Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Review of Northlandz Train Museum in Flemington: All Aboard?

This is an updated post from last year.  I added some thoughts from my most recent visit to Northlandz (if you have a chance, please check them out at the bottom of this entry, under Added Thoughts.  Great title, right?)

I used to drive past Northlandz in Flemington every day when I was a teacher.  And I would always think, "I wonder what it's like in there?"  Hard to tell from the outside- all you see is a big gray building and a small sign announcing it as home of the "Worlds Largest Model RR, Great American Railway and Doll Museum."  I thought there was a real train track outside of it, but I wasn't sure.  So you know I had to find out!


What is Northlandz?

Northlandz is a miniature train museum located right on Rt. 202 in Flemington. It is similar to the well-known Roadside America in Pennsylvania.   Even if you don't have a little train enthusiast in your house like I do, it is still a point of interest.  Read on!


What Will I See There?

Northlandz is basically a walk-through model train display- over 8 miles to be exact (think giant train display, not so much a 'museum').  You peruse through at your own pace and peer into or over each display.  It's basically a spiraling effect as you walk up and up into the building.  You are viewing all of the incredible train tracks and landscapes at different angles.  The added little stories about Grandma and why certain scenes look the way they do is a cute added touch. There are also dollhouses, dolls and doll displays to view, too (you can view a video clip on their website).  The Jersey Momma's boy just skipped past those with a definitive, "Yuck!"



The Train Ride

When we first visited, there was also an outdoor working train ride (a real one), that drove us through a small area behind the museum and back.  I could not find much about this on their website, so I can't guarantee the ride is still available.  I also recall there being a small fee to ride the train (at the time it was $2.75 with ticket purchase).  If it is still running, I do recommend the train ride.  Although the area around the track was in a bit of disarray and there were not many sights to see, my son still enjoyed the ride and was excited to be on a real, colorful working train.



What Do I Need To Know?

Northlandz is old.  I'm not going to lie.  When you walk in, it is kind of dark and smells like your grandfather's basement.  Many of the displays are dusty or in need of minor repairs.  Some of the doll displays had spider webs on them.  But you know what?  It was still pretty darned amazing.  My son did not seem to notice any of the things I just mentioned.  So sometimes you have to ask yourself, "Will my child like this?"  and not, "Will I like this?"  (that basically sums up parenthood, right?).



Jersey Momma Tips

*If you have time, please read my 'Added Thoughts' after my tip section, below.

*There is a cafe inside but it did not seem very enticing to us so we skipped it.  If you drive further South on Rt 202 into Flemington, you will find plenty of shops and places to eat if you are interested in traveling outside of Northlandz.  You can visit my favorite Chick-fil-A Flemington, just ahead on 202 South, near the circle!

*Admission is pricey, so be on the lookout for discount coupons (kids under 2 are free).  There is one coupon in the KidStuff coupon booklet, sold through fundraisers in most schools.

*There is no restroom to use once you start your journey into Northlandz, so be sure to use the lobby restroom before you venture into the museum.  And unless they have done a complete makeover, this is not the nicest bathroom you'll ever visit, so be forewarned!

*We once visited Northlandz in the winter time and it was a bit chilly in the museum.  For some unknown reason I had decided to leave my own coat in the car, which was not a wise decision!  Hey, at least The Jersey Momma's boy had his coat.

*If you will be visiting with very young ones, consider bringing a stroller, as there is a lot of walking and winding through the museum.

*Visit their website for more details, hours and admission info.

*They suggest bringing binoculars, which we did not do.  But a camera is a must, for sure!

*Like always, I suggest you give it a chance.  It is not Disney World.  It DOES need some updating and repairs, but it has an amazing history behind it, and I truly feel it is worth seeing at least once in your life, especially if you have a train enthusiast in your house.
 


Added Thoughts

We have been to Northlandz at least four times with my son, starting at the age of two (he's now almost six).  He still loves it.  It's a special trip to take for a boy, especially with daddy, or maybe grammy and poppy.  But like I said, it's not cheap ($33.00 for two adults and one child and that includes a coupon).  And I have to be honest here again.  There are some glowing reviews of Northlandz out there.  Just do a search on "Northlandz reviews" or "What is Northlandz?" and see what you find.  But I think giving them a glowing review is also doing them a disservice.  Because they need to know that their amazing display is going downhill.  Northlandz, I love you.  You know I love you.  I can see the incredible amount of heart and work that you have put into this train display in your lifetime.  But you need to know this:  your place needs help.  The carpets are dirty.  The walls need painting.  The displays are dusty and some are falling apart.  The last time we were there, on a 91 degree day, the air conditioning was "broken."  "On the top floor only," you told us, but that was not true, and we spent 30+ minutes along with other babies, small children and elderly people, walking through a stuffy, sweltering display at full cost.  We ran into another patron who told us she visited last year and the same thing happened.  So is your air conditioner really being repaired?  Or is it just constantly broken?  It's okay if it is, but you need to own up to the problem and not keep lying to your customers.

