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In 2004, the Polar Express movie transformed the Christmas celebration scene for families. No longer was a mall visit to see Santa or a community light drive around enough. Now, kids know the magic that exists aboard the train to the North Pole to catch a glimpse of Santa and his elves hard at work.
Each holiday season, many families snag matching pajamas, yes, even for the dads, and the golden ticket to get them on board a Polar Express excursion in Arkansas.
Some expeditions are stationary, while others traverse the woods of the Ozark Mountains along a historic railway. What matters most is that passengers always know to ring the bell to break the spell and get a special visit from Santa.
Tips for Attending a Polar Express Train Excursion
Plan ahead and get your tickets early.
Grab matching pajamas or coordinating Christmas clothes for everyone in your group. It makes it more fun and usually helps people working the experience know who is together.
Lower your expectations and communicate your plans with the other adults in your group.
Make sure everyone gets naps the day of your outing.
If you plan to take many pictures, let your family know so they can cooperate. Then, find your perfect spot and grab as many pictures as you can as quickly as possible to ensure cooperation.
Plan to have dinner before or after your train ride at a nearby local diner. Make reservations if you can so there is less waiting when you are ready to eat.
Did I mention lower expectations? And make sure YOU are involved and have fun enjoying this time with your family!
Be present. Eat the cookie, drink the watered-down hot chocolate, and be as excited to find Santa as you know your kids are!
What if there are no events near me?
If it is too far to travel to one of the Polar Express experiences listed above, make your own experience for family or friends!
You could do something fun with just your nuclear family, plan an experience for your local church or grandkids, host an event as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit, or invite friends for a fun night in a central location.
Essential Elements for a Polar Express Experience Include:
Matching Christmas pajamas or similar attire
A train or conductor
Santa, elves, and Christmas characters
So, how can I create my own experience?
It’s easy to re-create the central elements of a Polar Express experience using just a little ingenuity.
Download the movie soundtrack and play it throughout your home or event space.
Call out a traditional “All Aboard” to get the evening started, and don a conductor hat if you dare.
With smaller kids, gather boxes and let them decorate them to look like a train. Or cut out train car shapes, wrap them with wrapping paper, and decorate them with other craft supplies.
Simply serve everyone a cup of hot cocoa with cookies. Or, you can set up a whole hot cocoa station.
As an activity, make a hot cocoa mix together to give away to neighbors and friends.
Set up a cookie decorating station – buy or make your cookies with stations for icing, sprinkles and fun toppings.
Invite someone to stop by dressed up as Santa, Mrs. Clause (because you know Santa is busy this time of year!), elves or reindeer.
Make Christmas crafts by preparing supplies or buying craft kits at a hobby or dollar store.
Let the kids act out or recreate one of their favorite scenes from the movie.
Make jingle bell bracelets by stringing jingle bells onto pipe cleaners. Or, if you can find a giant bell like they have on the Polar Express, tie a ribbon on the top and have one to hand out to each child.
End the night by piling in the car with your hot cocoa and driving around your neighborhood or community to see Christmas lights and fun decorations.
Then, come home and watch the movie together, cuddled under blankets by the Christmas tree.
Like most things during the holiday season, the Polar Express experience is all about creating a little magic. Children (and adults) love the anticipation of what might come next.
No one knows your family and group of friends quite like you do. With just a little planning and thought, you can create the unique experience they need this holiday season!
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.