Have you ridden the Polar Express in Spencer, NC? The North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina is home to an impressive collection of trains, automobiles, aviation, and other transportation equipment representing over 100 years of transportation history. But every year as Christmas approaches, the North Carolina Transportation Museum transforms into a popular stop for the famous Polar Express. Climb aboard for a magical ride to the North Pole!
Looking for more day holiday day trips? We have them on our Guide to Holiday Day Trips Near the Upstate.
The Polar Express: Spencer, NC
The trip my family took to the North Carolina Transportation Museum for this event is fondly remembered by my children. We are talking about a highlight of Christmas memories, the top ten favorite adventures ever, easy.
If you are familiar with the famous movie and book, you really feel like you have stepped straight into the screen and deep into the pages of the Christmas favorite. Waiting passengers can hear the train approach, and then the iconic “All Aboard!” is heard as the conductor, lantern in hand, leans out of the train. The opening scene between the boy in the pajamas and the conductor is acted out for all to see, and as the boy decides to come aboard, the waiting passengers are invited to follow.
What to Expect During Your Trip
While there are a lot of guests on each ride of the Polar Express train ride, the getting in line and onboarding process is very easy. There are clearly marked signs for each car and groups of rows. It is simple and somehow they are able to move a large number of people, without making passengers feel like they standing right in the middle of a herd of cattle.
Once onboard the magic continues as passengers are treated to song and dance with hot chocolate and cookies. My family sprang for the First Class seats with the table. This included souvenir mugs and extra treats. It was nice and convenient to have the tables to set our drinks and snacks on. I appreciated the less crowded environment of this section, too. Don’t forget to keep your ticket handy! The conductor will be by to punch it, of course.
Arriving at the North Pole
Once the train arrives at the North Pole, passengers disembark and watch Santa give the first gift of Christmas to the boy in the pajamas. All the children from the movie are present, along with the elves. The “North Pole” is set at the museum’s 37-bay roundhouse built in 1924, with the museum’s other buildings standing tall behind. It is decorated for Christmas, and fodder for little imagination to envision Santa’s workshops and a village full of elves.
Back on board, children and adults get a chance to visit with Santa and receive their very own sleigh bell. During the rest of the ride, the Polar Express book is read and on our ride, there was even a little time left to sing Christmas carols.
The fun wasn’t over when the ride ended, either. The museum sets up with crafts, campfires, smores (available for purchase), model trains, and of course pictures with Santa. The gift shop is also pretty impressive.
Spend the Day at the North Carolina Transportation Museum
The North Carolina Transportation Museum is a destination in and of itself. The buildings the museum occupies have a transportation history of their own, including an 1898 train depot, a 37-bay roundhouse built in 1924, and a Back Shop built-in 1905 for overhauling steam locomotives.
Those buildings are packed full of historically significant automobiles, aviation exhibits, steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, and so much more. While we loved looking at the old cars, we all found the 1924 roundhouse and the 40 restored locomotives it houses to be quite impressive and fun. Rides are available on the turntable as well, though we did not purchase one of those.
Admission to the museum is separate from the Polar Express tickets, and the museum closes prior to the Polar Express arrival each night. Plan to eat dinner in downtown Spencer or bring a picnic. There are not many local restaurant options. I recommend hopping online and checking out your options in advance so that if there’s nothing to your liking you can plan to bring your dinner.
The museum grounds are large and there are plenty of places to settle in and enjoy a picnic while you wait for your ride on the Polar Express. Additionally, there are some train cars outside the museum that children can explore during this time. The museum also had several campfires with smores kits available for purchase right next to the spot where you will hop on the Polar Express, as well as hula hoops, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and other items that will help keep the little ones occupied while they wait.
2023 Polar Express: Spencer, NC North Carolina Transportation Museum Details:
The 2023 Polar Express runs November 10-11, 17-19, and 24-26, and December 1-3, 7-10, and 12-23. Train rides on Fridays are 4:45 pm, 6:15 pm, and 7:45 pm. Train rides on Saturdays are at 4 pm, 5:30 pm, 7 pm, and 8:30 pm. Rides on Sundays are at 4 pm, 5:30 pm, and 7 pm. Times may vary, and there may be additional time slots for certain dates.
Prices begin at $34 for children and $40 for adults. Check the website for available dates and times. Trains sell out fast. If you want to go, don’t wait to get your tickets!
Has your family ever taken a ride on the Polar Express?