By this point we have seen it all, or so we think, and yet there's another little scene that enchants, a miniature golf course built into a mountain. And then there's another priceless little town, this one covered in snow: The 1950s-era cars are stuck in big snowdrifts and Santa's walking down the street. And then, finally, there's the last corridor, which depicts in miniature the history of U.S. railroads.
The train theme continues outside, writ large. The steam engine replica winds its way slowly through the woods; it can be ridden for a small additional fee, but only if you go through the train exhibit first. At this time of year, Santa can be found on the outside train, and inside, the place is decked out in holiday finery, with special shows and exhibits.
With eight miles of track and more than 100 trains, Guinness recognizes Northlandz, in Flemington, N.J., as the world's largest model railroad.
(Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)
Northlandz is a little expensive -- and a little shopworn. The exhibits could use a good dusting, and the signs are homemade and taped to the glass. Zaccagnino, the founder, answers the phone himself. In a way, though, the homey touches are part of the charm. And, in a very real way, it's still a basement exhibit: The founder and his wife actually live upstairs.
Perhaps the best thing about Northlandz is the spirit behind it -- Zaccagnino's zeal for the project hasn't waned a bit. And it's catching. Jake is 5 now and a little bit less of a train nut. But his dad, after experiencing Northlandz, is more of one than ever.
GETTING THERE: Northlandz is outside Flemington, N.J., just under four hours from Washington. Take I-95 north through Philadelphia to Route 31 north, which merges into Route 202 north. The town center is just north of the traffic circle in Flemington.
NORTHLANDZ (908-782-4022; www.northlandz.com) is just north of the Flemington circle on Route 202. It's open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Costs are $13.75 for adults, $9.75 for children age 2 and older, and $12.50 for seniors. Tickets for the outside train ride, which cannot be purchased separately, are another $2.75.
STAYING THERE: With the picturesque towns of Stockton and Lambertville, N.J, and the Bucks County haven of New Hope, Pa., only a few miles away, there's no shortage of quaint inns and B&Bs to choose from. One to try is the Woolverton Inn, 6 Woolverton Rd. in Stockton (888-264-6648). Rooms and cottages range from $120 to $395 per night. Right in Flemington, try the Cabbage Rose Inn (162 Main St.; 908-788-0247). Rates are $85-$135, with full breakfast. Flemington also boasts a few chain motels.
EATING THERE: Northlandz features a basic snack bar, but don't miss the Market Roost (65 Main St.) in downtown Flemington -- superb lunch, eclectic menu, nice people. And the Zaccagninos recommend Alfonso's 202 (484 Route 202) and features good pasta and other basic fare. Stockton, Lambertville and New Hope are the best bets for fine evening dining.
THINGS TO DO: If you can't get enough trains at Northlandz, the Black River & Western Railroad is a few miles away in Ringoes, N.J.; it offers scenic train rides and a host of special events (908-782-9600; www.brwrr.com). On the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, little New Hope, Pa., features its own scenic railway, the New Hope & Ivyland (215-862-2332; www.newhoperailroad.com).
INFO: New Hope Visitors Center, 215-862-5880, www.newhopepa.com.