Are you looking for a kid-friendly Christmas event near Seattle? Find out everything you need to know about The Polar Express™ Train Ride at the Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum in Elbe, WA. Scroll for all the info!
This post about The Polar Express™ Train Ride was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
What is The Polar Express™ Train Ride?
Is reading The Polar Express one of your family’s holiday traditions?
I vaguely remember a teacher reading it to my class in elementary school, but I hadn’t given it a thought until a few years ago.
See, my oldest has been obsessed with trains since before he was 2 years old. So, when I started looking for fun Seattle Christmas events a few years ago, I discovered The Polar Express™ Train Ride in Elbe, WA (about 90 minutes from Seattle.)
We went with our boys (who were 3.5 years old and 14 months old), and they loved every second of it.
Basically, it’s a themed train ride that takes guests from the station in Elbe, WA to the Logging Museum in Mineral, WA. Everyone stays on board the entire time, and there is entertainment and refreshments.
The whole experience lasts about 2 hours, just like the Christmas trains in the U.K. or other Polar Express train rides.
We were invited to Media Night at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum for their annual The Polar Express™ Train Ride this year.
The Polar Express: A Classic Holiday Story
For those unfamiliar with The Polar Express book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, it’s a story of a young boy and his Christmas Eve journey on board The Polar Express train ride heading to the North Pole. Find the best prices for the book here.
The hero boy doesn’t think Santa is real anymore and meets people along the way who help him believe again in the magic. Luckily, the trip to the North Pole in the Polar Express showed him that the spirit of Christmas is truly alive.
The Polar Express™ Train Ride is based on the movie version, which stars Tom Hanks. The movie has a lot more detail and a signature song that they sing before guests hop on the train.
I’d recommend reading the book and watching the movie prior to your train ride if you want to immerse yourself fully in the experience.
What to Expect on The Polar Express™ Train Ride
Arrival at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum
When you arrive at the Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum, you’ll park your car and head to pick up your train tickets.
Then, you can explore their gift shop (which has tons of branded gifts from The Polar Express) or head directly to the big tent.
Restrooms at the Mt Rainier Railway and Logging Museum
Once you get to the Mt Rainier Railway and Logging Museum, there are lots of port-a-potties near the parking lot.
But, if you head to the gift shop, they have large bathrooms. I know the Women’s bathrooms have a changing table. The train has limited restroom options.
Under the tent, there is a little pre-show where some train engineers come out and tell the audience which order they will be boarding the train (and no, it’s not in numerical order!) They have the audience repeat it several times so there are no questions when it’s time to board the train.
Note: They play holiday music in the tent, which can get really loud. If your kids are over-stimulated, you can step outside of the tent for some quiet.
On the speaker, a narrator sets the scene. Then, some of the cast from The Polar Express™ Train Ride come out and do a little acting and then sing the famous “Believe” song from the movie. They are wearing pyjamas like the hero boy and hero girl in the movie!
Finally, it’s time to board the train! Cast members will lead guests to their train car and double-check tickets before guests climb on board.
Mt Rainier Train Ride
Both times we’ve done The Polar Express™ Train Ride, we’ve been seated in First Class. This means we sat at a four-top table and received collector’s edition souvenir mugs.
This has been a great set-up for our family of four because we have a place to set down the hot chocolate, and we can face our kids to watch them experience the magic!
And if you are going with another family, you can reserve tables across from each other for easier chatting.
In Standard Class, the train coaches are Tacoma Rail cars representative of the 1950s-era Amtrak passenger cars with comfortable front-facing upholstered seats in paired rows.
You’ll still get treats, and it’s still a wonderful experience.
When we boarded the train, we found our table and cast members happily chatted with the guests on board.
As the train started moving, cast members came around to punch our oversized, golden tickets. This was extra special because our cast member made it “snow” on the kids as she vigorously punched the tickets.
Then, cast members asked if we were ready for some Hot Hot Hot Chocolate before breaking into a dance up and down the aisles carrying prop trays of hot chocolate. It felt exactly like the scene from the movie!
After kicking things off, the chefs came around and passed out cups with Hot Hot Hot chocolate and sugar cookies. On the loudspeaker, someone read The Polar Express story while the chefs walked around with oversized editions of the book.
I suggest bringing your own copy of the book and having your kids follow along as they read.
Both of my kids enjoyed the cookies and just looking around the decorated train.
We took the 5:30 p.m. train ride to ensure it would be dark, just like in the book and movie. It was perfect for us because when we got to “The North Pole,” we could enjoy all the colorful lights!
As we pulled up to Mineral, WA, Santa was there with his sleigh and several elves. Guests were encouraged to head to the window to wave at them. Then, Santa and his elves boarded the train!
While we waited for Santa to make his way to our car, Christmas carols played on the loudspeaker, and we were encouraged to sing along.
My boys kept saying, “Hey! We know this song!” It was such a smart way to warm up all the kids before the Big Man himself appeared!
Seeing the kids get so excited that Santa was on the train was so cute. He walked through the car and passed out a silver sleigh bell to everyone on board.
My oldest insisted that if you say “I Believe,” the bell sounded even better!
After Santa made his way through our car, the singing resumed! Plus, kids were invited to join the chefs in mini dance parties up and down the aisle.
