Wondering about the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express? KAG Contributor Liene has all the information you need to know about this very popular holiday attraction. Whether you love an early beginning to the holiday season or wish you could put it off, this North Carolina attraction is one very good reason to start your own planning early this year!
The Polar Express in Bryson City, NC
Bryson City is a gateway city to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but is it also home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot, with scenic rail excursions through the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. Beginning November 10th, a very special train will be departing from the historic Bryson City depot: The Polar Express.
Based on the popular children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, this magical train ride recreates the journey to the North Pole complete with hot cocoa and a warm cookie. At the end of the train ride, Santa Claus himself will be waiting at Santa’s Village to board the train and present each child with their very own silver sleigh bell.
Things to Know About the Ride on the Polar Express
You’ll want to arrive in Bryson City at least an hour before your departure time. This will give you time to park, which is not an easy task in this little town that brings upwards of 90,000 passengers through for the Polar Express. There is a parking option that can be added when purchasing tickets ($6/car pre-purchased), and parking attendants are on hand to direct traffic. Once you’ve walked to the depot you might want to explore the GSMR train museum, and you’ll find a dozen little souvenir and snack shops lining the street to explore while waiting for your train’s boarding time. Hint; the train museum is free with tickets, but you can purchase pictures with Santa if you arrive early.
When it is time to climb on board, passengers join the queue at their assigned boarding station, which correlates to the train car in which you will be riding. The beautifully restored vintage coaches date from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the interior has been festively decorated in the holiday spirit. Friendly employees are on hand to help the boarding process and get everyone situated, and before you know it, the whistle blows, and the Polar Express is off, headed for the North Pole!
While music plays in the background (from the motion picture The Polar Express), the conductor comes through to stamp the ‘golden train tickets.’ These tickets, based on the book, make a cherished souvenir for the children. Hint: make sure to bring your copy of “The Polar Express” on the trip so that you can read along while enjoying the hot chocolate brought to you by the singing and dancing chef. Like most parents, we had changed the kids into their pajamas so that they would be cozy and comfortable on the journey. And, the singing of Christmas carols and antics of the Polar Express characters kept them mesmerized the entire trip.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Trip
With three different ticket options (First, Crown and Coach), families have a variety of choices concerning seating, snacks, and memorabilia – only reserve your tickets soon, as the tickets for the weekends approaching Christmas tend to sell out by early to mid-November. We opted for Coach and were completely satisfied with the seating, the service, and the benefits that came with our package.
We purchased tickets on the 5 pm train, meaning it would still be light out for the first 1/2 hour of the journey (and we could watch the gorgeous mountain scenery roll by). The sun had set and darkness descended just before our arrival at the North Pole, and so the Christmas lights adorning ‘Santa’s Village’ twinkled in the darkness, helping convince reluctant believers… On our return trip, lights from homes along the route sparkled in the distance, adding a magical dimension to the ride.
When selecting seats, you might want to choose to be on the left side of the train (that would be the opposite side of the train from where you boarded), as the river and the majority of North Pole lights will be on that side. Also, Santa boards on the front of the train, so be prepared for him to come through rather soon after stopping if you’re in Coach; have your copy of “The Polar Express” ready for him to sign, and the kids ready to tell him what they would like for Christmas. He even makes some time to ask some disbelieving adults about what they would like under the tree – so make that list and check it twice!
More information on the Polar Express
The first Polar Express departure is on November 10, 2022, and the train operates through December 31, 2022, with the exception of certain weekdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas day. Most days, there are three departures a day and tickets sell out quickly.
For detailed information on the different seating available, visit the Polar Express website.
Bryson City is about 2 ½ hours by car from both Greenville and Spartanburg, optimally a weekend destination, but doable in a day (since the kids will sleep on the way home!).
There are several classes to choose from with Coach Class being the cheapest of the tickets starting at $35 for kids ages 2-12 and $50 for adults up to First Class, which is $53 for kids and $76 for adults. Crown and Premium Crown classes are in between those prices. Depending on what ticket class you choose, you’ll receive a cookie, hot chocolate, and a souvenir of some type.
You can book tickets by calling 800.872.4681 or you can book them online.
Where to Stay Near the Polar Express in Bryson City, NC
This Stay22 Affiliate links map will help you find the perfect place to stay during your visit!
Sky Ridge Yurts
If you want to enhance your Polar Express experience with a super cool place to stay in town, try Sky Ridge Yurts, only about 20 minutes away from the city center and the railroad. The yurts are spacious, clean, and very comfortable. We tried them out over the summer and fell in love with the unique structures.
For other Great Smoky Mountains Railroad family-friendly adventures, check out the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad website.
“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”
From The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
Would a ride on The Polar Express be a trip your kids would cherish?
This post was originally published on Femme au foyer and is republished with permission.