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 ¼ 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