I had an opportunity to ride the Polar Express with my husband and two young boys, and their grandparents. We had a spectacular time! Santa, cookies and milk, a special bell, and visit from Santa himself made this a night we will never forget!
Tickets sell out very quickly for this event. There are typically two tours each weekend, a 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Because we had a large party, we had to take the later time in order to get enough tickets. I was nervous about going so late (baby goes to bed about 6pm usually, and the kindergartener about 8pm,) but there was such excitement and so many interactions that it wasn’t an issue.
ARRIVAL , WAIT, and SEATING
You’ll arrive to the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum for boarding. There is a “depot” area to stay warm after getting your tickets from Will Call. There is also a small deli with sodas, chips, hot dogs and such for grabbing a bite to eat. You can’t take food on the train, so be sure to eat up before you board. Also, restrooms on the train are for emergencies only, so spend some time making sure everyone is taken care of before you get on the train.
About 30 minutes before departure, the line queues up outside, winding through the ropes set up on the platform, and around back into the building. We arrived early and stood in line out in the cold. If you do this, be sure to bundle up warm, as the wind whips around the platform.
Honestly, I’m not sure this was a necessary step. When we boarded, the staff pushed us to the next available seat (rather than letting us sit anywhere we wanted.) We probably would have still been able to sit together if we had waited in the depot area and queued the line late.
Seats are arranged in sets of four. Two seats facing another set of two seats, on both sides of the aisle. See my photo for a better understanding. You can see lights on both sides of the train, but as you approach the North Pole, Santa is outside waving on the right side of the train (the side opposite the boarding platform,) so grab a seat on that side if you have a choice.
HEADING TO THE NORTH POLE
The inside lights are on for the beginning of the trip towards the North Pole. Each train is assigned one of Santa’s Helpers who reads The Night Before Christmas. Then the lights dim as the train barrels through the Magic Tunnel towards the North Pole. The lights come on in the train again, and more of Santa’s helpers pass out chocolate milk and gingerbread cookies. Let them know if your kiddo has a milk allergy, they have a chocolate alternative.
Just as trash is being collected, the train rolls into the North Pole. As I mention above, Santa is on the right waving to the kids on the train. Everyone stays on the train, waiting for Santa to board. Also, the engine (a real steam engine in our case – sometimes a Diesel) makes a turn on the turntable. You can’t see the turntable, but you can see the engine ride by, making it’s way to the other side of the train, preparing to pull us back to the starting point.
ON THE WAY BACK
As we head back to the station, Santa makes his way through the train. He spends about five minutes with each family, personally. He will pose with your kids (if they are not too shy,) and talk with them about what they want for Christmas.
This is the best Santa I have ever seen in my 40 years!! His eyes twinkle, his cheeks are red and glowing, his hair is pure white! His charming personality will captivate your heart! This Santa isn’t acting – he is the real deal! I wanted to hug him tight, and reminisce about my childhood Christmases, because I was sure he would remember them!
Before he leaves your family, everyone receives a Christmas bell, like the Polar Express story. While he continued his way through the train, we sang Christmas songs and finished our cookies and milk.
About half-way through, the train comes to a stop to let Santa off. He has to head back to the North Pole. We then make our way back to the station full force. Overall, the ride was about 2 hours.
This is a fantastic experience you will want to make into a family tradition. I can’t think of anything that went wrong, or any way that I would change it! The Santa brings it all to life - he embodies the true magic of the holiday! Don’t miss this!
Disclosure: Thank you to TVRail and Chattanooga CVB for hosting my family and me. My opinion that this event is a "Can't Miss" is all my own - no one paid me to say it.