During the holidays, there are few things more magical than bringing your kids' favorite stories to life. And one of the best all-time classics, that both kids and adults look forward to every December, is Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. So this year, for something super special, book a ride aboard one of the country's seasonal Christmas train rides to turn the story into a reality. Besides a scenic ride, ticket holders can expect hot cocoa and cookies, and of course, Santa and his elves. And for those who truly believe, there's also a silver sleigh bell -- the very first gift of the season. Here are our five picks for the best holiday train rides this Christmas season. All aboard!
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Pajamas are encouraged for this trip aboard the Polar Express, which spans 75 minutes of pure holiday magic. The Colorado Railroad Museum has recreated the famed Christmas train story, complete with the intrigue, sights, and sounds of the literary holiday journey to the North Pole. Children will have a chance to meet the conductor and, even more thrilling, to wish Santa himself a very happy holiday. If you listen very closely, you may even hear the jingle of a special bell.
Scenic railroads so often head for the hills to create rural retreats from the city. And while the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad does take the scenic route, its starting point is a very urban locale: Cleveland. The train’s holiday program is spectacular, carving out two hours to seamlessly replicate a boy’s holiday journey to the North Pole and his resulting discovery of the Christmas spirit. The ride is absolutely magical, and kids will delight in the commemorative Polar Express cup they get to take home. Tickets sell out early for this one, so be sure to book well in advance.
There are few places that make for a more perfect Polar Express setting than the gorgeous Adirondacks where there’s pine trees, mountains, and snow, snow everywhere. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad hosts seasonal train journeys into New York’s version of the North Pole, inviting the young and young-at-heart to chat with Santa’s elves and listen to the famous story during the journey. Upon arrival (that’d be Holland Patent), Santa boards and takes time to greet every single kiddo aboard. On the return trip, kids receive their first gifts of Christmas: a silver bell, meant only for those who truly believe. And to round out the holiday spirit, riders snack on hot cocoa and cookies throughout the experience.
The North Carolina mountains are magical during the summer — so just imagine how incredible they look draped in a blanket of pure white. Infuse some charm into the holiday season with a ride aboard the Great Smokey Mountains Polar Express, an hour-and-15-minutes’ excursion on a diesel engine train that departs from Bryson City. Guests sip hot chocolate and nibble sweet treats on the journey, but kids’ focus will be on the destination: the North Pole (temporarily relocated to North Carolina). There, Santa boards the train and gifts every child their own silver bells. Join in to sing Christmas carols on the way back to the station.
One of the most famous holiday train rides in the world, the Grand Canyon Polar Express departs Williams, AZ to travel the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Along the way, guests are treated to hot chocolate and cookies before arrival at the Grand Canyon North Pole, a magical scene of sparkling lights, holiday storefronts, mailboxes to Santa, and other seasonal treats. Santa and his favorite elf climb aboard to greet guests and present special gifts before the hour ride closes with a return to the home station. Unlike many Christmas trains, which run November through mid-December, the Grand Canyon Polar Express offers a very special Christmas Eve ride — just like in the original Polar Express story.