All Aboard The Polar Express (More Like Hot Mess Express)
Before I get started, let me make it very clear that this is not a sponsored post. After failing to procure tickets to this event last year in not one or two but three states, you can imagine my elation when I managed to score tickets for our family of five the day they went on sale during the first week of September.
Let this be the first takeaway of this post: Set a calendar reminder (or seven) for yourself around the time these tickets go on sale next year, this way you won't feel like a total mom-fail when yet another year goes by without crossing "The Polar Express" off of your family holiday bucket list.
I spent the following three months counting down the days to when I could surprise the boys with their new matching pajamas and tickets to board their beloved Christmas train. Truth be told, I wasn't sure who would be more excited, my husband and I or the boys.
Finally, the day had arrived! Unsure of what boarding time I should purchase our tickets for, I sprung for the 12:45pm departure, assuming by that time the boys would be fed, nappers napped and ready for the excitement that lay ahead.
It was highly recommended that we arrive one hour prior to our scheduled boarding time (we're talking bold, italics and emphasized in numerous email updates) and so we set out to arrive at the station at 11:45am.
For what it's worth, kids ages 2-12 require full price children's tickets. Personally I find it hard to believe that a 2 year old should cost the same as a 12 year old but since it's all for the memory-making, we purchased three $38 children's coach seats. This was in addition to two $48 adult coach seats bringing the total cost of our ticket sales to a little more than $230 with taxes and other fees.
One of the things I found most frustrating was that a lot of the "upgrades" catered to families of four or less. For instance, there were "table" seats you could purchase but they only came with 4 seats. Even though we had to pay full price for our 2 year old's ticket, he didn't even get a full seat to himself! Thankfully the boys were small enough to share a 2-seater bench, otherwise one of us would have had to sit in a separate row!
Due to my anxious early-bird nature, we arrived at 11:30am and were already diverted to an overflow parking lot where we were notified that we wouldn't be lining up to enter the station until closer to 12pm. Thankfully there was an entire parking lot filled with old train cars that we could explore and in conjunction with the warmer-than-usual 75* November weather, the boys had no problem walking around outside.
Here's where I should've known it wouldn't be the last time we'd be waiting in line.
Once we were allowed to enter the building, we waited in line only to be told where to find the next line we'd be waiting in. Sure there were some booths set up where the kids could play games, play with toy trains and even enjoy a hot dog from a concession stand but the entire area was incredibly congested and it was recommended that we immediately get in line, cattle-style, in accordance to seating class (first or coach).
Do you know what little kids suck at? Waiting in line.
Once we got in line in our designated coach class corral we waited and we waited some more. Fifteen minutes into waiting, a C-class magician appeared and performed several tricks to captivate the attention of the kids. If you happened to be standing in the front row, great. If you happened to be anywhere else and under five feet tall, fat chance you were going to be able to see (or hear) anything.
During this time, word trickled in that there would be an "exciting show," the whole reason we lined up here in the first place- but it wasn't until we sang several Christmas songs with some merry carolers that the "show" began.
As the theme music began to play and the conductor called out "All Aboard!" I'll admit that a lump in my throat began to form. Seeing the boys' eyes light up big as saucers was nothing short of amazing but just like that the "show" was over and it was time to board the train. This was approximately fifty-five minutes after we lined up inside the building. Fifty-five minutes of trying to keep little ones from licking the train station floor. Fifty minutes of trying to keep them from swinging from the velvet ropes, of trying to keep them contained within the family unit and not making a run for it through the congested station museum.
I wish there was a way we could've bypassed this part entirely and arrived just in time to board the train.
Once aboard the train, everyone was buzzing with excitement. We were about to depart for a 45 minute train ride during which we'd be treated to an audio recording of The Polar Express story as well as hot chocolate and cookies. This boys enjoyed themselves immensely. Not only was it the first time they'd ever ridden on a train but they truly felt like they were in the movie headed right for the North Pole. It was almost cute enough to take our minds off of how grossly hot and stuffy the train car was. (In some of the pictures you can see the boys' pink cheeks and sweaty heads).
Halfway into the loop, the train stopped to pick up a special passenger. Spoiler alert, it's Santa himself! I will never forget seeing the boys' expressions when they laid eyes on the man in the big red suit. That alone made the money spent more than worth it and while I know we will never, ever do this again, in that moment I was so happy we splurged on the tickets and could give our boys the experience.
Santa visited with each child on the train and presented them with their very own bell. It was as adorable and heartwarming as it sounds. Once Santa made his way through the entire train, we had arrived back at the station, err, the North Pole, and disembarked into a snowy winter wonderland.
It was here in the North Pole that you could have your picture taken as a family against a scenic backdrop (for a small price) as well as walk through attractions such as model electric train exhibits, LEGO train exhibits and the rest of the regular railroad museum which included hands-on historic train cars you could walk through and a children's corner filled with train tables galore.
All in all I wish there was a way to avoid waiting in line for so long- that undoubtedly made the beginning of our adventure a little more stressful and chaotic than I would've liked. Perhaps they could've set up metal chairs so that we all had a place to sit to enjoy the "show" (magician, carolers, etc) and all of the kids, no matter where they were in line, had a view of the entertainment. Otherwise, that portion of the afternoon was a complete and total bust.
For the price we paid, I can't say that I'm not a little bit disappointed in the experience. Ultimately the boys had an awesome time and I know it will be something they talk about for months to come. That alone made it worth the trip but it's definitely not something we'd do again. After all, how many times can you really take your kids to the North Pole before they start catching on? Or before it loses its magic?
Overpriced? Yes. Too much waiting in line? Yes. Seeing your kids overcome with Christmas wonderment and the magic of The Polar Express? Worth it- but I have to ask myself, "don't they feel the same way when they sit on Santa's lap at the mall?" Pretty much, and it costs me about $200 less.
If you're on the fence about buying your family tickets to this event, at least you can consider yourself forewarned. Perhaps, even a bit more prepared with snacks (and other accouterments) to keep your kids occupied during the down time. Bringing someone along under the age of 3? Bring a soft-structured carrier or something else that you could use to wear them for a bit during the waiting in line parts. Not only would this give them a better view of the "entertainment" but it would also keep them from licking floors and trying to make a run for it.
But don't think about bringing your kids a drink because once you leave the parking lot, it'll be at least two hours before you have access to the potty... Check that off the Family Christmas Bucket List!
If you're wondering, we experienced The Polar Express out of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD and I ordered the boys' matching pajamas here: