We have heard about The Polar Express for years and it has always been sold out before we could get a chance to grab tickets. This year, we were able to book early and get the day and time that we wanted. Win-win!
First, Our Experience at The Polar Express
The short version
The adults and the kids absolutely LOVED it. Sincerely. It was a blast.
The long version
It was the first time that we have ever been to the Bryson City area and we really did not know what to expect. Honestly, when we pulled into the town, we were a bit worried. It is tiny and looked a little run down. Then we pulled up to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad parking area…it was a different world.
The whole area looked like a Christmas village. All of the businesses were lit up and lined with lights. There’s food shops, gift shops, chocolate shops, and much more. I wish we would have known because we would have grabbed a meal there instead of at the Subway up the road.
The ticket area for the trip was just as you would imagine an old fashioned ticketing booth would look, though it is small. They request that only one member of your party enter to pick up tickets.
There is an amazing train museum on the grounds that has several model railroads set up and will fascinate the kids (and the adults, too) for a good while if you have some time to waste.
There is a tent area with picnic tables where they have The Polar Express movie showing. While we did not take advantage of this, it would be a great spot to enjoy the movie, eat some popcorn or to bring some food from the local eateries to.
Santa and Mrs. Claus have an area set up, as well. This is mainly for photographs, though. You may be able to just go in and see Santa, but we did not spend any time here, either.
We went the day before Christmas Eve for the 6:30PM trip. All together, the voyage was just over an hour, but it seemed like only a moment. The staff and crew of The Polar Express were all joyful and helpful. They seemed to enjoy what they were doing as much as the visitors enjoyed the experience. Our car was decorated up for Christmas and had a gift bag and locally made chocolate bars waiting for each person.
The windows were fogged up for the most part, but since most trips are in the dark, there is not much to see until you get to the North Pole.
The crew does a great job of making sure you find your way and have all that you need. The visitors to the car really bring home the story of The Polar Express, including the Hobo (our favorite). He really brought the story alive for a group of non-believers that couldn’t hear the silver bell ring when we were on the initial let of the trip.
The hot chocolate song and dance was fun and the actual hot chocolate was very good. The whipped cream on top was easily the best I’ve ever had. It was almost a meal unto itself. The ceramic mug that we received was beautifully done and was not just a cheapo mug. I was impressed.
As we rolled into the North Pole, we were able to see Santa’s home, the workshop, the stables where the reindeer are housed, and we were greeted by a waving Santa and his elves in the flesh. Up to that point, it was fun for the kids, but once they saw the North Pole and Santa, the awe really set in.
Singing Christmas carols on the way back was a lot of fun and everyone participated, but (for us, anyways) the best part was the surprise visit by Santa. He stopped by each table and spoke individually to everyone, especially the kids. My son, ever the antagonist, asked him if he was the real Santa. Without hesitation, Santa leaned over and told him to try the beard. After a quick and gentle tug on the beard, my son’s eyes were as large as half-dollars. He was sold. It was wonderful.
Santa gave each person a very nice and engraved silver bell with a leather strap which was the icing on the cake. These bells will adorn our Christmas tree for years to come.
We had a blast. So much so that the grandparents, aunt, and uncle are coming with us next year.
If you can, go. It is a magical experience that we will never forget.
How early did we order our tickets this year? August 1. No joke.
I recommend signing up for their newsletter to keep up with when tickets go on sale so that you can be sure to enjoy the ride this year. (Scroll to the footer of any page to sign up for the newsletter.)
Which tickets should I get?
There is no right or wrong answer here. Get what is best for your family and your budget. There are several classes of service and pricing available that range from $28 (lowest kids price) to $91 (highest adult price).
How can I find out more and get tickets?
Please visit the Polar Express page of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website. It breaks down the pricing, what you get for each service class and car, and includes videos of the trip and surrounding village. It also allows you to book your tickets, though I will admit that the ticket ordering process is not that great and is a bit cumbersome.
Not to sound completely redundant, but it was a great time. My three year old still runs around the house singing the “hot chocolate” song and telling everyone she sees about riding on The Polar Express.
I hope your time was as magical as ours.