Family traditions can be the best part of the holidays, and bringing the kids on a “real” Polar Express is one of the more exciting options in our area. These interactive experiences—there are several of them in the tri-state area—let families relive the magic of the story, while holiday photo opportunities abound.
We recently took a trip on the Catskill Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express in Kingston, which featured an amazing crew committed to delivering an unforgettable experience. We have what you need to know about riding this holiday train, including what to expect on your journey.
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Seats are configured in a variety of ways to accommodate different family sizes.
The Catskill Mountain Railways’ Polar Express is based on the 2004 movie, and the journey begins with a brief re-enactment of the boy boarding the train with his Golden Ticket. All families are issued their own Golden Tickets upon boarding, then seated by crew members inside train cars adorned with Christmas decorations.
Hot chocolate and cookies from local favorite Deisings Bakery are promptly delivered (you’re welcome to bring your own snacks if allergies are a concern). The Polar Express story is read over the loudspeaker, while crew members slowly walk down the aisles showing pages from massive copies of the book. It was admittedly a little hard for us to hear the story over the din of the excitement; we suggest bringing your own copy if you have one.
The train begins its slow, rumbling journey (about 30 minutes there and then 30 minutes back), and segments of the story are periodically re-enacted with the riders. We really can’t say enough about the kindness and authenticity of the crew. The conductor speedily punches the Golden Tickets with the kids’ initials, while the chefs lead the children in games and holiday singalongs. When my 5-year-old started getting a little unruly near the end—a late bedtime combined with heaping amount of sugar turns him a bit feral—they came over to distract with conversations about Santa. All are happy to take family photos and selfies.
Speaking of Santa: Sleigh bells are, of course, handed out to all those who believe in the big guy (yeah, it’s loud). When Santa joins the train, he makes his way down the car for photo opps and to listen to wish lists, spending one-on-one time with each family.
Yes, the hot chocolate is served with the song from the movie!
Tips for Riding the Polar Express
- This popular attraction sells out early. There are still a few slots open for 2016, and we suggest snatching them up immediately.
- It’s hard to pick a sweet-spot age for this activity. While Santa-believing little ones are sure to get the most wonderment out of the journey, we saw plenty of school-aged and even teen siblings who were happy to be along for the ride.
- Plan to arrive early. We got there 30 minutes prior to departure, and we were still near the back of the line. We suggest getting there even earlier to maximize the time you spend on the train. Attending with at least two adults helps so one can keep place on the line while everyone takes turns checking out the heated tent (more on that below) and posing in front of the train for photos.
- Although seats are first-come, first served, they do their best to seat families together. Our party of four had no trouble securing seats together.
- Wear your pajamas! We somehow forgot and were, by far, in the minority.
- Be prepared to use your flash if you’re on an evening train. The lights are pretty dim.
- Leave the strollers in the car.
- Inside the heated tent you can find souvenirs, chocolate and locally made candy canes from Altamarie’s Candies (yum). There are also some holiday-scene photo opportunities inside, and this is where you can find the Porta-a-potties. This brings us to …
- There are no bathrooms on the train. Keep this in mind before you board.
Top image credit: Catskill Mountain Railroad. All other photos by the author.