We just got back from our trip up to Williams to ride the Polar Express! What a great time it was!
We have wanted to do the trip for a couple of years now but we strategically waited til this year so that Claire would be old enough and Joy would be older and easier to deal with but would still be free. When I made the reservations I looked for reviews about it and found that many people (including one from my work) thought it was so cheesy and not worth it, while others thought it was the best thing ever. So, we went with open minds. I prepared Claire for the fact that it would probably not be anything like the movie (ie homeless guys on top of the train, snow, people doing black flips while hot chocolate was being served, a roller coaster ride, etc)
We drove up to Williams the morning of our train ride and checked into our hotel. (which is exciting enough when you are 4) Claire and Joy both loved the tiny shampoo bottles and Joy kept herself busy stacking complimentary items and moving them from one place to another. We got all set for the night and it was then that we realized the camera battery was not in the camera. BUMMER. Luckily Josh brought his ipad and we bought a disposable so there are still pictures- just not as many and not good ones. The girls quickly tired of the hotel room and waiting for it to be time to go on the train.
Finally it was time. We were on the 5:30 ride. The girls got in their jammies with many layers and we headed to the train station which was about 1/4 mile from the hotel. (we did not buy the train tickets/hotel bundle. We got separate hotel reservations at the Holiday Inn and saved $150). We got our official tickets, looked around the pricey gift shops and then went out to let the girls play in the miniature town area.
We stopped to get some pictures along the way and then went to get in line to board the train. Claire was SO excited. She was just eating it up.
The train was much larger than I had envisioned. There were 13 cars and each car held at least 30 people. Each car had its own hot chocolate servers who were the guides/servers/entertainers for the trip.
The train is starting to move!
We left right on time. (I was surprised). I like the time of day that we went because it wasn't too cold before we left since the sun was still out but on the way back all the Christmas lights were on in the town. On the way up to the North Pole the servers served hot chocolate and a cookie,
then the Polar Express book was read over the sound system and they walked up and down the aisle holding the book open so the kids could see the pictures. Claire couldn't care less about that though, her face was pressed against the window the entire time.
At one point the conductor came in with a hole punch and punched Claire's ticket.
That was the only time she was a little disappointed the whole night, because he only did two punches and she expected him to punch a whole word in her ticket like on the movie. After about 35 minutes we reached the North Pole! Now, I guess if you are going to be critical of the experience then you could be critical about the North Pole. It was a big tree lit up, and 2 or 3 little houses or shops with lights on them. Santa and an elf were sitting in a sleigh with the fake reindeer but the reindeer aren't terrible fake, just a little. It could have been worse. Anyway, I think they could put a little more effort into making the north pole look more impressive. It didn't matter much though because as soon as we got there, Santa got on board the train and then the real excitement began. We were the first car (or last depending on which way you are going) so Santa came through ours first, we took a few seconds with each child and handed them a silver bell like the one on the movie. Claire was freaking out when he got on the train. She was standing on her seat looking over everyone's heads shouting "I can't see him! I can't see him!" and then a shriek when she finally did. When he handed her her bell she gasped, looked at Josh and said "Can I keep this forever Dadda?" The train at that point began to go backward back down the same track it came up on. The servers then turned on some music and everyone sang Christmas songs all the way back to the station. (All the kids ringing their bells non-stop - including Joy).
It was so much fun and I don't see why anyone would not like it. I think they must expect way too much and their kids must be either too young or too old.
After the train ride, we went out to dinner at some Mexican/Irish, "Panchos Magillacudy's" it was called, which was a mistake, we thought it would better that fast food but it wasn't. We then went back to our hotel and got ready for bed. We have never stayed in a hotel with the 4 of us and basically, when Joy goes to sleep, everyone goes to sleep. Joy was super tired and crabby so she had to go to bed at 9 o'clock. So we all got in bed, turned out the lights and then laid perfectly quiet, praying that she would stop screaming and go to sleep, which she did very quickly. At 3:30am she woke up crying and scared to be in a weird place so I picked her up and immediately felt something was not right with her jammies and then smelled the reason why. She had a massive, explosion poop so I laid her on our bed and started to change her but soon found that this was a two man job mostly because I hadn't even undressed her yet and there was poop all over my hands, her jammies and soon to be our bed if I didn't wake Josh up quickly. So then we were all awake and we had to turn on some light because the mess was so massive and widespread. It smelled very similar to the Mexican food we had just eaten. After that ordeal Joy was an angel and went back to bed easily.
In the morning we lounged, checked out, ate and walked around town a little to use up some energy and then headed home. Claire was so excited because there was "snow" on our car and she could see her breath! Even Joy noticed her breath and we could see her huffing and puffing and then looking at the air in wonder.
The Polar Express was definitely worth it and we plan to go again.