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Last updated on November 25th, 2019 at 06:11 pm

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 originally written December 5, 2017 and updated November 22, 2019 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 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 3.5yo and 14mo) 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.

This year, we were invited to Media Night at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum for their annual The Polar Express™ Train Ride.

We also did The Polar Express™ Train Ride up in Squamish, BC a few years ago. You can read all about it here.

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: We brought our copy of The Polar Express to read on The Polar Express Train Ride near Mount Rainier, WA
We brought along our own copy of The Polar Express! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

For those unfamiliar with The Polar Express book, it’s the story of a child’s Christmas Eve journey on board The Polar Express train ride heading to the North Pole.

The boy doesn’t think Santa is real anymore and meets people along the way who help him believe again in the magic.

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 guest hop on the train.

I’d recommend reading the book and watching the movie prior to your train ride, if you want to fully immerse yourself 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 and it can get really loud. If your kids are over-stimulated you can step outside of the tent for some quiet.

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Photo of a girl dressed in a pink nightgown and a boy wearing a brown robe singing "Believe" in a Christmas-themed outdoor tent
Kids singing “Believe” on a tiny stage outside the station. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

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.

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.

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: The Polar Express in Elbe, WA is a great family tradition for those who live near Seattle or Tacoma.
On the left is the souvenir mug for First Class tickets, on the right is the adorable disposable cup and in front is the iconic golden ticket! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

In Standard Class, the train coaches are Tacoma Rail cars representative of the 1950’s era Amtrak passengers 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.

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: A cast member dressed as a chef punches the golden tickets on The Polar Express Train Ride
The kids were in AWE as this cast member punched their tickets over their heads. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

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!

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: The Polar Express at Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum is a magical train ride for Seattle-area families
Our family loved this oversized edition of The Polar Express because our whole family could see the pictures! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

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!

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Holiday lights at the Mt. Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum in Washington State
You’ll love the light display at “The North Pole.” Photo credit: Mt. Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum

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!

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Santa Claus hands kids silver bells as a special present on The Polar Express Train Ride
Santa hands my oldest a silver bell. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

It was so cute to see the kids get so excited that Santa was on the train. He walked through the car and passed out silver bells 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 pajamas. 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 is a lot of waiting outside before guests get 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!

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Collage of photos of what to wear on The Polar Express Train Ride in Mount Rainier
Cute collage of matching family jammies perfect for the holiday event! Photo credit: Mt. Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum

I don’t have any cute Christmas pajamas, so I wore this Santa sweater dress, instead over long underwear. And my husband wore an ugly Christmas sweater.

And I brought Santa hats for our whole family!

What to Bring on The Polar Express™ Train Ride

“Real” Camera

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 and the photos are blurry and/or grainy. Don’t risk it!

Video Camera

If you don’t have a nice camera (or don’t want to lug it) consider doing video. I have this little pocket gimbal that makes video recording a breeze.

While holiday events like this, sometimes it’s more special to do 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.

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.

Marshmallows

Speaking of hot chocolate, if you really want to wow your kids, bring along a little bag of mini-marshmallows so they can add to their cocoa.

All Aboard the Polar Express™ Train Ride at Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum review featured by top Seattle blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Bring your own marshmallows for an extra treat when you sip hot chocolate on The Polar Express Train Ride
I’m so glad I brought this baggie of marshmallows! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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 at 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, it’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 you want to do a whole weekend at Mt Rainier, I highly recommend it! You can get my top tips about things to do in Mt Rainier with kids here.

Northwest Trek

If your kids are older or are no longer napping, you might consider doing Northwest Trek before the train ride.

It’s 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.

Dining

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

NATIONAL PARK INN AT MOUNT RAINIER

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.

PARADISE INN AT MOUNT RAINIER

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.”

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.

Holiday Fun in the PNW

5 Seattle Holiday Experiences to Add to Your Family Winter Traditions
Holiday Festivities in Vancouver, BC
Holiday Magic in Downtown Seattle
Bright Nights at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC
The Polar Express in Squamish, BC is Magical

Author

Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.

62 Comments

  1. What an epic holiday activity! This looks so fun! I have some friends that live in Olympia, I’ll have to tell them about this!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, tell them! It’s not very far from Olympia!

  2. I love the Polar Express!! I’m so jealous you close to ‘the real one’ ! My little cousins would love this. Adding to my bucket list.

    • marciecheung Reply

      It’s such a fun holiday event! My kids really thought we went to the North Pole 🙂

  3. I’ve done a similar train with my kids when they were little. It was a great holiday memory. They still talk about it.

    • marciecheung Reply

      It was really special and I’m glad that we could do this while the kids are both super into trains!

  4. This looks like so much fun! I almost wish I were 20 years younger just for a day to experience this through a child’s eyes. What wonderful memories for your family!

  5. Grandma Julie Reply

    I want to come with you on one of these trains… maybe next year!

