Saratoga & North Creek Railway Polar Express: No-Car Santa Train Getaway
The Polar Express book and film have spawned lots of holiday train rides that bring the story to life. There are several of these special seasonal train trips in New Jersey and Connecticut where kids can meet Santa. And this year, we discovered another Polar Express train in upstate New York that you can get to via public transportation. So now you can create holiday magic and memories whether you have a car or not. You can find more seasonal day trip ideas in our Holiday Fun Guide.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway Polar Express is a deluxe trip featuring dancing chefs who serve hot cocoa and homemade butter cookies; a reading of the namesake story; and an individual visit with Santa Claus and his elves for every child as the train heads to the North Pole and back. The train cars are new and comfortable. Upgrade to First or Diamond Class and you’ll sit in elegant dining cars with plush leather seats.
I was invited to bring my ten-year-old on the SNCR Polar Express. He was dubious, being a bit old for the Santa thing, but even he couldn’t help but be swept up in the magic. The train was filled with adorable children in their PJs excited to see Santa and travel to the North Pole.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway Polar Express leaves from the Saratoga Springs train station, easily accessible via Amtrak, so you don't need a car. If you’ve never been to Saratoga Springs, it’s a great little town. Although the famous racetrack is closed during the winter, there’s enough to occupy your family if you opt for a weekend getaway. A cab into town from the Amtrak station is only $5, and there are plenty of reasonably priced hotels, cute shops and excellent restaurants.
We spent our afternoon strolling the town, hitting a used bookstore, browsing knickknacks at an antique shop, picking up homemade chocolates at Kilwins, and then refueling on excellent sandwiches, treats and hot tea at Mrs London’s Bakery. In Congress Park, you’ll find several of the namesake natural springs (you can even taste the minerally water from fountains) and a large flock of ducks. Youngsters should also enjoy a visit to the local children's museum.
Saratoga Springs has a number of good restaurants, but I never miss a chance to go to the Circus Cafe, a big-top-themed eatery with high chairs and a children’s menu. The food is good and reasonably priced, but the experience and atmosphere are what make it special. Popcorn is served before the meal and we always order the cotton candy dessert: an enormous mountain of pink cotton candy served on a plate, perfect for sharing.
Overall, this was a great holiday trip. My son was ecstatic and I know it’s a memory we will treasure for years to come. Starting at $30 per adult and $20 per child, the SNCR Polar Express is more expensive than other Santa trains we’ve written about, but it makes for a wonderful seasonal weekend trip, especially if you're looking for a car-free getaway. SNCR also runs other special scenic trains, including a snow train for skiing at Gore Mountain, an Easter train with an egg hunt and a pumpkin picking train around Halloween. Find out more at sncrr.com.
Check out more seasonal magic in our Holiday Fun Guide.