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Traveling With Thomas

March 30, 2007
Take a ride aboard a life-size version of the famous tank engine.

Kids of the right age will be thrilled at the chance to take a 25-minute ride aboard Thomas the Tank Engine, the main character in the enormously popular books, toys, and TV series. From early spring to early winter, Day Out With Thomas excursions rotate to different locations throughout North America--in Strasburg, Pa., Florida, upstate New York, and beyond. 866/468-7630, thomasandfriends.com, $16 adults and kids 2 and up.

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America's Most Scenic Train Rides

Arizona: After watching a staged shoot-out in Williams, passengers board the Grand Canyon Railway for a two-hour ride to the canyon's rim--where they have four hours to explore before the return trip. 800/843-8724, thetrain.com, from $65, $30--$40 kids. Near Sedona, four-hour Verde Canyon Railroad excursions wind through an isolated red-rock canyon where bald eagles nest. 800/320-0718, verdecanyonrr.com, from $65, $35 kids. California: The Sierra Railroad's 1897-era train has appeared in more than 300 films, including High Noon and Unforgiven, and departs from Oakdale, about an hour east of San Francisco, on themed excursions such as the Wild West ride. Watch out: At one point, the train gets "attacked" by a pack of ornery outlaws. 800/866-1690, sierrarailroad.com, from $49, $25 kids. Colorado: The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, America's highest and longest narrow-gauge line, has been traversing the southern Rockies since 1880. Tours, which last six to eight hours, cross high trestles, edge along precipitous gorges, and chug through mountain tunnels. 888/286-2737, cumbrestoltec.com, from $62, $31 kids, including lunch. Massachusetts: Departing from Hyannis, the Cape Cod Central Railroad passes through woodlands and cranberry bogs on a two-hour trip. A one-hour boat add-on gives a peek of the Kennedy Compound. 888/797-7245, capetrain.com, from $18, $14 kids. Washington: On the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, a vintage 1920s steam locomotive heads off from Mineral, 80 miles from Seattle, on a 90-minute ride through deep woods and past waterfalls--with many opportunities to spot 14,410-foot-high Rainier (if the clouds cooperate). 360/569-2588, mrsr.com, $15, $12 kids. West Virginia: Deep in the Appalachians, the Cass Scenic Railroad is part of a state park that has a preserved lumber town at its center. The train switchbacks up 11 percent grades on the five-hour ride to Bald Knob, the state's second-highest point. Dinner trains feature bluegrass music or murder mysteries. 304/456-4300, cassrailroad.com, from $15, kids $10.

As Scary as They Look

Parents with kids who have allergies are accustomed to avoiding certain foods or substances at home. But a new set of concerns arises when traveling. "Things you may not think of can cause a reaction and make your child pretty miserable," says Dr. Neeti Gupta, allergy and immunology fellow at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. Pollen: Depending on local climate, trees start producing pollen anytime from midwinter to late spring; summer tends to be the season in which grass allergies are a problem; ragweed issues occur in late summer and fall. Consult the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (aaaai.org) to scout pollen counts in U.S. cities. Mold: Stay only in well-ventilated lodging. Be extra vigilant if you're vacationing in a humid climate; mold counts are also listed at aaaai.org. Insects and Mites: Fire ants, found in the Southeast and Southwest, can produce life-threatening anaphylaxis in people who are allergic--and most folks don't know they're allergic until they're bitten. As a defense, wear long pants and ankle-high boots and use bug spray. For added protection, tuck your child's pants into her socks. (See fireant.tamu.edu for more precautions.) To control pests, some farms import Asian ladybugs--which can trigger itchy eyes and congestion in people who are allergic to cockroaches. Ladybugs can be a problem especially if you're staying at a farm. If your child is allergic to dust mites, bring anti-mite pillowcases. Also, request a hotel room that's never hosted pets. Eating Out: Chain restaurants often specify on menus whether nuts or other allergy-causing foods are used. Mom-and-pop joints will be less likely to list problematic ingredients--but if everything's homemade, they'll know what's in each dish. Always mention your child's allergies to your servers and have them double-check ingredients with the cook. Sensitive Skin: Bring your own shampoo, soap, and sunscreen, because an unfamiliar brand might cause a reaction.

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