    • marciecheung Reply

      YES! Please come next year! The kids would love it! And we could stay the night down there and play in the snow at Mt. Rainier!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I hope you get to someday! It’s really magical!

  6. I had no idea, that there is a Polar Express for real. How cool is that?
    So obviously not only for the kids a big fun, but also for grown ups. It must be an unforgettable experience like a fairytale come true with all those details, palying songs, showing impressions with this big book – so lovely! And of course the big highlight – seeing Santa himself.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, we have a lot of cool train museums in the U.S. and some of them participate in a licensed Polar Express experience. It’s really amazing!

  7. This is just adorable, what a train ride! I havne’t seen the film or know about the Polar Express, but now I want to. That’s incredible that they started reading the book aloud on the train, and you can see that your kids enjoyed it! I’m a big kid at heart and would love to do this myself!

    • marciecheung Reply

      We saw a lot of adults on the train without kids. I think it would still be a lot of fun, especially if you wore Xmas jammies!

  8. Oh my goodness this is amazing!! So, first of all, your kids are adorable. Secondly, I did not know that there was a difference between the Polar Express book and movie. I remember my little sister being really into both, but I never read her to sleep- haha! I’m so glad you guys did this and you shared it with us!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Oh, you are too kind! Yes, the book and movie are a bit different. I kind of think the movie is a bit creepy, so we just stick to the book at our house!

  9. I have to admit that I didn’t even know there was a book! I only knew about the movie. Also, your post enlightened me that there is not one, but TWO Polar express attractions! Kudos on you for trying both and doing a ball by ball comparison! : )

    • marciecheung Reply

      Haha! There are so many kid movies I had no idea were books first!

  10. This is such a neat experience! I would love to take my kids on it one day!

  11. I used to love reading the Polar Express when I was little! This was something I really wanted to visit before leaving Seattle, but didn’t have time. Thanks for sharing!

    • marciecheung Reply

      There are so many fun things to do, and so little time! Guess you’ll have to make another trip here!

  12. This is awesome! I am googling right now if we have something similar in Cincinnati because my family would have a blast!

  13. Looks like it’s changed a bit since I went . Then Santa was on the train in a grotto and gave every child a gift. They didn’t read the polar express or have carols on our trip. The one in BC sounds wonderful – I should get there before my kids are too old!

    • marciecheung Reply

      From my understanding, they have been under new ownership for a couple of years and that’s when they started doing this “official” Polar Express ride!

  14. When I watched Polar express movie, I dreamed of having such kind of ride. You are lucky to have Polar express museum in British Columbia. As Xmas is round the corner, this is the correct time to have a experience of Polar Express. As you took a ride after dark, you must have got a true feeling of Northern Lights. I suppose this is a favorite ride of all kids.

    • marciecheung Reply

      We are so lucky to have both the one in BC and the one at Mt. Rainier relatively close by!

    • marciecheung Reply

      It’s an easy train ride full of festivities!

  15. What a fabulous holiday activity! I wish I knew about this when I was a kind! I’m a nanny now too – this might be a really good activity for them! Thanks for all the info!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Oh it would be really fun to go as a nanny, too!

  16. That looks like it would be so much fun for the all of the family. I wish I had one close to me that I could bring me niece and nephew on.

  17. I remember I did read the polar express too but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it nor experience it. Reading about the fun your kids had, I must say I miss my childhood days. I’d pitch this to my sister so my cousins can have a swell time too. Your kids are lucky to have you

    • marciecheung Reply

      I highly recommend experiencing it if you get the chance!

  18. This looks like such a fun family activity! My kids are older, but we still watch this movie every Christmas as a tradition. You’ve made some great memories with your kiddos!!!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I have never ridden so many trains in my life, but my kids are obsessed!

  19. Wow, what a beautiful experience! I love to see all these glowing and happy faces, it looks like a once-in-a-lifetime ride. It’s a great holiday idea!

    • marciecheung Reply

      We saw so many glowing faces on this train ride! It was magical!

  20. My Cousin and small Niece lives in Seattle and I was just talking to them about this post and Polar express, I can already imagine how much fun it will be.Your post shares all important information one need to travel with ki like what to wear and about washroom. Thanks for the detail and sharing with my family to plan this tour urgently .

    • marciecheung Reply

      Oh yay! So glad I could help! We have so many fun things here in Seattle to celebrate the holidays!

  21. This Polar Express experience looks perfect for kids. I didn’t know about the book but the book version is usually better than the movie version . My daughter would be so excited with the dancing and music on the train, I’d love to watch her enjoying it all.

  22. What a wonderful adventure, I would love to visit it with my daughter! We watch the movie every year for Christmas! Thank you for sharing.

    • marciecheung Reply

      I hope you get to visit someday and explore Mt. Rainier!

  23. This seems like every kid’s dream come true!! My daughter is into cars and trains so this is something she would enjoy. Thanks for sharing your detailed experience :))

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, it really is a dream come true for my boys!

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