What happens when your 9-year-old becomes a “non-believer” at holiday time? I wondered if my daughter would sneer at all things Santa — or think that traditional holiday fun was for babies. Was the magic over?
Knowing it was going to take something special to keep the spirit of the holidays alive this year, I jumped at the chance to ride the Saratoga & North Creek Railway’s The Polar Express.
Family Getaway to Saratoga Springs
As part of an overnight Family Getaway Package, we boarded an Amtrak train at Penn Station to Saratoga Springs, NY, which followed the scenic Hudson River.
Four hours later we were in downtown Saratoga and headed to lunch at the family-friendly Circus Café, where we had delicious salads and soups amidst a cheerful circus atmosphere including popcorn as a starter and, much to my daughter’s delight, a huge plate of cotton candy for dessert.
After lunch we took a leisurely stroll through the town’s bustling shopping district. There is nothing like sweet shops, decorations and music to get the spirit of the holiday started.
Eventually we made our way to our accommodations, The Inn at Saratoga. This historic inn has been in business since 1848 and has a cozy friendly vibe with a nod to days gone by when the Victorians came to see and be seen.
Next Stop: The Polar Express
Based on the charming book and Warner Bros. film of the same name, older children will love the Polar Express train ride because it feels like the real deal.
It all starts at the Saratoga Springs train station, where pajama-clad children board warm festively decorated vintage cars with their golden tickets in hand, just like in the movie.
Note to parents: children do not have to board a moving train.
Christmas carols play interspersed with audio of scenes from the film and are accompanied by live performers who recreate the eccentric conductor, dancing chefs, elves, Hobo Joe and, of course, Santa himself.
Hot chocolate and homemade sugar cookies are passed out by the exuberant dancing chefs who sing the infectious “hot, hot, hot, hot chocolate” song and mingle with the children throughout the trip. The train chugs along to its destination: a colorfully lit North Pole scene where Santa and his elves get on board and ride back to wish every child a merry Christmas (a photo op that sure beats waiting in line for Santa at the mall).
Santa and Older Children
I made sure I had a talk with my daughter before we left for this excursion. I knew there would be lots of younger children and that the time to discuss the veracity of St. Nicholas was before and NOT on board the train.
When the time came for Santa to make an appearance, the excitement of all the children was infectious, and my daughter had no problem suspending belief for a little while and enjoyed the experience. Christmas magic was alive and well on the Polar Express.
Polar Express Packages & Tickets
If you drive to Saratoga Springs, package prices begin at $105 per person, based on double occupancy, and include:
- Standard seats aboard Saratoga & North Creek Railway’s The Polar Express
- One-night hotel accommodations at either the Courtyard Marriot, Saratoga Downtowner, or The Inn at Saratoga (we loved The Inn at Saratoga).
- 10% off Circus Cafe plus complimentary, homemade cotton candy
- Steam train collectible ornament plus one coloring book per child
No Car, No Worries
Add Amtrak train tickets from New York including hotel package; $235 per adult, $75 Jr. & child (2-15 years old).
A La Carte Options for The Polar Express
Tickets can also be purchased separately, the Railway offers three ticket options: Diamond, 1st Class and Standard tickets.
TIP: Children and parents should not feel like they are missing out by being in the Standard section. While Diamond and Standard are cozier, have tables and include a commemorative Polar Express cup, in my opinion, if you want an authentic movie-like experience go with the Standard and buy your cup at the gift shop at the station. Since the chefs can move about more easily there is more passenger participation like marching down the train car.
Polar Express departures take place at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. daily, beginning Nov. 15, 2013 through Jan. 6, 2014.