Fun and Smiles on the Polar Express

A passenger train full of large eyed kids in pajamas. And a conductor all decked out with blue suit, hat, and ticket punch, looking at his pocket watch as he shouts: “All aboard!” 

If you’ve had kids anytime in the last ten years, you’ll recognize the scenes from the 2004 hit movie “Polar Express.” I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the movie with my 5 year old, and heard “Can we ride the Polar Express?” So we decided to see if we could make that happen. 

Last weekend, I had a chance to take him to French Lick, IN to ride a real train, decked out like the train in the movie. They had the conductor, porters and hot chocolate scene, a bunch of dancing elves, and even a visit from Santa himself! It was pretty amazing. 

Each car had about 20 families, our own conductor, and four dancing elves. Our conductor was a distinguished gentleman in his late sixties who played the role well. Our elves were all enthusiastic young ladies of high school age who were quite at home on the stage (in this case, train).

After boarding, we found our seats, which were reversible, so families could sit together. It was a period car that showed quite a bit of age, but still was serviceable. We waited another 15 minutes before the train began rolling precisely at 5:30.

There were ten different cars in the train, ranging from older coaches like the one we were on, to newer, more elegant cars. We’ll have to try that sometime. This was the inaugural trip for the Christmas season, and the local police stopped traffic for us as the train slowly rolled through the small town of French Lick. 

This is nothing new to them. One of five such Polar Express productions around the country, they run different themed trains throughout the year, including Thomas the Train and of course, the Polar Express. 

What was surprising to me is that many (if not most) of the actors were volunteers, like our elves and conductor. The elves were well prepared, delivering their lines right on cue, and singing and dancing to all the songs from the movie. 

They also engaged the kids personally, even inviting them to dance with them. Picture 20 kids in p.j.’s all dancing in the center aisle with a bunch of elves. It was kind of like a Wiggles concert on wheels, but it worked!

After they served up hot chocolate and cookies complete with gymnastics and dancing, we headed through a long tunnel, which gave you the feeling of going faster. We continued up the line to the North Pole where Santa was waiting at the station!

Once he was on board, the engineer reversed the train and we made our way back to the main station. There was more singing and dancing with the elves while Santa worked his way through the train car by car. 

Finally, he arrived and talked with each child in our car, including my own wide-eyed little man. Each one received a Christmas sleigh bell, just like the boy did in the movie. He’s actually still ringing it as I’m writing this!

I’d say this was a big win. They all did a really good job, and my son was left with some great memories: “I’m wishing on a star, and trying to believe. And even though it’s far, He’ll find me Christmas Eve.” (from Polar Express, “When Christmas Comes To Town” by Matthew Hall and Meagan Moore).

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