It can be tough to find a seat on one of the many trains that come to life every holiday season, but several new options – including some that focus on recreating The Polar Express – are giving families more ways to book a golden ticket this Christmas. By the end of these special holiday rides, it’s likely the children won’t be the only ones who can hear the magic jingle of Santa’s sleigh bell.
1. Grenada Railway, Batesville, Miss.
Board the festively decorated vintage cars to experience Premier Rail Collection’s hourlong train ride. Keep an eye out for Santa and one of his elves, who wave to the train as it arrives and climb on board to hear the kids’ Christmas wishes. Diamond Class and First Class, which offer more spacious seating, additional souvenirs and premium views of the “North Pole,” are options – though the seats sell quickly. Don’t miss The Polar Express Train Ride Gift Shop, which is full of ornaments, toys and T-shirts to help you remember your special journey. There’s also a holiday getaway package for out-of-towners that includes an overnight at the local Holiday Inn.
2. Aspen Crossing, Mossleigh, Alberta, Canada
Hop aboard this new diesel-powered, first-class Polar Express train for a winter view of the Canadian prairie at the Aspen Crossing Railway, just southeast of Calgary. Passengers on the second Polar Express train in all of Canada will enjoy the traditional experience: treats served on board, a visit with Santa at the “North Pole,” and chefs singing Christmas carols on the return journey. The railway hired movie set designers to create its North Pole, which looks just like the one in the movie, with local actors playing all the parts.
3. Union Station, Chicago
Now departing from Chicago’s historic Union Station, this Polar Express train doesn’t just journey through the Christmas tale. It takes passengers on a trip through downtown Chicago, dressed in its holiday finest. Powered by Amtrak, the one-hour train ride runs Dec. 19 through Jan. 3. As with most Polar Express trains, guests take home a souvenir sleigh bell, given to them by Santa himself, a golden ticket and a hot chocolate tumbler as mementos. To add to the experience, children are invited to wear warm pajamas, just like the kids in the book and movie. The train leaves from Track 1 on the North Concourse.
4. Seaton Tramway, Seaton, Devon, United Kingdom
A unique way to experience The Polar Express is aboard an electric tram that winds through the English countryside. No matter the weather, children and their families can enjoy the warmth and coziness of the tram as they step inside the story of The Polar Express and view the area’s wintry scenes and abundant wildlife. Over the course of 3 miles, the tram runs through East Devon's Axe Valley, the coastal resort of Seaton, the village of Colyford and the ancient town of Colyton. To round out the experience, make time to visit the Tramstop Cafe for a quick English-style tea, snack or coffee.
5. Train to Christmas Town, Belmont, N.C.
This train’s destination isn’t the North Pole, it’s Christmas Town. Passengers aboard this festively decorated train at The Piedmont & Northern Railway will snack on cookies and hot cocoa as they hear the story of “The Train to Christmas Town,” by Peggy Ellis. Characters from the book will interact with passengers and lead everyone in singing Christmas carols. At Christmas Town, all children meet Santa, get their photos taken and receive a special gift. Just like The Polar Express, kids are encouraged to show up in their jammies.
6. BMS Express, Bristol, Tenn.
While it’s not officially a Polar Express train, the new BMS Express Christmas-decorated school bus does offer a mobile holiday experience to children in the area. Hop on board to enjoy a tour of the Speedway in Lights at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Four miles long and with 2 million lights, it’s billed as the largest holiday light display in the South. Hot chocolate and cookies are served on board while kids delight in the dazzling views around the track.
Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. She is the author of The Step-by-Step Guide to Earning Your Southwest Companion Pass. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.