Polar Express Train Ride

by Alli

Our family had so much fun in the picturesque town of Bryson City, North Carolina. The main event was the Polar Express Train Ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad with the grandkids. It was a perfectly wintry night for a trip to see Santa at the North Pole!

Let me tell you all about it!

We Arrived On Thursday!

We arrived on a Thursday to spend the weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

I purchased our train tickets a couple of weeks earlier for the 5:00 PM train ride on Friday night. We had plenty of time for sightseeing, playing cards, pool, foosball, and hanging out by the fire pit making s’mores.

Make sure to carve out time to browse the shops in Bryson City. I found several old cookbooks at a secondhand book store. 

Boarding The Polar Express! 

The grandkids were over-the-moon excited as we waited to board the train on Friday evening for the 5:00 PM ride. And I was impressed at how fast the train was loaded and how very nice the “chefs” were.

Helpful Hint: If you arrive early, you can tour the train museum (free with the purchase of train tickets), have pictures made with Santa (extra cost), and enjoy treats from the snack bar.

Polar Express Train Ride in the Smoky Mountains

When we walked into the Carolina Shine car, I quickly noticed the beautiful Christmas decor and the plush captain’s chairs. We each had a large bag of assorted candy waiting on our tables.

After the train pulled away from the station, a recording, set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, begin to play.

What Happens On The Polar Express Train Ride

The chefs served delicious hot cocoa in a take-home mug (a real mug, non-plastic) and chocolate chip cookies. The hot cocoa was not overly hot; it was the perfect temperature for the little ones!

Polar Express Train Ride

Special Note:  I was told that the train’s capacity was 700 people and I do believe it was full. There were two more trips that night following ours!  

Our train car held 16 (including our 8). 

Helpful Hint: Lots of kids and adults wear their PJs (cute, like the movie). We didn’t. I don’t really do PJ’s in public, but that’s just me. But if we do it again, the kids will definitely wear their pajamas. 

Polar Express Train Ride

After boarding the train, the conductor came by and punched the kids’ golden tickets. And we were off on an adventure!

Smoky Mountains Railroad featuring the Polar Express

The chef assigned to our car kept the children entertained by dancing and singing at the top of his lungs until it was time for the reading of The Polar Express.  

In walked another chef with a great big book so that the children could see the pictures as the recording was piped throughout the cars.

Polar Express Train Ride

Polar Express Train Ride

When we arrived at the North Pole, we saw elves, a hobo, and  Santa’s house. We also saw where Rudolf and Frosty lived!

All of the homes were decorated to the hilt with lights and greenery. Santa boarded the train, greeted each child, and gave them all a silver sleigh bell.

Santa boarding the train on the Polar Express

On the return trip to the Bryson City train depot, we were all given a brochure of Christmas lyrics. The chef invited us all to sing along with him and to request our favorite carols.  

Then our freshly washed mugs were given back to us, packed in bubble wrap. We also received a nice bag to carry our candy bags and mugs (one per family).

Riding the Polar Express

We had such a good time riding the Polar Express. And the next morning our 3-year-old grandson asked if we could do it again.

Polar Express Train Ride to the North Pole

Fun Facts About The Polar Express Train Ride

Over 53,000 passengers rode THE POLAR EXPRESS with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in 2013! The 1 ΒΌ hour round-trip excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness for a special visit to the North Pole.

You can choose from standard/coach, crown class, and first-class seating.  We purchased first-class seating. It includes the candy bags and the Polar Express souvenir mug.

THE POLAR EXPRESS begins its trek to the North Pole in November and operates through Jan 1st. You can click here to get more information and to buy your tickets. 

It’s been several years since we rode The Polar Express. We made so many sweet memories and the grandkids still talk about that magical train ride. And, the youngest grandkids want to do it again. So do I! 

What special traditions do you have planned for the holidays?

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Originally posted in November 2014 and updated (links, info, etc.) on October 16, 2021


Shirley Wood November 19, 2014 - 8:04 am

It sounds like a fun time for everyone, especially those precious grand children! Beautiful pictures. I really like that mug and they washed it!
We rode the Sam Shortline last year during Christmas season and plan to go again because it was so much fun!
Pinning to my Places board.

Melinda Snavley November 19, 2014 - 8:55 am

Looked like the boys loved it!! We will have to come one day and do that. I would love that!!!

Alli November 19, 2014 - 3:24 pm

I know you would. Come on down!

Paris (My Big Fat Happy Life) November 19, 2014 - 10:14 am

What a wonderful memory for you and the grands! It sounds like such a fun trip! I wish we had a similar train ride here – I would definitely take S.

Kristen from The Road to Domestication November 19, 2014 - 1:28 pm

Oh how fun! I’ve ridden the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad during the summer, but never for this! What a neat event!

Rebekah November 19, 2014 - 1:37 pm

This was an amazing train ride. The kids absolutely loved it! We had such a good time embarrassing you on the train. πŸ™‚ jk

Kita November 19, 2014 - 3:54 pm

Awww I love it I wonder if they have any near me in GA I need to find out this would be a great experience for the holidays.

Alli November 20, 2014 - 1:33 pm

I don’t know of any in GA. You may have to make a weekend trip to NC. πŸ™‚

Cait November 19, 2014 - 4:03 pm

It was awesome!! Even for adults! πŸ˜€

Alli November 20, 2014 - 1:32 pm

Yes it was!

Amanda Smith November 19, 2014 - 4:40 pm

Well that just looks like it was awesome! I’d love to take my grandkids to that before they get too big.

Alli November 20, 2014 - 1:32 pm

It was so much fun! The adults had almost as much fun as the kids.

Bonnie November 21, 2014 - 6:00 pm

That sounds like such a fun trip. I love the Smokey Mountains but haven’t been there in many years. Thanks so much for sharing your trip at the Home Matters Link Party!

Ashley ~ 3 Little Greenwoods November 21, 2014 - 6:07 pm

We rode the Polar Express Train when our children will much smaller and it was so much fun! I love making memories with our family!

Great tips!
~ Ashley

April hunter July 16, 2015 - 11:39 pm

i have wanted to do this for 2 years now. Now all the family wants to go but having a hard time finding a place for 8 adults & 2 kids. Can you tell me where y’all stayed or who you booked through?

Desiree September 10, 2015 - 11:03 pm

We are doing it this Christmas! Where did you guys stay? We are looking for a fun place to stay! Thanks.

Alli September 11, 2015 - 6:36 am

We rented a cabin through a local rental agency. It had a firepit out back and we made s’mores, etc. It was such a fun weekend. The kids AND the adults had a blast. I believe it was called Bryson City Vacation Rentals.

Becky Norvell July 7, 2016 - 1:27 pm

Do you remember which side faced Santa’s Village? I’m going to book our tickets online but I didn’t know which seats to pick.

Alli July 7, 2016 - 1:47 pm

Santa’s Village is on the left side of the train. It’s so much fun!


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