All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (2024)

Christmas comes to town again as "The Polar Express" Train Ride arrives in Oklahoma City right on time for another season of holiday excursions.

The popular yuletide attraction is taking on passengers through Dec. 27 at the Oklahoma Railway Museum, which is open only for "The Polar Express" event in November and December.

If you're deciding whether to get on this train, here's the way things happen on "The Polar Express":

Is it a real train ride?

Yes. Passengers will depart from the Oklahoma Railway Museum aboard one of six train cars attached to a real locomotive. During the hourlong round trip, the train chugs through the woods and neighborhoods around the museum.

For many Oklahomans riding the rails is a rare treat, even though most of the passengers' attention will be focused on what's happening inside their car during the "The Polar Express" Train Ride.

All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (1)

But is it just a train ride?

No. It's actually a full theatrical show with a train car for a stage, which is festively set with evergreen garlands and Christmas lights that are synced to the storytelling.

An immersive experience, the ride faithfully follows Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved 1985 children's book and Robert Zemeckis' enduring 2004 computer-animated film starring Tom Hanks.

Actors sharply costumed as porters invite passengers to board the train to the North Pole, and each car is assigned a trio of spirited performers to entertain the travelers. Dressed as old-fashioned railroad stewards, they stay in character and stick closely to the familiar story throughout the trip.

They playfully punch the riders' golden tickets and reverently stamp them with a "B" for "believe," they prettily sing the movie's moving ballad "When Christmas Comes to Town," and they guide passengers through a recorded reading of "The Polar Express" storybook. Other performers pop in to play out the beloved tale: The brisk conductor greets the Hero Child in the blue bathrobe, who has boarded the train for his "crucial year" as he has begun to question if Santa Claus is real. (The unnamed main character in the book and film is a boy, and a boy played the part when my family took our ride on Nov. 19. But both boys and girls have been cast in the lead role on this year's OKC train ride.)

The Hero Child's doubts are echoed by the cynical hobo who has sneaked aboard the train and proclaimed himself "The King of The Polar Express."

One of the highlights of the journey is when the actors don chef's hats and coats to sing and dance to the scrumptious song "Hot Chocolate" and then serve up cups of tasty warm cocoa and Walkers Shortbread cookies to all the passengers.

All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (2)

Do the passengers encounter Santa Claus?

Yes. Accompanied by a contingent of elves, Santa Claus boards all six cars and visits briefly with each passenger. He presents each rider with one of his silver sleigh bells like in the story.

Children can tell Santa what they want for Christmas, pose for a photo with St. Nick or just give him a hug. The experience feels much more tailored and personal than many Santa interactions offered during the holiday season.

Even the parents and grandparents get a bell and a short chat with the big guy.

After Santa departs, one lucky passenger — my 6-year-old daughter Kyla was thrilled to be chosen for the second year — gets to help the conductor present the Hero Child with the prettily packaged sleigh bell that he received as the first gift of Christmas and then lost through the hole in his pocket.

All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (3)

What's new on this year's ride?

Although the overall experience stays consistent from year to year, the producers, Rail Events Productions, annually tweak the show.

This year, train car windows are glazed with an artificial frost to help set up a simulated Northern Lights experience. It replaces the viewing of the decorated outdoor North Pole set — you actually can't see clearly out the windows at all — and my three children didn't care for the change. But it did make Santa's arrival more of a surprise than a wait, which was fun.

Also, passengers are no longer required to adhere to COVID-19 protocols like wearing masks or showing proof of vaccination.

Do the passengers wear pajamas?

Yes. Although it's certainly not required, many passengers wear pajamas and bathrobes, just like the characters do in the book and movie. Many families even don matching PJs, from Grandma and Grandpa all the way down to babes in arms.

The only caveat is that ticketholders should dress warmly and wear sturdy shoes to cross the museum grounds and boarding platform.

All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (4)

When should ticketholders arrive for their ride?

Ticketholders are required to arrive about 40 minutes before their showtime to park and check in, and you do not want to be late.

The experience starts at showtime as the porters arrive to welcome passengers, escort them to the platform and start boarding. The box office closes at showtime, so if you don't have your tickets by then, you're out of luck.

The boarding platform closes 15 minutes after the listed showtime, and no riders will be allowed on the train after that happens. The train departs about 20 minutes after showtime.

While waiting, attendees can browse in the gift shop, sample snacks like cinnamon roasted nuts and strudel, have souvenir photos taken, write letters to Santa and use the restroom. (The bathrooms aboard the train are limited and not wheelchair accessible.)

Daytime passengers also can check out the freight cars, passenger cars and real steam engine on display on the museum's grounds.

Including wait time and travel time, the entire experience lasts a little less than two hours.

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What does the train ride cost?

Coach tickets are $60 for adults and $53 for children ages 2 to 11.

First-class tickets are $75 for adults and $70 for children. The upgrades include overstuffed reclining seats, extra leg room and collectible ceramic mugs.

Children younger than 2 can ride for free on a parent or guardian's lap.

Parking passes are $6 per vehicle and should be purchased with the event tickets. Passengers must show their emailed ticket confirmation to the parking attendants to park on the museum grounds.

Should you go?

Especially if you're a fan of the book or movie, it's probably worth having a ticket to ride this train at least once.

For many families — including my husband, Patrick, and our children, Gabe, 15; Brenna, 12; and Kyla — boarding "The Polar Express" Train Ride has become a treasured holiday tradition, and we're happy to see it continue chugging along.

'The Polar Express Train Ride'

When: Through Dec. 27.

Where: Oklahoma Railway Museum, 3400 NE Grand Blvd.

Information and tickets:


This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC. Here's what to know.

All aboard! What you need to know as 'The Polar Express' Train Ride chugs back to OKC (2024)
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