The Polar Express is a Christmas tradition.
Published in 1985, Chris Van Allsburg wrote and illustrated the beloved New York Bestseller about a boy who boards a mysterious train on Christmas Eve in the 1950s, and learns the magic and wonder of believing in Christmas.
In 1986, The Polar Express was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal.
In 1987, I started kindergarten. We would gather in the floor of the open-concept library at the center of our elementary school at the foot of our librarian, Janet Kolff. Every year, she would read us the award-winning book that would become a classic.
You never outgrow The Polar Express.
In 2004, the book became a film starring Tom Hanks using live-action motion-capture animation. My kids had the benefit of having both the film and going to readings of The Polar Express at Christmas events in Crossville.
They fell in love with the story, too.
As a Christmas present for the family, my husband and I took the kids to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad for The Polar Express family train ride out of Bryson City, NC.
Families came in droves dressed in their pajamas, like the characters in the book, and boarded the train for 75-minute round-trip to the North Pole and back to the Bryson City Depot. The train chefs and elves served up hot cocoa and Santa’s favorite, gingersnap cookies, made by Mrs. Claus. Along the train ride to the North Pole, a reading of The Polar Express resonated over the train intercom, integrated with the memorable musical soundtrack from the film for fun sing-a-longs with the passengers.
The North Pole was beautifully decorated with thousands of twinkle lights, a panorama of an idyllic Christmas that inspired the children (and several adults) to press their faces against the icy glass windows to take in the scenery.
On the way back to the station, Santa made an appearance, taking the time to meet every passenger in every car and giving each a silver bell from his sleigh.
Singing Christmas carols as we arrived back at the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad station, we realized that the magic wasn’t just imagined, heard or viewed, it was experienced.
As we settled in for the night, full of hot cocoa and gingersnaps with our shiny silver sleigh bells, our starry eyes fell heavy into a slumber of “believe.”
North Pole Express
Tennessee Central Railway Museum
This popular Nashville attraction also hosts excursions, including the North Pole Express on select dates in November and December.
The train features three classes of seating; dining, coach and dome. This is one of the longest Christmas-themed train rides you can find anywhere in the United States, a 45-mile round trip lasting 2 hours.
North Pole Limited
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Another fine Tennessee heritage railroad can be found in Chattanooga, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
They host numerous trips throughout the year including several events for Christmas; the North Pole Limited, running in November and December, is the marquee attraction.
During the 75-minute ride kids have the chance to see Santa, listen to a Christmas tale, sing songs, see lighted displays, enjoy refreshments and travel to the North Pole.
Christmas Lantern Express
Three Rivers Rambler
The Christmas Lantern Express is just that, festive holiday trains pulled by a live steam locomotive (Southern Railway 2-8-0 #154, built by the Schenectady Works in 1890). These trains typically operate every weekend from the Friday after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas. The entire trip lasts over 2 hours.
The Polar Express
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Bryson City, NC
The Polar Express with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is back in 2023! The 1¼ hour round-trip passenger excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness for a special visit at the North Pole. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while listening and reading along with the magical story. Children’s faces show the magic of the season when the train arrives at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa will board The Polar Express, greeting each child and presenting them with a special gift as in the story, their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung as they return back to the Bryson City Depot.
Runs in November and December, through the end of the year.