Photo: The Polar Express Train Ride. (Photo Rail Events Inc. YouTube)
One of the newest holiday traditions is the celebration of the Polar Express franchise by turning traditional trains into living embodiments of the classic story.
From children to adults, anyone who loves Christmas or has enjoyed the Polar Express book or movie will be transported to a magical winter wonderland thanks to the transformation of rail cars in a holiday oasis.
Here are the best Polar Express and Christmas trains for the 2016 holiday season.
Great Smokey Mountains Railroad
Last year, more than 70,000 passengers rode the Polar Express train excursion with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and the company is expecting even more this year. The train departs from Bryson City, North Carolina, and runs through the rural woods before ultimately reaching the North Pole.
The 1.25-hour roundtrip journey will feature the sounds from the Polar Express movie playing in the background, and guests will be treated to warm cocoa and a treat while reading along to the classic story.
When the children and their families arrive at the North Pole, Santa Claus will be waiting to present each with a special gift, a silver sleigh bell. The train rides run through Jan. 1, and more information can be found at the rail company’s official website.
Texas State Railroad
For holiday revelers in the south, the Polar Express will be making the rounds thanks to the Texas State Railroad. Passengers will depart from Palestine, Texas, and journey through the state to the North Pole.
Not only will guests enjoy the sights of the beautiful Texas countryside, but they will also be treated to rail cars decorated in Christmas themes, handmade cookies, hot chocolate and the sounds from the Polar Express movie.
Once in the North Pole, Santa will board the train and hand each child aboard a bell cut from his sleigh. The trip takes an estimated 30 minutes each way. For more information, check out the official website of Texas State Railroad.
Napa Valley Wine Train
While the Napa Valley Wine Train may not feature the Polar Express story, the train puts more of the focus on Santa and his interactions with the children onboard. With lively holiday music and decorations to match, it’s the ultimate Christmas celebration.
Passengers will take a journey to the North Pole to find Santa Claus at his workshop, and they will be given magical wristbands meant to help transform the experience. To help keep guests warm and cozy, hot chocolate and cookies will be served.
The train ride also features passengers attempting to find hidden teddy bears that they will return to Santa at his workshop. To become part of the experience, check out the official website of the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Chicago Union Station
With the help of Amtrak, the Chicago Union Station is once again hosting its own Polar Express Christmas train in 2016. Running through Jan. 1, the one-hour ride takes passengers along the Chicago River.
Santa Claus and his elves will be onboard the journey, listening to the Christmas wishes of the small passengers and reading the Polar Express book. In addition, children will be treated to hot chocolate, treats, a bell from Santa’s sleigh and a commemorative tumbler.
The Polar Express themed ride departs from Track No. 1 on the North Concourse at Chicago Union Station. More information on the rail adventure can be found at the station’s official website.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad
For those in the New York area, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is hosting a Polar Express train ride from Utica’s Union Station to the North Pole, otherwise known as Holland Patent. Along the way, guests will be treated to a one-of-a-kind holiday experience.
Not only will passengers listen along to Liam Neeson’s reading of the Polar Express book, but they will also be treated to hot chocolate and cookies served by Cocoa Chefs and Mrs. Claus herself.
After reaching the North Pole, Santa will board the train for the return trip and answer the questions and wishes of each passenger. Santa will also give each child a silver bell, just like in the book and movie. For more information on the holiday train, check out the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s official website.
The Grenada Railroad
One of the most popular Polar Express train rides in the United States is on the Grenada Railroad, which offers passengers the chance to visit the North Pole while dressed in their pajamas.
Children will be issued a golden ticket that they hand the conductor as they board the train. Once onboard, the sounds of the Polar Express will be playing as the journey winds its way toward the North Pole, serving hot cocoa and cookies along the route.
After picking up Santa and receiving gifts of silver bells, passengers will sing Christmas carols on the way home. For more information on the Grenada Polar Express, check out the official website of the Grenada Railroad.