Family vacation with emphasis on transportation & infrastructure
January 12, 2012 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Looking for family vacation recommendations for infrastructure and transportation-o-philes.

The stars have aligned and we suddenly have two weeks to go on vacation in early March. We usually spend a lot of time researching destinations, but we are caught up short this time. Here are our constraints:

--2 adults and 2 kids (4 and 9)
--we can go anywhere in the continental US, caribbean, or Western Europe
--cost not a big factor
--no Disney, please, unless you can make a great argument for it fitting into our stated interests

Here's what we like:
--odd transportation (hydrofoils, funiculars, barges, etc.); no mules or horses as those will trigger our asthmatic
--board games
--infrastructure/engineering/architecture marvels
--walking tours and pedestrian zones
--factory tours

Some of our favorite vacations have been SF/Bay Area (cable car museum, bay model in Sausalito), Northern Germany/Denmark (Legoland, Miniatur Wonderland, canals and flying bridges, Tivoli & Stroget, walled city of Lubeck), Amtraking across the US.

Where should we go, MeFites? We're grateful for all interesting ideas, and especially grateful for those that won't be dismal in early March.
posted by apparently to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Rent a boat and cruise the River Shannon in Ireland. You go from lock to lock, with each one a little bit different in age, design and function, and visit each down and knock back many pints.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:26 PM on January 12, 2012

If you do go to DisneyWorld, the "Backstage Magic" tour will give you a chance to get a look at the infrastructure that makes the place work.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2012

The Netherlands! Amsterdam has canals AND bike lanes, and given the scale of land reclamation involved, the very existence of the country qualifies as an astonishing engineering accomplishment. The Delta Works, in fact, were declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. You know how flood protection is usually described in terms of X-year floods, describing how often an event is predicted that would overcome them? This is a system designed around Two thousand year floods, and that's the weaker parts of it. There are sections that are designed to not completely fail without a ten thousand year flood. For an infrastructure/engineering geek-out, nothing really compares. Channel Tunnel? Panama Canal? Very nice, great for the economy, aren't they, But do they protect millions of people from the immortal power of the sea? I didn't think so.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:44 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nordrhein-Westphalen in Germany might be a good fit. Lots of cities there that are good for a day trip. Things that may pique your interest:

-Dusseldorf and Cologne are on the Rhein which offers river cruises
-Wuppertal has the Schwebebahn, a suspended monorail
-Essen has the Zollverein, an old coal mine turned into a complex of museums and other attractions. There's a natural history museum, the Red Dot design museum, as well as an ice rink and a Ferris wheel. The buildings are all original and you can wander the whole complex pretty much unhindered.
-You can tour the DAB brewery in Dortmund, but check on the availability because they're only available at weird hours.
-TV towers in Dusseldorf and Cologne, plus the Dom in Cologne

I see you've already visited northern Germany, so this might be too close to what you've already done but it really is a beautiful area.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:44 PM on January 12, 2012

Western Europe might fit the bill..

Seconding Amsterdam! Awesome wooden street trams, canals, really narrow houses which require lots of hoisting and giant metal "staples." Not an entirely kid-friendly city, if I'm honest, but amazing nonetheless.

Barcelona has trippy architecture, and high-wire funiculars to get you there.

The best way to get from A to B ---SNCF!
posted by obscurator at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2012

Maybe Pittsburgh, PA?

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob within driving distance of downtown. (tours may be off limits for the kids, but both have grounds passes that let guests of all ages to explore the grounds and outsides of the houses).

Horseshoe curve and Allegheny Portage Railroad

Also, more bridges that you can shake a stick at.

Couple of inclines (funiculars) downtown, as well, giving great views of the city.

March may be a little early for Pittsburgh, though.

Disney has a fantastic "Behind the Steam Trains" tour, as well that gets you up close to their historical steam engines that still run every day.
posted by dforemsky at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2012

And as another point for Pittsburgh, it features the University of Pittsburgh's fantastic Cathedral of Learning, whose enormous and beautiful Commons Room is built as legitimate Gothic architecture - four stories tall, its arches are true ones that support their own weight. Why not just use steel and sheath it in stone to look good? Because, the University's chancellor at the time said, "you cannot build a great University with fraud in it."

(Why, yes, I am a Pitt alum. How'd you guess?)

PS: oh god so many bridges
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:11 PM on January 12, 2012

Architecture new and old and marvelous: the millenium bridge, the gherkin building (sorry forgot its real name lol), St Paul's Cathedral esp the Whispering Gallery, the Tate Modern,
the London Eye etc.
Transport - the london underground itself, the transport museum, double-decker buses, boat tours of the Thames.
Walking tours - plenty of walking tours of london, particularly the city (financial district) and riverside areas. Google them up there's tons.
Bonus - take the train from London to Paris for extra transport geekiness in the chunnel, and see more awesome architecture in Paris.
posted by Joh at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2012

Oh and London has many awesome bridges, like Tower Bridge.
posted by Joh at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2012

If you are a transportation/infrastructure buff, there is no way you can miss the Boeing plant tour in Everett, Washington. I went when I was a kid and I was amazed.

Tour info
posted by scalespace at 1:26 PM on January 12, 2012

Lisbon! Lisbon has funiculars, trams, subways, gigantic public elevators, and trains of all kinds. A coach museum! Lisbon is a great walking around city, and Sintra is an easy train ride away for all kinds of crazy architecture.

Bonus: fly direct from Newark to Lisbon.

