By Ammie Bryant, Editor
We’ve shared several stories over the last couple of months about the Polar Express Train Ride coming to Stillwater and our excitement for what this special holiday event brings to our town. We’ve read stories and seen friends and family posting their experiences on social media and we are pleased to finally be able to share our own Polar Express Train Ride story.
(Quick note: We’ve noticed that many people thought that the Polar Express was sold out, but as of this writing that is not true! Throughout the 2016 season of the Polar Express, Standard Class seating remained mostly available. While in many cases the First Class and Diamond Class seats were sold out, Standard Class often has been available. You can purchase tickets online more than 24 hours in advance or at the toll free number 855-487-1430. Representatives are available 7 days a week from 7 am to 7 pm CST. Any unsold tickets will be available at the depot on a first come, first served basis.)
Unfortunately, my husband and SLM’s Sales Director, Jefferson Bryant was unable to join us because he was out of town on a business trip. So it was just me and our three kids, Jason, Josie, and Ben. Our kids are older but they still had fun.
To understand why this was a special experience for our family, it’s important to know a bit of back story. The Polar Express movie was released in 2004–when my youngest child was still an infant. Each of our children experienced a special Polar Express day in either Pre-K or Kindergarten with their teacher Ms. Kena. On this day, they went to school in their PJs, had hot cocoa and cookies while their school Principal, Kurt Baze, acted as the conductor and read the story to them, then they watched the movie.
As we picked up our golden tickets and waited to board the train, my oldest son grinned, “Hey I wonder what Mr. Baze would think of them taking his idea?” To which I responded, “You give Mr. Baze an awful lot of credit for being the only one to have the idea.” He was kidding, but there is a part of him that will always and forever associate The Polar Express with his beloved grade school principal because some of their earliest and best school memories were of Polar Express Day. They all agree that it was the best day of the school year.
Our reservations were for the 5:30pm train. We were advised to arrive thirty minutes early so that we could pick up our tickets. This also gave us a little time to stop in to visit the reindeer, Prancer and baby Rudy. Prancer was on the cover of our December issue and she was just as majestic as I remembered. The kids fell in love with them at first sight. Fun Fact: Did you know all of Santa’s reindeer (except for Rudy!) are female? The clue is in the antlers. Both male and female reindeer grow antlers and during certain times of the year you can tell the sex by whether or not they still have them. That is because males lose their antlers in the winter and females lose theirs in the spring, according to Nick Ledbetter of the Reindeer Club.
It was cold outside, so we hurried on over to the tent at the train station where everyone was gathered to pick up their tickets and do a bit of shopping in the gift shop while we waited for the arrival of the Eastern Flyer. When the train blew its whistle as it pulled into the station, I admit my heart jumped a little in excitement. I hadn’t ridden a real train since I was a little girl. I don’t count the train rides at amusement parks or the subway. My kids have never ridden a real train and they were pretty excited for the experience too.
Dusk was settling in as we boarded the train where we were greeted by the Polar Express chefs and shown to our seats. Once all were aboard the train, the chefs got the train car rocking with some song and dance and then passed out hot chocolate and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. In the background the movie soundtrack played.
Even though it was dark out as we rolled through Stillwater, we gazed through the window, picking out key points of interest that told us where we were in town. We could see MoJo’s and Mexico Joe’s as we crossed Hall of Fame and the kids in our car waved to the cars waiting at each train crossing.
As we headed out into the countryside, we listened to a recording of The Polar Express read by the book’s author, Chris Van Allsburg. The book was the inspiration for the movie.
Soon we arrived at the North Pole, where elves boarded the train along with Santa–bringing the first gift of Christmas.
Santa and his elves road back to the station with us. Santa made his way to the other cars while the elves stayed to play with the passengers in ours. They danced in the aisles and even played a rousing game of limbo. There was plenty of excitement to keep everyone entertained throughout the ride, including a visit from the Hobo as the Conductor ushered him off the train.
Before our Polar Express Train Ride Adventure came to an end back at the Stillwater Train Station, the Conductor also stopped by to punch our tickets.
Our experience riding The Polar Express was one that I know my kids and I will always remember. Next time–yes there will be a next time–we will be sure to plan it for a day when Jefferson can join us too.