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The Polar Express - In Saratoga, New York
The Golden Ticket
The Polar Express Background
The Conductor: "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
And so begins a little boy's journey on the Polar Express. Actually it all began when Chris Van Allsburg wrote the book of the same name back in 1985. The book became a bestseller and Caldecott Winner that year. In 2007 teachers voted it one of the top one hundred children's books ever. It didn't stop there though, in 2007 Warner Brothers Studios released a film of the same name using performance capture technique that shows up on screen as the most fascinating and realistic looking animation you've ever seen! According to Wikipedia, Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars, his highest rating, saying "There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie." And "It has a haunting, magical quality ..."
But it still didn't stop there. Beginning in November and ending on December 31st, throughout the United States and UK, there are trains that give families the Polar Express experience. Oh, and you're encouraged to wear your pajamas so you can get the true feeling. The wonderful thing is even if you haven't read the book or seen the movie you can still enjoy the train ride. Sixty minutes filled with fantasy and wonder for children of all ages.
The Conductor: "The thing about trains... it doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on."
Quotes from The Polar Express
Hero Boy: On Christmas Eve many years ago I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I'd never hear: the sound of Santa's sleigh bells.
The Conductor: Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
Hero Girl: It’s everything I dreamed it would be. [the North Pole] Billy: Could all this be nothing but a dream? Hero Boy: No.
Santa Claus: There's no greater gift than friendship.
The Polar Express Story
I know I said you don't have to have read the book to enjoy the train ride and you don't. However, after going on the train ride (and having read the book and seen the movie first) I would say it enhances your ride a bit if you read the book or see the movie first. I say this only because the characters will have more meaning to you.
The "hero boy", the main character, in this book and movie is doubting the existence of Santa. Along comes a train, right to his front door. As he learns the train is going to the North Pole he is doubtful about getting on. When the train begins to leave he jumps on. The train ride is a magical fantasy ride to the North Pole. Along the way we are introduced to the different children on the train and learn their strengths and weaknesses. We meet a hobo, the train's engineer, fireman, of course we've already met the conductor, and partake in various fantastical adventures on the way to the North Pole. There's a wayward ticket our hero chases on and off the train, there's skiing on the train roof, a cotter pin that falls off the engine, and at one point caribou blocking the train.
The action certainly doesn't stop there. Once they get to the North Pole we find our hero/protagonist again involved with the young girl and a boy named Billy. Billy accidentally uncouples the train car they are in and they head for the ride of their life! At City Square, we meet Santa's elves and the bell our hero couldn't hear. As he believes, he begins to hear the bell.
Santa picks him to receive the first gift of Christmas and it is the reindeer's bell. What a treasure! As they head back home on the train the hero boy realizes he's lost the bell. He's heartbroken. However, on Christmas morning there's one more present under the tree...you guessed it, the bell from Santa with a note that says, "Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Better fix that hole in your pocket. Mr. C."
Tom Hanks shines in the movie. He's the voice of the conductor, Hobo, Scrooge, Father, and Santa Claus. You're so engrossed in the story you accept him as each character without the blink of an eye.
Photos on the Polar ExpressClick thumbnail to view full-size
Would you ever ride the Polar Express?
The Polar Express Train Ride Experience
First off, you get hot chocolate and a cookie on your train ride, just like in the book/movie. Second, no matter where you go you get a train ride you and your children/grandchildren will always remember.
My experience? Delightful. The light in my four year old grandson's eyes went on when we arrived at the train station and didn't go out until he went to sleep that night. He loved talking to our "chef" and quickly introduced himself and asked the "chef's" name as well. He giggled when he got his hot chocolate in the Polar Express mug and his cookie. He was able to eat my cookie too (I have celiac and can't) so I guess you could say he was doubly blessed.
As the lights for the North Pole approached he was glued to the train window. He jumped up and down with glee as he saw all the lights, then Santa and his sleigh. Am I using too many superlatives? I think I'm not using enough! The joy and tears on my face are a whole other story. It was just so wonderful to see him so happy and excited. No words or explanations can cover his excitement when Santa gave him his very own bell. That was what my grandson was waiting for, THE BELL. He was thrilled to know we could all hear the bell! (Sorry you'll have to read the book or see the movie to understand that.)
As you can see from the sampling I've included, prices vary widely depending on location. Dates vary as well. What did seem pretty consistent is these Polar Express rides are sometime between Thursday and Sunday. Some being only Friday through Sunday. I did see a few extended schedules on Christmas week so you'll really have to check carefully.
People You Meet on the Polar ExpressClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Small Sample of Polar Express Locations
Adirondack Scenic Railway
Utica, New York
Dec. 5 thru 22
Coach Seating: $27/adult $25/senior(62+) $23/youth(2-12) First Class Seating*: $49.00/adult & seniors $42/youth (2-12)
California State Railroad Museum
Nov. 29 thru Dec. 22
Ticket prices for all ages 2 years and above: Coach Cars - $40 per person (plus a $5 per ticket service fee) First Class Observation Car - $55 per person (plus a $5 per ticket service fee) First Class Dining Car - $220 per table of four (plus a $20 per table service fee)
Okehampton, United Kingdom
Dec. 11 thru Dec. 28
Premium Seating, Adult £35, Premium Table for Two £35, Standard £20; Child, Premium £25, Premium Table for 2, £25, Standard £15...children on lap separate prices
Nov. 29 thru Dec. 22
Since ticket were sold out no prices were listed
Great Smokey Mountains Railroad
Bryson City, North Carolina
Nov. 8 thru Dec. 29
Coach class pricing for adults varies by date as $40 or $46, child $26 or $31; Crown Class pricing is adult $50 or $56, Child $36 or $41 and Infant $10 or $15; First Class Pricing adult is $60 or $69, child is $41 or $46 and infant is $15 or $20
While I gave you a very small sampling of Polar Express rides and ticket prices please know it is a very small sampling. I left out places like:
- Saratoga and North Creek Railway in Saratoga, NY
- Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in Woonsocket, RI
- Dennison Railroad Depot Museum in Dennison, OH
- Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, AZ
- Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad in Portland, ME
- Mt. Hood Railroad in Hood River, OR
- Weardale Railway in Stanhope, County Durham, UK
- West Texas & Lubbock Railroad in Lubbock, TX
- White River Rotary Club in White River Junction, VT
And I still haven't named them all! If you want to look one up just go to Google and type in "Polar Express train ride".
I hope I've enticed you in some small way to try the Polar Express experience. I'm afraid its too late this year but reserve early next year!
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