The Polar Express train ride is a holiday activity that brings to life the the iconic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. The experience is fashioned after the 2004 Warner Bros. Pictures animated motion picture. Whether you are a fan of the movie, book, or both, riding the Polar Express during the holidays is a magical and memorable experience for children of all ages.

With Santa onboard the Polar Express

Photo courtesy of Jana Seitzer, Geek Traveling Mom

The Magic of a Polar Express Train Ride

We’ve gone on a Polar Express ride every year for the last 10 years, and each time it’s a new experience. Even if you have non-Santa believers in your house, they can still have fun.

Up until last year, my son even loved playing along for the benefit of his three younger sisters, two of whom still believe in the magic of Christmas. But I think last year was the last year for him. He’s too cool for school, or the Polar Express, which is fine. The girls still love it. Overall, this is a great activity for children of almost any age beginning from around 2 and up and families of any size.

With the Conductor onboard the Polar Express

Photo courtesy of Jana Seitzer, Geek Traveling Mom

Watch the Polar Express Come to Life

There are Polar Express rides across the country. Probably the most popular is the Polar Express Arizona on the Grand Canyon Railway.

While each location offers a slightly different event, they will all be similar.


Plan to board the festively-decorated train in your pajamas, just as the children in the movie and book do.Then watch the story come to life as the Conductor punches your ticket. The Hobo who may try to drink your hot chocolate while listening to music from the movie soundtrack may be on your train car — if you’re lucky.

The servers might sing and dance. Or they might not. But you will have holiday fun Polar Express style, regardless.

Certinaly, the chefs will serve hot chocolate and cookies and read The Polar Express book.

Meet Santa Claus and Visit the North Pole

Along the ride to the “North Pole,” we have joined with fellow passengers singing Christmas carols. Once we get to the North Pole, we get to meet Santa and his elves, and possibly his reindeer. Once at the North Pole or on the way to the North Pole, all of the children on the train will have a chance to meet Santa and whisper their Christmas wishes to him. On our ride, the kids then were given Santa’s special signature Polar Express gift—a silver sleigh bell.

Drinking hot chocolate onboard the Polar Express

Photo courtesy of Jana Seitzer, Geek Traveling Mom

Bring Your Camera on the Polar Express

Throughout the experience, you’ll have lots of opportunities to take photos, so make sure you bring your camera. Whether you want to take a photo of your child with the Conductor, the Chef, or Santa, there will be ample opportunities to capture the magic of the event. Think about creative ways to preserve the memories, such as in a scrapbook or journal. You’ll probably have a ticket to keep and your conductor may even come around and punch the ticket for you.

Before You Board the Polar Express Train

Most locations will have day and evening rides. If your kids can handle the later ride, I highly recommend going on a ride at dusk or in the evening. Evening rides definitely help bring out the spirit of the event. My kids ask to go at dusk.

TravelingMom Tip: Make sure to watch the movie or read the book with your children before you go. They’ll be more engaged and prepared to see the characters act out the story. The Polar Express Train ride is much more fun if you’re familiar with the book or movie.

TravelingMom Bonus Tip: Buy your tickets early, especially if you want to ride in the week leading up to Christmas. The Polar Express Train rides often sell out.

Recommended Polar Express Locations

My kids and I have ridden the Polar Express in Oregon and Vermont. While each location was a little different in implementation, they were both well done and we had a blast. You can read a review about our most recent ride aboard the Mt. Hood Railroad Polar Express on my blog. We look forward to this magical holiday family event every year. And here’s a post about Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation Polar Express in Burlington, Vermont

Visit the Polar Express website for the location nearest you.

Which Polar Express train have you ridden? Would you recommend it? Please share in the comment section below.

A ride on the Polar Express brings to life the iconic book and movie. This classic Christmas story is celebrated on trains across the country. Find out what to expect on a Polar Express ride and get some tips for ensuring your kids get more from the experience!