Where to hop aboard the ‘Polar Express’ and other Christmas train rides

It's sacrilege to write about Christmastime before we've even gotten to Halloween, but some things just can't wait. Santa really enjoys leaving the North Pole and hopping on trains instead of his reindeer sled in November and December at locations around the U.S.

If you promised the kids a fantastic “Polar Express”-type journey, you should buy tickets now. Seasonal rides have become a tradition for many families, and seats go fast. So don't disappoint the kids or Santa.

‘Polar Express’ train ride

Santa will be in the remote desert town of Williams, Ariz., about 32 miles west of Flagstaff, aboard the Grand Canyon Railway for rides to and from the Williams Depot, a historic building that dates to 1908. The 90-minute Polar Express ride to Santa’s Village is the closest you’ll come to taking the journey popularized in the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg and subsequent 2004 movie. Chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate are served, and Santa visits with children before they return to the depot. Many dates already are sold out, according the railway’s website. Tickets cost $41 to $53 for adults, $31 to $43 for children 2 to 15 years old. You can take a Dec. 24 ride for $163. Polar Express runs 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on selected dates from Nov. 11 to Jan. 6.

Info: Grand Canyon Rail & Hotel, (800) 843-8724

The decorated train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park near Sonora, Calif.
The decorated train at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park near Sonora, Calif. Daniel Ryan

More ‘Polar Express’ adventures

If you miss out on the Arizona train ride, don’t despair. Warner Bros. licensed a bunch of rail rides around the country that re-create the “Polar Express” vibe with their own special twist. The Railtown 1897 State Historic Park about 100 miles southeast of Sacramento runs an hourlong journey. You’ll hear a reading of the book while dancing waiters serve up hot chocolate. Rides are scheduled for 4:30, 6 and 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 and 26, Dec. 1-3, 8-10 and 15-17. Tickets available online only cost $50 to $70 per person. Info: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, 18115 5th Ave., Jamestown, Calif.; (209) 984-3407

Hot chocolate is served on the "Polar Express" ride in Chicago.
Hot chocolate is served on the "Polar Express" ride in Chicago. Rail Events Inc.

“Polar Express” rides are available at other locations, including an hourlong journey in Chicago from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1; a 90-minute ride on the diesel-powered Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nev., on selected dates from Nov. 18 to Dec. 30; and New Orleans from Dec. 7 to Jan. 1. Check out the ride’s website for more locations.

An elf reads "The Train to Christmas Town"  on the Mt. Hood Railroad.
An elf reads "The Train to Christmas Town" on the Mt. Hood Railroad. Mt. Hood Railroad

‘Train to Christmas Town’ ride

The Mt. Hood Railroad in Hood River, Ore., takes children on a different storybook adventure. It’s based on “The Train to Christmas Town,” the 2012 book by Peggy Ellis that tells the story of a girl named Janice and her magical train journey with her family. Santa's elves, hot chocolate, characters from the book and original holiday music are part of this theatrical celebration too. The train runs on selected dates from Nov. 11 to Dec. 28. Tickets cost $37 to $87 per person, depending on class choice.Info: Mt. Hood Railroad, 10 Railroad St., Hood River, Ore.; (800) 872-4661

The Snow Train

The Snow Train takes passengers on an all-day wintry excursion from Seattle through the Cascade Mountains and into the Bavarian-style town of Leavenworth, Wash. This journey’s on-board entertainment includes magicians, singers, oompah bands and others. It delivers passengers to the town’s Lighting Festival, where you’ll find horse-drawn carriages and carolers in the streets. The ride (leaves Seattle at 8 a.m., gets to Leavenworth at noon, departs for return trip at 5:30 p.m.) runs Dec. 2, 9 and 16 only. Tickets cost $229 to $359 per person, which includes a continental breakfast and dinner on board the train. Info: Leavenworth Snow Train, (800) 895-2554


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