‘Polar Express’ train returns to OKC after COVID-19 derails it
While the trails through Sooner State weren’t always the easiest to navigate, the “Polar Express” train ride continues to run through Oklahoma.
After the COVID-19 pandemic halted moving theatrical production on its tracks in 2020, the “The Polar Express” train returns this season to the Oklahoma Railway Museum, where the first trains departed on November 13.
Partygoers have the chance to board “The Polar Express” until December 28th at the OKC Museum, which is only open for the “The Polar Express” event until January 5th.
As before its pandemic hiatus, “The Polar Express” Train Ride offers an immersive experience that closely follows Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 children’s book and Robert Zemeckis’ 2004 computer animated film starring Tom Hanks.
The most obvious difference from the pre-pandemic experience: All passengers, performers, and other staff aged 2 years and older must wear face masks in accordance with Transportation Security Administration requirements. People are only allowed to remove their masks for brief periods of time when actively eating and drinking.
As before, ticket holders are encouraged to dress in pajamas like the characters in the film and are required to arrive one hour before boarding time at the museum depot, where passengers can check-in and get their tickets. Golden tickets, write letters to Santa Claus and see historic trains on display outside.
Boarding begins approximately 20 minutes before ticket time and the boarding platform closes 10 minutes before departure. It is therefore essential to arrive early.
For many families – including my husband, Patrick, and our children, Gabe, 14; Brenna, 11 years old; and Kyla, 5, who have boarded “The Polar Express” in the past – the attraction also offers a rare opportunity to take a train ride, which has its own enchanting appeal.
The round-trip train ride takes around an hour, and the energetic performers keep it filled with familiar moments and audience interactions. The cars are beautifully adorned with ornaments, evergreen garlands, and Christmas lights that are synchronized with the storytelling.
Ticket holders are invited to board the train to the North Pole, and while the ever efficient conductor stamps their tickets gold, the hero of the story boards. It’s his “crucial year,” and it’s full of questions about whether Santa Claus is real. His doubts are echoed by the jaded tramp who hitchhiked aboard the train, declaring himself “the king of the Polar Express”.
Dressed as old-fashioned railroad porters, a trio of public hosts occupy each car, guiding passengers through a recorded reading of the storybook “The Polar Express”, humming the moving ballad from the movie “When Christmas is Coming to Town ”and leading participants on a few reindeer games, including one designed to encourage adults and children to use their imaginations and eliminate herds of caribou from the tracks.
They also double as the dancing chefs who spin and frolic to the savory tune of “Hot Chocolate,” then serve mugs of hot chocolate and Walkers Shortbread cookies to the passengers. (Walkers are the official cookie of “The Polar Express” Train Ride, but as my 5-year-old pointed out, they may be more suited to the tastes of adults than to young people used to something sweeter.)
The train takes passengers through the woods and neighborhoods surrounding the Oklahoma Railway Museum to the “North Pole” – a set with a towering Christmas tree, a giant sleigh filled with gifts, and lively elves dancing on ” Rockin ‘on Top of the World ”- then Santa Claus and his elf helpers board“ The Polar Express ”.
With the help of a lucky passenger – Kyla was thrilled to be chosen for our ride – Mr. C presents one of his silver sleigh bells to the Hero Boy as his first Christmas present.
St. Nick and his elves then visit each child on the train, speaking with each boy and girl and presenting them with their own silver sleigh bell. Even parents get bells and a chance to chat with Santa Claus. It’s an experience that feels a lot more personal and less rushed than the typical Santa interactions during the holiday season.
The Oklahoma run of “The Polar Express” Train Ride was popular: more than 35,000 people boarded the Christmas attraction each year when it ran out of Bristow in 2014-2015 and Stillwater in 2016. After a two-year hiatus, she enjoyed earlier Return of the State in 2019 at the Oklahoma Railway Museum, before the pandemic derailed it in 2020.
More than 2,000 passengers out of eight departures rode the OKC 2021 opening weekend of “The Polar Express” Train Ride, according to Jamie Ryan, marketing director of Rail Events Inc., which runs the attraction. Attendance is set to exceed 2019 totals, as the OKC now has a larger train for the event after adding two first-class cars, as well as a more robust schedule compared to its first season. OKAY.
But that didn’t stop it from becoming a holiday highlight for many families, including mine, so it’s a joy to see this train continue to run.
“The Polar Express Train Ride”
When: until December 28.
Where: Oklahoma Railway Museum, 3400 NE Grand Blvd.
Information and tickets: okcthepolarexpressride.com.