Review by Tabitha
This past Friday, Ali and I, with boys in tow, drove out to Hood River to experience the Polar Express. Both having boys who totally love trains, we were excited about going and experiencing this with them. As we drove along, we admired the landscape, and were once again reminded of how beautiful Oregon is….
We entered the station and received our tickets for the 4:30 train, boarding at 4:00. Each of the boys received their “Golden Ticket” and we waiting patiently with the other riders to hear the Conductor open the doors and shout “All Aboard”! In the lobby it was warm and cozy, and filled with children of all ages, most wearing their pajamas. I had forgotten about this fun tradition – as most of our life at this point is led in a mad rush. Ali planned better than me, and Grady appropriately had on his train conductor overalls.
On a small screen near the boarding entrance they were playing the Polar Express video and had a small gift shop selling items such as books, shirts and other Polar Express treats. I purchased the book, we have an avid reader at our house and we didn’t have a copy yet, and a “cool” train key chain that lights up. There were many fun things to choose from – but I had to remind Mr. Marshall that the “real” treat was riding the train.
When the conductor opened the doors and invited everyone to board, we were escorted to the front car, upper dome (premium seats we came to find). The car was nicely decorated with tinsel and lights – and the booths were comfortable and welcoming. Each table had a plate, napkins and four Creamy Hot Chocolate mugs. We had a lovely view with windows, and a beautiful view of the mountains, as well as the late afternoon sky.
As the ride began, the Conductor came through our car and punched each child’s golden ticket with the first letter of their name – M for Marshall and G for Grady. He also signed our book … “Mr. C”. As the sun went down and it began to get dark, it was hard to tell where on our journey to the North Pole we were, so when they announced that there was a herd of Caribou on the tracks and we would have to backtrack – we wondered where on our route to the North Pole we were to see Caribou.
The train changed direction and we chugged along the tracks for awhile. We were served hot chocolate and tasty cookies by the chefs. Then there was a reading of the Polar Express story over the speakers. We had our own copy of the book to follow along with, but there were folks walking up and down the aisles showing the pictures to those who didn’t. After a bit, we heard that Santa’s village was coming into sight. We all piled into the windows along the left side of the train to get a view – and sure enough – there it was! Santa’s workshop, lit up with decorative lights and Santa and his elves waving to us on the train.
We were told that Santa and the elves may join us for our journey back – and the excitement of the kids in the car rose … then there he was! The elves came through the cabin first, telling the children to be ready to tell Santa what we wanted for Christmas, and us parents to have our cameras at the ready. As he went to each table, kids were treated to high fives and hugs as parents snapped photos furiously. Laughter abounded. Santa gave each child a beautiful silver bell emblazoned with “Polar Express” – the same kind of silver bell the boy had received in the story.
As we rode back, we finished up our hot cocoa and chatted with the boys about Santa and his workshop and the elves. It was then that I realized, having a now three year old, that I get to relive the magic of Christmas through the eyes of my son. The chefs sang Christmas carols along the way back – and we happily jingled our bells and sang along.
We really enjoyed the Polar Express at Mt. Hood Railroad. We do want to warn folks that the ride is bumpy and the train sways back and forth fairly significantly. If you, or your family, has any issues with motion sickness you may want to skip this adventure. I should say, however, that we were in the Upper Dome pretty high up above the tracks, so conceivably the ride would be much less bumpy if you were on the lower level. In addition, this is an hour and a half long adventure. There is some relatively significant time between each of the entertainment portions of the ride. Since we saw Santa right when we left his village, we had most of our ride back to entertain the boys. If you love trains – this is a really not a problem because just riding the train is fun. If you have little ones who get antsy having to sit still for longer periods of time, you may want to bring along some things to entertain them. You are, of course, free to move around the train, so that’s definitely an option. And lastly – Hood River is about an hour drive without traffic – so we advise you plan accordingly.
The Polar Express is running through December. You can see a complete schedule of departure times here. Prices for adults range from $26-$46, and for children (ages 2-12) from $18-$38. More information can also be found on their website.
We were given complimentary upper dome tickets to ride the Polar Express for review on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar.