Polar Express train ride not as magical as expected

by SARA MARSHALL//Editor-in-Chief

WOLFFORTH – The crisp fall air is already filled with sounds of carols and smells of wood fires as the holiday season draws near. Christmas time is undoubtedly for childlike wonder and innocence.

“The Polar Express” was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and published in 1985 by Houghton Mifflin. This children’s book features a mysterious journey to the North Pole aboard The Polar Express train, which is filled with children on their way to meet Santa. 

Tom Hank’s take on Allsburg’s “The Polar Express” has become a Christmas-movie classic in the hearts of children today, filling homes with fun songs and dreams of Christmas. Full of adventure, friendship and several humorous mishaps, “the Polar Express” has delighted audiences of all ages with hot chocolate, an energetic conductor and the importance of believing in “Christmas magic.”

Taking the movie experience one step further, families and young children across West Texas can enjoy the same thrill Chris experienced on the Polar Express from Nov. 19 through Dec. 23.

Departure times from the Polar Express Depot, located in Wolfforth, include 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., though not all days have these times offered. The ride itself lasts for an hour, during which time chefs will sing, dance and serve hot cocoa and cookies to all the guests aboard the train.

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On Nov. 19, I attended the attraction’s opening night. As a young child I was fascinated by how magical and wonderful Christmas felt, and I can tell this train ride is trying to embody that unique spirit. But due to outrageous ticket pricing and stark differences in accommodations, I can tell there are some serious drawbacks to Wolfforth’s take on The Polar Express.

I do not recommend this ride unless you have small children and money is not a problem for you. Though, maybe that’s the real point of this train ride, that it is only for small children and for families who can afford the extra price to have a catered experience.

The train ride starts out from the Wolfforth Train Station, which has been made into the Polar Express-themed train depot. Excited actors race around the area as children beg for their photos to be taken with the elves or the various conductors.

For those seated in standard class, the experience pales in comparison to what had been advertised, which I came to find out was the first-class and diamond-class experiences. The lighting was terrible in the train car, and the car itself was extremely outdated. Those in first class and diamond class had much better accommodations, but they also paid a pretty penny for it.

The staff and actors created a phenomenal atmosphere by singing along to classic Christmas carols, acting out parts of the movie and reading Allsburg’s “The Polar Express.” Each chef, elf and conductor encouraged the participation of each child in my train car. Though some were shy at first, the children warmed up to the idea quickly. The giggles and happiness of the kids and actors created a genuinely joyful experience for everyone there.

All-in-all, the entire experience was pretty good, and I can see the immense appeal for young families with little kids. But I seriously wish it were more like the mind-blowing Christmas experience they advertise and less like an hour-long train ride with Christmas music.

You can experience this Christmas adventure for more than $40 a ticket, marginally good hot chocolate and a tolerable train ride in Standard Class. Or, for substantially more money, The Polar Express Train Ride may honestly be a remarkable experience for families and young children. But for those of us who cannot afford $70 or more per person, we’ll have to just dream of warm cocoa, comfortable seats and quality lighting of the First Class and Diamond Class cars.

Personally, I would rather sit at home with an endless mug of hot chocolate, wrapped up in my fuzziest blanket and wearing my softest pajamas while enjoying The Polar Express on the big screen with my little sister. I’m a firm believer in making your own “Christmas Magic.”

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