The magic of Christmas exists for those who believe. That’s the theme of "The Polar Express," the beloved children's book by Chris Van Allsburg that became a perennial favorite holiday movie featuring Tom Hanks.
In the story, a boy takes a train journey to the North Pole to rekindle his belief in Santa and since the book's publication, dozens of Polar Express trains have popped up across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, offering families the opportunity to recreate the magical Polar Express experience through readings of the story, music from the movie soundtrack, cups of cocoa, and Santa encounters.
How to Find a Polar Express Experience
Many of these trains operate on historic railways—like the Adirondack Scenic Railroad in Utica, New York or the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Peninsula, Ohio—that brim with charm and travel along scenic routes. The revenue from these special holiday trains benefits historic railroads, most of which are not for profit, by helping them raise money to preserve their historic trains.
Since each railway is independently owned and operated, things change from year to year. For a complete and updated list of Polar Express experiences, check the Rail Events Incorporated website for locations.
How to Make the Most of the Experience
Before you go, read the book and watch the movie so that the details will be more meaningful during your Polar Express experience. All of the trains encourage kids to wear their pajamas, just like the boy in the story, and they won't be chilly as the trains are heated. Many trains offer a variety of seating classes with more expensive options including additional perks. (Check to see exactly what is included at each fare level.)
Consider what time of day you travel. Younger kids may do better on earlier trains, but the last train ride of the evening is arguably the most atmospheric when it's darker outside, the train cars seem cozier, and you can see the holiday lights better.
Reserve Tickets in Advance
These Christmas trains are wildly popular and sell out quickly. With well over a half a million pajama-clad passengers climbing aboard each season, some trains sell out before the end of summer, especially those that run only on weekends and select dates. Book early to secure a specific date or time.
What Does It Cost to Ride a Polar Express Train?
Costs for the train rides vary from railroad to railroad. For a family of four with two adults and two kids, count on spending anywhere from $100 to three times that, depending on the seating class you choose and whether you spring for upgrades. Many trains offer a variety of upgrades and packages that often include a copy of the book or a souvenir mug, or seats in the dining car to enjoy your hot cocoa at a table.