As we walked through, I thought, "Why not ask some local boy scout troops to help?  I'm sure they would paint some of these walls free of charge, as long as they could leave a little plaque there with their names on it?"  or, "Why not get some local businesses to see if they can donate some new carpeting in exchange for free advertising?" or "I wonder if any local train enthusiast groups would be willing to donate some time to help dust and clean the displays?"  "I know the good people of Flemington might even be willing to donate money to help restore the outer grounds, if you would only ask.  Somerset County 4H has a train group- could they help you just to clean and repair some of your incredible work?"  Every train display needs maintenance.  My dad is a train enthusiast, so I know this.

The Jersey Momma's Momma (The Jersey Grandmomma?) is a little more outspoken than I am, so when we finished our last visit at Northlandz and the owner asked us how the Jersey Momma's boy liked the displays (he ALWAYS loves the displays, he could care less if anything is dirty or old or broken!), the Jersey Grandmomma smiled and suggested some of the things that I just mentioned, about the boy scouts and the air conditioning.  The owner seemed thoroughly offended by everything, and was very snippy.  "What needs to be worked on?!" he snapped, "I work in there every day!  And the air conditioner is broken, I told you they are fixing it."  His tone made me cringe.  I quickly maneuvered my son away and got that icky feeling in my stomach that comes from confrontation.  I was sad because it suddenly made me feel like not going back there anymore.  I just wish that every business owner would realize that you have to be courteous to your customers, even if you feel insulted, even if your feelings get hurt.  Find a nice way to accept what they are saying and call it a day.

As we walked out of the museum that day, with my son all smiles, I heard the owner turn to someone he was sitting with and say, "There's always one," and my heart just broke.  What an absolute shame, and what a terrible thing to say, loud enough for a grandma and her little grandson and his mommy to hear.

I am not saying never to go to Northlandz, because the kids love it.  I've already said that.  and I've already shown you how amazing it is.  But I thought this side of the story needed to be told, too, instead of just adding another glowing review to the internet.

11 comments:

  1. That's so cool. My husband is originally from New Jersey, his sister is still there. They are from Newark.

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  2. What an interesting attraction. I think the dust and disrepair might just add to the experience!

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  3. I never thought about that, Cher, but you could be right! And thanks, Mary! Seems like everyone has some kind of connection to Jersey in their lives! :)

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  4. I've always liked trains, but I love miniatures even more. Those photos are awesome! Thanks for the tips too. :)

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  5. Thanks, Kristen!! Another cool place to visit for miniatures is Roadside America in Pennsylvania. Similar to Northlandz but a tad bit cleaner. But just a tad.

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  6. Hey Jersey Momma great article. I appreciate what u do ! My 2 children and I went there today for the first time. My 8 yr old and I really enjoyed it as there is so much scenery and different viewing to be able to appreciate all of it. Although I couldn't agree with you more on the cleanliness of the museum. There was so much dust accumulated that my nose was actually tickled. There were also dead bugs and spider webs, especially scattered throughout the display boxes. Candy wrappers and such that disrespectful people thru over. It just seemed as if it was lacking alot of upkeep. I kept on thinking how much nicer it would look if someone just took a little bit more care of it . I will return in the future because it is a really neat place to visit! I hope they do eventually improve some of the things in there.

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    1. Hi Abby! Thanks so much for this amazing comment. I am so glad you liked the article and that you understand my point of view on Northlandz. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your opinion with others, too! It means a great deal.

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  7. Jersey Momma, thanks for your review and update. I went to visit the museum today for the first time. I concur, interesting place but in need of repair, cleaning and better lighting. In the repair category, I tried pushing some of the buttons to start the trains to run on one of the upper floors however nothing happened. My husband said a red light came on but nothing else happened. Thanks for providing details on the outdoor train ride. Based on the indoor conditions, the train ride should be free. Thanks for your candid review. Jersey Grandmama

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    1. Hi Jersey Grandmama! Thanks for commenting. Northlandz is such an amazing place and so many people love it. I do hope they address some of the issues that visitors like you and I have mentioned. I appreciate you stopping by and adding your two cents!

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  8. If you are a train enthusiast, you unconsciously realize the reality of the dust and any other detritus that may exist in the layouts, as it unquestionably exists in reality and real train spaces.
    I saw a live spider at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So what!

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    1. I do feel that what you see in Northlandz is a little more than a live spider or regular old dust in the layouts. But I understand your view - Northlandz is an AMAZING place that I encourage people to visit. But I am also an honest writer and I feel the things I noted were worth mentioning, especially for those with severe allergies to dust or those who might be expecting something a little different. It's truly an incredible sight to see, so dust or no dust, it's worth visiting!

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