In 1971, a trip from Essex to Deep River and back on one of the steam trains of the Valley Railroad Company was a fun way to spend an hour or so on a weekend. Since then, the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat has evolved into destination which enthralls locals and visitors alike.
Pam Amodio, director of production development and event management, beams as she talks about the activities lined up for the 2018 season. “We had lots of new things last year, which we brought back because they were so popular,” she says. “But we’ve added a lot to the schedule.”
The rail yard is the setting for fabulous fun in May when live music takes the stage. On May 18, swing it out at the Big Band Dinner/Dance featuring Al Fenton Big Band. Then the following week, rock on at the American Bandstand Dinner/Dance.
Comes the warm weather and we’re all about being on the water! Take the Cigars & Whiskey cruise on June 7, or enjoy Music on the Riverboat with Seat of Our Pants on Sept. 14. Prefer dry land? Enjoy The Locomotives at Rhythm by the Rails on July 26. Every month, a different band performs on the lawn. “Folks bring their blankets and coolers, and have a nice summer night free of charge,” says Amodio. “We do this to contribute to fun activities for families in our communities and help our neighbors get to know us better.”
Activities are designed to appeal to a range of palates and interests, from sight-seeing to vintage experiences to living history. During the month of June, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln join a cast of other historic characters during the Passengers from the Past steam train ride. Guests should bring their questions about American and Connecticut history and prepare to educated as well as entertained.
What else new is happening this year? Amodio grins. “We’re doing a couple of pirate adventures this year. One of them is primarily for kids, but since Sept. 19 is National Talk Like a Pirate Day, we thought that would be a good date for an adult pirate event.” This two-hour cruise aboard the Becky Thatcher will feature a costume contest, so plan ahead. A themed menu is also part of the fun. “There’ll be drinks with little umbrellas, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, and some pirate booty” says Amodio. “It will be a nice little island adventure on the Connecticut River.”
Later in September, you can find the best medicine—laughter—on the Laugh Tracks Comedy Train. Six comedians will perform 10-minute shows in six cars, making their way through the length of the train. Guests will vote on which act they like the best. After arrival back at the station, guests will go to the function room and the winner of the contest will do a full show on the stage at River Valley Junction.
Other fall events include a Chocolate & Wine cruise on Aug. 9 with the Trevor Davis Jazz Quart; Rock Solid Alibi in concert on the lawn at Rhythm by the Rails on August 23; a Brats & Beer foliage cruise on Sept. 6; and, a Fall Festival on the last weekend of September.
All these great events are in addition to the regular schedule of train rides, boat rides, dinner and lunch trains and, of course, the North Pole Express. This is high quality entertainment, which is much needed and a big attraction.
For full information, dates, and schedules visit essexsteamtrain.com:
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat
1 Railroad Avenue
Essex, CT 06426
Editor's note: A version of this story appeared in the 2018 Connecticut Coast & Country tourism guide, which you can read in full here.