We didn’t see any kids dance this time, but last time, there were tons of kids who participated, including my oldest!
Just moments after the last dance party, we arrived back in Elbe and disembarked the train. The whole experience was about 90 minutes, and they flew by!
What to Wear on The Polar Express™ Train Ride
If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know that everyone wears pyjamas. That’s true of The Polar Express™ Train Ride, too!
We happened to have train pajamas, so we put them on top of other clothes for our kids (to keep them cozy.) And we put jackets on top of that.
The train car was nice and warm, but there was a lot of waiting outside before guests got on the train.
And if you want to do family Christmas pajamas, you won’t be alone! We saw so many cute families in matching jammies! It would make a super fun Christmas card!
I don’t have any cute Christmas pajamas, so I wore this Santa sweater dress, instead of long underwear. And my husband wore an ugly Christmas sweater.
What to Bring on The Polar Express™ Train Ride
If you are going at nighttime, the lighting on the train is going to be too dark for iPhone photos. Trust me.
My husband brought his big Nikon when we went a few years ago, and the photos were great. This year, I thought we could just use our iPhones; the photos are blurry and/or grainy. Don’t risk it!
While holiday events like this, sometimes it’s more special to do a video to capture your kids’ genuine expressions as they meet Santa and sip their Hot Hot Hot Chocolate!
And if you don’t want to bring a separate video camera, use the one on your phone! You won’t have to worry about blurry photos when it’s in video mode.
Taking a video of the entire experience is also great entertainment on a Christmas morning. You can relive the experience as your kids open their presents!
The Polar Express Book
A friend suggested I bring along our copy of The Polar Express so our kids could follow along, and I’m glad I remembered it.
The book helped keep them engaged in the story, and it was something to distract them while we waited for our hot chocolate.
Speaking of hot chocolate, if you want to wow your kids, bring a little bag of mini marshmallows so they can add to their cocoa.
The hot chocolate is piping hot, so taking off the lid and letting them add marshmallows one by one is a great way to give it time to cool down, too.
Note: This works well in First Class because there’s a table. Do it with your own caution without a table.
How The Polar Express™ Train Ride Compares to The Santa Train at the Northwest Railway Museum
Since many Seattle-area families might be deciding between these two popular Christmas train rides, I thought I break down the differences.
We’ve done both, and they are very different experiences.
The Polar Express™ Train Ride
On The Polar Express™ Train Ride, there is entertainment from the moment you step on board until the end of the ride. You’ll want to go at night time in order to see all the holiday lights at “The North Pole.”
While you get to chat with Santa, there isn’t enough time for photos. And it’s in Elbe, WA, which is about 90 minutes from Seattle.
Santa Train Ride
On the Santa Train, there’s a lot of waiting in lines. You’ll wait in a long line to board the train, then another long line to wait to take photos with Santa, and then another line to board the train again. All these lines are outside, and there is no entertainment.
But the upside is that your kids can have a longer chat with Santa, and you can take nice photos with Santa. And it’s located in Snoqualmie, WA which is about 30 minutes from Seattle.
You can read all about our experience on The Santa Train at the Northwest Railway Museum.
How to Get Tickets for The Polar Express™ Train Ride
The Polar Express™ Train Ride runs November 22 thru December 31, 2019.
Tickets range from $38-$56 for adults (ages 12 and older) and $27-$44 for kids ages 3-11 for standard class. First Class tickets range from $60-$75 for adults (ages 12 and older) and $49-$64 for kids ages 3-11. Lap kids ages 2 and younger are free.
Get your tickets here.
What Else to Do in Mt Rainier with Kids
If your kids are older or are no longer napping, you might consider doing Northwest Trek before the train ride.
The trek is so close to the Mt Rainier Railway and Logging Museum that it’s almost a shame not to stop. They have an awesome tram ride where you can see lots of Northwest animals.
Mt Rainier National Park
Another great option is to head to Mt Rainier National Park and check out the gorgeous waterfalls and scenic viewpoints along the way up to Paradise.
Once you get to Paradise, explore the visitors’ center and go on a little walk around the mountain before heading down to Elbe.
There are a few restaurants located within walking distance of the train. Some are located inside train cars and might be fun for kids.
Where to Stay in Mt Rainier
This is one of the best Mt Rainier cabins for families. It’s located right near the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. They have several family cabins and even host a community bonfire where you can make s’mores! Check the latest prices and more details.
If you’d like to make a weekend out of your trip on The Polar Express™ Train Ride, book a night at the National Park Inn. They have 25 cozy rooms, a kid-friendly restaurant, plus a general store in a historical 1911 log cabin. Check out the latest prices and more details.
The historic Paradise Inn is one of the premier places to stay in Mt Rainier. They have 121 rooms, and it’s been designated one of the “Great Lodges of the West.” Check out the latest prices and more details.
The Polar Express™ Train Ride is a Fun Holiday Tradition
Finally, if you’re on the fence about it, JUST DO IT! It only took us 90 minutes to drive there from Renton. Our kids napped the whole way there and back.
They had the best time, and I know my kids are going to talk about it for a long time!
Thanks, Mt Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum, for hosting my family. All opinions are my own.
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