one of my kids and get away before I could get to them. I know it isn’t likely, but what can I say I want to keep my ‘babies’ safe. There were planes to climb to & in, lots of tall slides, metal cages to climb through that are way, way high up, and a big ball pit for the older kids. If you don’t want to climb after them (thankfully my hubby did while I held our 17 month old) I would wait until they are 7+ (and an obedient listener) to go on this adventure.

Would we go back? YOU BET!
We had a really fun minication! I definitely recommend taking a train trip (young kids especially have a fascination with trains) and seeing St. Louis. And although I know you can always spend more time, I feel satisfied that we “saw St. Louis”.

About the author

Beth Gorden

Beth Gorden is the creative multi-tasking creator of 123 Homeschool 4 Me. As a busy homeschooling mother of six, she strives to create hands-on learning activities and worksheets that kids will love to make learning FUN! She has created over 1 million pages of printables to help teach kids ABCs, science, English grammar, history, math, and so much more! Beth is also the creator of 2 additional sites with even more educational activities and FREE printables - www.kindergartenworksheetsandgames.com and www.preschoolplayandlearn.com

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