Kids love choo-choos, and what better time to ride the rails than during the Holiday Season? In dozens of locations, specially decorated Christmas Trains pull out of the station with kids, hot cocoa, Santa, and elves on board. Below are a sample of Christmas Train rides, which typically are staged for several weeks from late November through December.
- Book early -- Christmas train rides sell out!
- If you're familiar with a railroad, don't assume that normal procedures are in effect. For example, railroads that normally have two departure points will often use just one for the Christmas Train.
These special Christmas train rides take place in several locations, and specifically re-create the experiences of the classic Polar Express children's book. The ride typically includes a telling of the story, appearance by Santa, hot chocolate, and perhaps a little gift -- such as a silver sleigh bell like the one the boy receives in the book.
Essex, CT: Essex Steam Train Santa Special
On this Christmas train, the rail cars have vintage decorations, and Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, and Christmas Bear make appearances. Santa visits with each child, and each child gets a small gift from Santa's elves. Driving time from Hartford CT is about 40 minutes; from NYC, the trip is around 2-1/2 hours.
Middleton, PA: Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad
On Santa's Surprise Trains, Santa makes a visit during a daytime ride and has gifts for kids. Alternatively, take a nighttime trip on the Polar Bear Express to find Santa at the North Pole; kids get milk, cookies and a Polar Bear story en route. This railroad is in central Pennsylvania near Hershey PA.
Parrish, FL: Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Christmas Trains
This railroad in Parrish -- 35 minutes from Tampa-- has Christmas Trains such as a "Santa Special", and a North Pole Express where Santa awaits at the North Pole and greets every child while carolers create a holiday mood.
Atlanta, GA: Stone Mountain Park
Stone Mountain Park is the top tourist attraction in Georgia. It combines a natural wonder (the largest granite outcropping in the world) with man-made fun including a akylift, old-fashioned town, riverboat, playzone, and a short railroad that becomes a Christmas Train during "Stone Mountain Christmas".
Texas State Railroad Victorian Christmas Train
With a vintage steam engine, this train does both "The Polar Express" and holiday winter trains excursions. Location is two and one half hours southeast of Dallas, and three northeast of Houston.
Fillmore, CA: Fillmore & Western Railway Company
This Christmas train ride is on a vintage train complete with storytellers, Santa, cookies and chocolate, milk, and elves. Bring your teddy bears. Fillmore is a small town in southern California's Ventura County; the tourist train has vintage Pullman cars and its route runs through a "heritage valley."
Vancouver, BC: Stanley Park Christmas Train
Families board the miniature railway in Vancouver's famed Stanley Park for a short ride on a decorated route. This nightly event, which continues into January, is called "Bright Nights." Near the railroad, a giant display of lights is created every year to benefit the Fire Fighters' Burn Fund.
The Christmas Train
In Dry Gulch U.S.A. -- a camp and retreat center on Lake Hudson, an hour from Tulsa Oklahoma -- guests enjoy an Old West setting, a ride on a steam locomotive, wagon rides, carousel rides, live music show, and more. Sells out early.
Many more Christmas train rides at Traintravelling.org, organized by regions.
*Always check websites for updates!