The Polar Express Train Ride is a railway adventure where children’s Christmas dreams come true. Here’s everything you need to know about riding the Polar Express so that your family’s experience is all fun and NO stress.
Polar Express Train Ride Mt. Rainier 2016 Video
Our family rode the Polar Express Train in 2016 from the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum in Washington State. It was such an incredible experience and our kids have continued talking about it for an entire year. So, of course, we are riding the Polar Express again this year!
Fortunately, we learned a few things last year, to make our next Polar Express Train ride even better.
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Polar Express Train Ride Locations and Tickets
While we highly recommend the Polar Express Train ride at Mt. Rainier for our Washington readers, there are rides all over the country. In fact you can even ride the Polar Express in Canada and Great Britain!
You can head to the Polar Express Train Locations page to find the ride closest to you. They also have links to each railroad hosting a Polar Express Train, to make it easy to find more information and purchase tickets.
If you want to ride the Mt. Rainier Polar Express, you can get tickets here.
Every location is going to be different. Some locations will have bathrooms on the train, others won’t. Make sure to call the railroad company, or check for an FAQ page on their site to plan for things like parking, being indoors or outdoors before boarding, etc. We will give you tips specific to the Mt. Rainier Polar Express Train Ride a little further down.
I find it is much easier to purchase tickets by calling rather than using the online ticket system. The ticketing system for the Mt. Rainier ride is kind of painful to use, and definitely not mobile friendly. If you want to check multiple dates and times, you have to enter your info over and over. But the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly when I called. I was able to ask about the best vantage point for seeing the North Pole, being close to a bathroom (POTTY TRAINING!), and seating a large party together.
If you are hoping to take pictures or videos, keep the time of day in mind. We chose a late afternoon ride, so we at least had a little bit of light because we really wanted to capture these memories.
Also, at the Mt. Rainier location, there is a parking cost per vehicle. So make sure to buy those passes when you purchase your ticket. We carpool with Grandma and Grandpa to save a little money.
Polar Express Train Ride First Class or Coach
The biggest difference between the First Class and Coach cars for the Polar Express Train ride is that first class has tables. Coach is more like an airplane with seats and an aisle through the middle. You also get a souvenir Polar Express Mug per ticket in First Class.
If you can afford it, the tables are pretty convenient. We didn’t have to worry about spilling hot chocolate (Yeah, we got it! Hot hot! Oh we got it!), and our winter coats and diaper bag fit under the table really easily. It was also easy to see out the windows on either side because there weren’t big seat backs sticking up blocking the view.
The kids also felt so grown up getting to hold and read the Polar Express Book themselves since they could rest it on the table.
But honestly, don’t feel like you’re missing out if First Class isn’t in the budget. You will have a wonderful Christmas experience whichever car you ride in.
What to Bring and Wear on the Polar Express Train Ride
What to Bring:
The only item we feel is a MUST for riding the Polar Express is bringing our copy of the Polar Express book. They play a recording of the author reading the book over the speakers. While they do have staff stationed along the aisles holding copies of the book up for everyone to see, it’s a lot more engaging if kids have their own book to look at.
Here the staff person was very excited to show the kids that their daddy was actually one of the hot chocolate chefs in the book! They got a big kick out of that.
There is a whole lot of train and Polar Expressed themed items you can purchase while waiting to board the train. Grandma got Corban this adorable conductor hat, which he still wears regularly. We saw a LOT of kids dressed up in the hats and robes from the Polar Express, or carrying whistles and toy pocket watches, all purchased at the gift shop. But the gift shop is a bit pricey, so another option is getting some items in advance and surprising your kids with them once you’re there.
For instance, you can buy a plain blue bathrobe for about $20, even less if you can find it used.
You can also get a plain conductor’s cap for half the price of the Polar Express branded one. A couple other options you could get ahead of time are a train whistle, and a conductor’s pocket watch.
One thing you DON’T need to buy is a jingle bell, because Santa will give one to each child on the train.
What to Wear:
One of the really fun parts of riding the Polar Express is that so many people show up in their pajamas. Last year we only put the kids in pajamas, but this year all four of us will dress in pjs!
For riding the Polar Express at Mr. Rainier, you definitely need warm layers. There is a very small gift shop at the station, and a couple of restrooms, but the waiting area is all outdoors. We had the kids in long underwear, under their pajamas. Corban also wore a sweater under his since the train pajamas he wanted to wear were short sleeved.
Make sure to bring hats or winter coats with hoods, mittens, and warm socks with boots. It was wet and muddy walking from the parking to the station, so we were glad we had boots! There is also limited seating, so be prepared to get there early if you’re pregnant or unable to stand for very long and want to grab one of the few benches.
Once you’re on the train, it’s nice and warm, so you can strip off the extra layers and just wear your pajamas.
Polar Express Train Ride Tips: Families with Special Needs
We knew we were taking one family member with special needs on the Polar Express Train ride. My adult brother Jason is autistic, and we were SO impressed with how the staff (from the waiters and conductor, to Santa) picked up on his desire to be included in the kids’ activities and helped him participate.
What we didn’t know at the time, is that our son Corban has sensory processing disorder. In fact, it was the difficulty he had at the beginning of the Polar Express Train ride event that led us to discovering his struggles and getting into occupational therapy.
Prepare for NOISE:
When you are waiting for the Polar Express to arrive, you get to stand right next to the tracks. When the train pulled up, it blew its LOUD whistle and everybody jumped. But Corban didn’t just jump, he had a full blown panic attack. See below, me trying pretend everything’s okay and train noise is fun. Corban not believing me, Larkin just confused.
I had to bring him into the gift shop to get him to calm down and our sweet train loving boy, who had told me dozens of times that his dream was to be the boy who rides the Polar Express, would not leave the gift shop with out screaming, crying, and shaking uncontrollably.
Thankfully, I suddenly remembered that I had a pair of ear plugs in my wallet, leftover from trying to sleep on the plane for a work trip. He put in the ear plugs, then pulled on his hood, conductor cap, and put his mittened hands over his ears. That was enough noise protection to make him feel safe to leave the gift shop, but getting him on the train still took quite a bit of convincing.
Once we were on the train, he realized it was not going to be too loud, and was able to relax, and enjoy his cookie!
Prepare for food allergies:
Speaking of cookies, everyone who rides gets a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie. I don’t know if there are dairy free or gluten free options on any of the Polar Express Train rides, but you should ask ahead, or plan to bring your own if you have a child with food allergies.
On the Mt. Rainier Polar Express Train ride there are some tables reserved for handicapped seating. Make sure you call to reserve your tickets and communicate any other needs you might have for boarding and seating.
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Share your Polar Express Pictures and Videos!
If you ride the Polar Express, we’d love to see your and hear about your experience! Feel free to leave any tips you have in the comments below. You can also post photos and videos of your trip on our Facebook Page.
We hope our guide to riding the Polar Express Train was helpful, and that your family loves this experience as much as our does. See you at the North Pole!