We took our toddler and were there in December, it was crisp but not too bad, March will be milder. We would go back in a heartbeat.
posted by ambrosia at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lisbon has several funiculars, the Santa Justa elevator, and a Water Museum centered around a spectacular 18th century aqueduct. Also bridges and ferries and charming trams, including one that wind through steep, curvy, narrow streets.
posted by yarrow at 1:39 PM on January 12, 2012

Should have previewed!
posted by yarrow at 1:40 PM on January 12, 2012

Baltimore, maybe with a side trip to DC.

* The birthplace of American railroading.
* The Baltimore Museum of Industry.
* The American Visionary Arts Museum, which contains many examples of handcrafted arts, including this interactive sculpture of San Francisco, and several vehicles from their annual Kinetic Sculpture Race.
* The historic ships in the Inner Harbor.
* The Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
* If you delay until May 1st (heck, you're close enough you could come down on a weekend) you could even tag along for the annual May Day Roll, a bicycle tour of Baltimore's industrial and labor history. Not sure if it will be on May 1st, since it falls on a Tuesday this year, or just close to it.

Then stop by Canton Games to pick up any transportation-related board games you don't already have (Ticket to Ride comes to mind, but that's probably too obvious).

In DC, you have the Air and Space Museum, including the satellite facility at Dulles, among many others.

Of course, the weather may not be great in early March.
posted by postel's law at 1:54 PM on January 12, 2012

Wow! Years' worth of ideas here, lots (Irish canals, Lisbon, Pittsburgh) that I'd no idea were such hotbeds of infrastructural delight. Thank you!
posted by apparently at 4:27 PM on January 12, 2012

In addition to Boeing (OMG so cool), Seattle also has the (cheesy) underground and monorail; Gasworks park, and the Museum of Flight. You could Amtrak to Portland and do a week in each city.

It's a little out of your scope, but Hong Kong is no-visa and sufficiently Western, and flights are usually not that much more expensive than Western Europe. You can take the Peak tram, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, the Star Ferry (the greatest way to spend 40 cents on Planet Earth), take a fast ferry to Macau, see some of the tallest buildings in the world, the longest outdoor escalator and still have time for a harbour cruise on the oldest seagoing junk, the Duk Ling.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:32 PM on January 12, 2012

Vancouver bc can offer much to the transport buff:

-foot ferries to different parts of downtown (last time they let my son captain the ship over to Granville Island)

-sky train (monorail)

-bc ferries to Vancouver island and gulf islands

-cable car grouse mountain (and then the elevator up into the wind turbine) - grouse mountain accessible through public transit or by car.

-tandem bike rentals in Stanley Park

-seabus (catamaran ferry that is part of public transit from downtown to North Vancouver)

-kayak rentals

-electric tram bsses

and then nearby in Burnaby, transportation in circles on the ol' 1912 carousel

as to architecture, i am partial to the glass dome over Bloedel gardens

and the public library and the outdoor rink at the art gallery downtown.

Plus I recommend the hedge maze in Van Dusen Gardens (just watch out for the goblet of fire--its a port key)

Science world is also great for kids.

I don't know the board games in Vancouver, but if you get to Victoria BC we have a great game store, Interactivity.
posted by chapps at 10:31 PM on January 12, 2012

York, PA claims to be the factory tour capital of the world, although I reckon if you've seen one pretzel factory, you've seen 'em all.
posted by Scram at 10:59 PM on January 12, 2012

Two weeks and money not an object? You want Swizerland!

The trains are really a marvel here. They run everywhere, always on time, and through all kinds of terrain. There are funiculars and cog trains in the mountains, and those of course take you to all sorts of other mountain-based engineering marvels. The national rail company runs promotions for 2-4 day rail-based excursions all over the country. It is called SBB in German or CFF in French, the website can also be viewed in English.

For the kids there are hikes, thermal springs (often rigged up like waterparks with sprayers and even slides), skiing or snowboarding or sledding, museums, the Heidi village, and of course fondue and chocolate! I think you can even visit some of the rocket and missile launchers hidden in the mountains in WWII and the cold war-- check the Rick Steves website and books for info on this. Also in general Rick Steves loves Switzerland and has the country well-covered with travel advice.
posted by ohio at 5:47 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooh I forgot to add that you can do cheese and chocolate factory tours in and around Gruyere, or visit artisanal makers all over the country. I think there is even a chocolate train that takes you to the Cailler factory, leaving from in or near Lausanne.
posted by ohio at 5:49 AM on January 13, 2012

On the odd transportation route, Morgantown, WV is a 1.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh and has a Personal Rapid Transit line. It's a small subway car that looks like a toaster (to me) that goes between campuses of West Virginia University.

Granted, there isn't a whole lot else in Morgantown besides a couple good restaurants and great outdoors stuff (Cooper's Rock state park has a phenomenal view,) but it may be worth a day trip. It's a pretty drive, at the least.
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2012

My vote is for Seattle - the Boeing factory is amazing!! It's a little bit outside the actual metro area, but I think they have shuttles. My boyfriend and I zipcar'ed.

Seattle itself is also a wonderful and [to someone who calls NYC and Tokyo home] very idyllic, peaceful city. I LOVED the food and the market - The fresh honey, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and seafood... I could go on forever. There was also a fun little music and sci fi museum in the city.

I went for a weekend trip, but I'm sure if you wanted to stay longer there is much more to be seen and discovered :)
posted by xiadagio at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2012

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