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REVIEW: Long distance train trips with kids – Could you do it?

“Long distance train trips”. Sounds divine, right? What about with KIDS? Here is one of our reader’s accounts of a very special type of family adventure holiday. Lots of thanks to KYLIE ORDONEZ for this fabulous write up!

Long distance train trips – the adventure begins

Myself and my two daughters (2 & 8) were all set to start our exciting adventure from Brisbane up to Mackay to visit the Grandparents for a week, leaving Roma Street Station aboard the Spirit of Queensland rail train, we had booked two rail beds, aka – the first class of rail.

Upon arrival at platform 10 at Roma Street, we checked in our luggage, where they weighed our bags – phew!  Under 20kg! They added some green bag tags labelled “Mackay” onto our suitcases and the car seat and directed us where to wait on the platform for carriage B.

Our train arrived approximately 50 minutes prior to departure, where it loaded the luggage, stocked up food supplies and the staff got ready for the journey, while we patiently waited to hop on and explore the train.

All aboard!

15 minutes before the train was due to depart, we were advised to start boarding the train. As you enter Carriage B, on your left is the combined communal shower and toilet, then you have a drinking fountain, rubbish bin and a second communal toilet. You then go through some glass doors and see all the well presented rail beds. I was immediately happy with the amount of space between my seat and the one in front, nothing like squishy plane seats I’m used to. I was able to completely stretch out my legs and still have plenty of space before touching the seat in front – wow!

The carriage is designed out so you have two seats together on the left, then an aisle and then a single rail bed on the right. On the trip to Mackay we were seated next to each other on the two left hand seats. Now I’m not sure if I’m just easily pleased, but I was very impressed with the features of the rail beds.

These included – two standard power points for charging electronics, an adjustable tray table, USB port, earphone socket for listening to the large TV screen in the back of the seat in front of your spacious, comfortable, adjustable seat and extra seat that folds down under the TV.

We also got a little gift pack which included shampoo, conditioner, face washer, eye mask, ear plugs, headphones and some vouchers. In the overhead compartment, we had towels, a new complimentary blanket and blow up neck cushion which we were allowed to take home with us.

Long distance train trips with special service

Before the train leaves the station they come around and check your tickets, show you how to use the functions of your seat and offer any assistance. They also came and gave us free welcome drinks, the kids got a bottle of apple juice and I got a lemon, lime & bitters – YUM. The staff then come and take your order for dinner, which was included in our fare AND because my 2 year old was on my lap and not on a paid seat, they included an extra meal for her complimentary! What service!!

The Spirit of Queensland has a Club Car which is open 24 hours and you can buy drinks (including alcohol!), snacks and hot meals, which is very reasonably priced. There is an open seating area with full windows so you can watch the beautiful scenery as the train drives on.

After exploring the train, we decided to sit down at our seats and see what was available on the TV. There is a selection of movies, TV shows and music, varying from Sing to Weekender to La La Land. While my 2 year old sat on my lap watching Sing over and over, I watched Netflix on my phone! Perfect!

Child-friendly travel on the Spirit of Queensland

At about 5.30pm they bought dinner for Miss two, which was a creamy pasta. While it was a small size, it was enough for her. I was glad they bought hers out earlier than the normal food because with her on my lap and the tray in front of her, there is no way we both would have been able to eat dinner at the same time.

At 6.00pm they started to bring out dinner, this was a 3 course meal (you have 2 options to chose from). Our entrée was a tomato, cucumber, onion and pepper salad with feta – this was really yummy! Our main was beef medallion served with roasted potato, green beans and carrots – this was ok, the beef was well cooked, but quite tough and hard to cut with a butter knife. For dessert we had the chocolate cheesecake – uh YUM! Again, the portions were small, but with the 3 courses, plus a bread roll, we were happy.

At the front of each carriage there is a sign which tells you what the next station is and if the toilets/shower is available – they really thought of everything to make it a relaxed journey for us.

Now it was time for a shower before they start putting the beds down about 7.30pm. The area is very spacious, the shower itself has a seat that you can pull down, a shared soap dispenser and handle bards – trust me, you need to use these as the train wobbles around a lot and it’s not so easy to shower (or dry your feet HA!).

Once the beds are down, they provide you with two pillows and a doonah. I was very grateful for this, I can’t imagine sleeping overnight with my two year old on a normal upright rail seat! The bed was comfortable and was enough room for a single person, but was incredibly squishy with my toddler, I got no sleep all night because it was just way too tight of a squeeze, if I were to book again, I would pay for an additional seat.

Looking after you on the rails

The friendly staff go around and check with those who are departing the train before breakfast and advise that they will give you a wake up call about 20-30 minutes before we are due to arrive. This was so great, because we were about 15 minutes behind schedule, so I didn’t have to get up any earlier than necessary. They then dim the carriage lights from about 9.00pm, you have a little bed light if you want to stay up. As the train reaches higher speeds through the night, the train shakes and wobbles around, this made sleeping even more difficult, although my two children slept soundly.

As we got closer to our destination I got my “wake up call” – if only I had been able to sleep! At Mackay station the train stops a few meters back from the platform to fuel up, this takes about 6-7 minutes. We arrived safely and sleepily at 3.40am, about 20 minutes later than expected. Our baggage was taken off quickly and left on the platform for collection. We were ready to head to the Grandparents for some sleep!

The journey home

After spending a beautiful, relaxing week in Mackay, we were ready for take two of our train journey back home to Brisbane. The train arrived in Mackay from Cairns on time at about 8.30pm, loaded our luggage, stopped again to fuel up and then off to Brisbane!

This time I had decided I wanted to try for a better nights sleep so I put my two children in one rail bed together head to toe, they once again slept soundly all through the night. While the train still wobbled around, I was able to get some sleep this time. However be warned of the automated very loud alert saying “doors closing, please stand clear” at each station all night.

The staff wake you between 5.30-6.00am so they can turn the beds back into seats, prior to breakfast at 7.00am. We decided to have a quick wobbly shower before breakfast to wake ourselves up.

For breakfast you have the choice between a continental or a hot breakfast. We chose to have a hot breakfast which was a cheese and chive omelette served with bacon, breakfast sausage and tomato, we thoroughly enjoyed this. After breakfast was cleared we only had a few hours left before arrival in Brisbane, so once again Miss two watched Sing, Miss eight watched Pete’s Dragon and I watched Netflix on my phone, feeling nice and relaxed as I looked out the window at the foggy trees. Upon arrival in Brisbane – the train’s final destination – everyone was off the train and all the luggage was again placed on the platform for you to grab.

Now our exciting train journey was over (sad face). Overall, we had a fabulous, relaxing time on board the Spirit of Queensland train between Brisbane and Mackay. While the rail beds cost more money than the premium economy seats, I highly recommend them, they have everything my children and I needed and were really comfortable – apart from a squishy sleep with the toddler. I will definitely do this again!

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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