Review: Polar Express at Mt. Hood Railroad

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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.

Tabitha Rhodes

I am an explorer at heart – getting out and experiencing all that life has to offer is what I do best. Before I had a family, I traveled, played and explored — now that I have a family I enjoy doing those things with them. I’m happy to live in a place that let’s us do just that.

About the Author

Tabitha RhodesI am an explorer at heart - getting out and experiencing all that life has to offer is what I do best. Before I had a family, I traveled, played and explored -- now that I have a family I enjoy doing those things with them. I'm happy to live in a place that let's us do just that.View all posts by Tabitha Rhodes →

  • Aria Clements

    Unfortunately our experience tonight was horrid. Our first time, in 2011, was absolutely wonderful and we were so excited to go back, but tonight could hardly have gone worse.

    To start, when we got there from Vancouver, we found out our 7pm diamond seats had been bumped back to 2pm. At first my husband was angry at me, convinced I made the bought the wrong tickets though I insisted to him that I would not have both read off the wrong ticket times (he was at work and I read off to him every ticket still available before Christmas, including the singles, and the ONLY train with four seats or more in the same car was the diamond at 7 tonight), but also bought the wrong ones. He was convinced I made both mistakes. But then we met another family who had the EXACT same thing happen! They bought the seats online when I did, at a time only six were listed as still available. Two purchases for four seats for tonight at 7pm for four tickets each, and both were bumped to 2pm, meaning we all “missed” the train. It also proved that I didn’t make a mistake. What are the chances of two families buying the same seats the same night both happening to accidentally by for a time when there weren’t tickets available? So the system glitched on us.

    Mt Hood RR’s manager refused to acknowledge a glitch is possible. I’m a techie. I’ve mad more money working part time from home in the tech industry than the manager of the RR likely makes full time. I know for a fact that glitches can happen to any company, even the company I worked for that sold for a billion dollars. Don’t try telling me that a glitch is not possible when you’ve got two families who never met before who both had the exact same thing happen! The proposed solution was to have us all wait to see who didn’t show up. My daughter was so sad thinking she wasn’t going to see Santa tonight (this was part of her birthday!). What else would we do at that point? The manager then gave us all tickets to lower-priced seats with no refund in difference. “At least you’re getting on.”

    But it gets “better.” It turns out that, for us, the assigned seats we were given were occupied…by the people who bought the seats. We didn’t have enough time to get off. Those people had four kids they fit into the booth with them. The four of us had one small bench meant for two people. The workers on the train did their best to make it pleasurable for us. Wanda the chef and Tex the hobo were great (he told us that this has been an ongoing issue this year, and he gave us his contact info in case the bank wants to speak with someone who works the Polar Express to verify what happened). Unfortunately the managers of the RR see it as at least we got on the train, and just made us someone else’s problem. We paid $178 for the highest level of seating, got seating for two in a lesser-expensive area when the people who bought that bench were there, and didn’t have enough seats. The car’s workers had to work around people who had nowhere to sit. Tex found a chair so we had three places to sit, but it meant less room for them to move.

    Uncomfortably, for the people whose seats we were given tickets for, the tickets we were given actually had the purchaser’s name on them (it makes you wonder about a company that openly shares names of who buys tickets). She gave us hers as evidence to give our bank that the RR just printed duplicate tickets without regard for privacy of the purchasers.

    Our daughter didn’t have much room to move around, but still had fun. She was a bit squished since we tried to keep the purses of two adult women and the coats of all of us plus the present we took her and a few other things (we had expected a booth to ourselves) on the tiny little table we had access to or under it. However this isn’t what we paid $178 for.

    Our first time taking this train in 2011 was so wonderful that we couldn’t wait to take it again. I’ve been defending the RR against negative reviews I’ve read this year, and had expected to write another glowing review. Unfortunately the only good I have to say is that Tex and Wanda went above and beyond to compensate for the RR company and didn’t bother trying to make excuses. We will be leaving negatives reviews about this everywhere we can find, and will be contacting our bank for a full refund. I am also willing to share proof of what happened (I’m an avid documenter, and have everything to bank all of this up).

  • Holly Lynn Humphreys-Gove

    We too had an excellent experience. My 6 year old still believes 100% that she went to the North Pole. And when her much older and wiser 12 year old brother tried to tell her differently…that it would take a really long time to go to the REAL North Pole, she told him “Hello, it was the Polar EXPRESS! It magically gets you there really fast!” She told him! Highly recommend! Great memories!