Saturday evening Louise and I embarked on a magical journey. I had purchased the tickets in advance as I knew they would be popular and secured the last train ride of the evening for our 2 year anniversary. We were going to be immersing ourselves into the fantastical world of Polar Express hosted by Wensleydale railway.
“WELL… ARE YOU COMING?…” said the conductor.
“Where?” said the little boy.
“Why to the North Pole of course. This is the Polar Express!
We received the tickets in advance. Not just any tickets, but golden tickets – replicas of the ones used in the movie as well as instructions on where to park and what to wear. When I gave them to Louise she was so excited. I explained to her that it was a fully immersive interactive experience on board a real steam train with hot chocolates and cookies!
The event organisers were encouraging all attendees to wear pyjama’s and dressing gowns to fully experience the magical atmosphere aboard the train. You could purchase Polar Express PJ’s as well as other merchandise at the check in desk however these were subject to availability of course.
The instructions told us to park at the Leeming Bar services no sooner than 45 minutes before your train to ease parking congestion and there would be a shuttle bus to the station. On entering the services, a car park was clearly marked for the Wensleydale Polar Express passengers. It was lit up with flood lights and staffed by several people directing cars to the vacant spots. Once parked, and wrapped up in coats and gloves, we were instructed to cross the road over to the entrance of a building. A double decker bus was waiting outside with some passengers already boarding.
Inside, was a Polar Express backdrop screen where you could take pictures of your family or selfies as a reminder of the event. A selection of merchandise was available here but there is much more at the end of the experience. A very friendly woman approached us and asked if we had our tickets. Once she had checked them over she told us that we could now board a bus, there were 3 in quick rotation so was plenty of opportunity.
The bus that we had seen as we were entering was full up now and was starting it’s journey onward to the station with whole families wearing matching pj’s, onesies, elf hats and dressing gowns. Kids jumping up and down full of excitement and wonder as the staff, all in character, entertained the children by asking if they had been a good boy or girl this year and if they were excited to see Santa at the North Pole tonight! They were oblivious to the freezing temperatures that we were experiencing!
Once we boarded the next bus and arrived at the station, just a few minutes away, we could see the bright lights of fast food vendors in Swedish chalet style huts. There was a Donut and waffle stall, a bar and a grill serving bratwursts and pork baps. Of course, for you readers we felt it was our duty to try them all! We started with the hot dogs – I had a bratwurst and Louise had a regular hot dog. Large sausages ensured we were well fed for our evening. By the Marquee, a condiment station was set up with big containers of sauces and almost cows udders fixed to the bottom of them so you had to squeeze them to get the sauce out.
We then treated ourselves to 2 hot mulled wines, sweet and full of flavour these really got us in the festive spirit. They did also serve a small selection of wines beers and spirits. The Donut and Waffle hut was the busiest, with lots of choice. We opted for the 5 donuts with a sauce and topping. There were a fair amount of options to choose from but we went with marshmallows and chocolate sauce!
Most of the stalls did accept card payments but the donut stall was having some technical trouble so were cash only on the night we visited.
After the food and drink we opted to look inside the marquee. A large screen at the end of the room was showing the film on a projector with rows of seats spanning most of the room. An aisle in the middle was left clear and people were standing around the edges of the room. Children had all congregated on the floor at the front to better see the film and all seemed to be making friends whilst parents, grandparents, reluctant older teenagers and adults all talked amongst themselves.
Although predominantly family groups were in attendance there were also groups of adults that loved the film and we were not looked at any differently for not having little ones with them. Everyone was welcomed and in great spirits. As the clocked ticked by to the start time of our tickets, an excited hush blew over the room. What was going to happen now? Where was the train? When would it start?
A voice came over the speaker and then a man appeared. He was sporting an American accent and was telling us that his friend had lost her Christmas spirit so would we all help her get it back? Over the next 10 minutes or so, the children were encouraged to shout out what made them happy at Christmas. One shouted food, one shouted singing and the last little boy said his family made him happy. The whole audience felt their heart strings being ruthlessly tugged as we then sang Christmas songs together. The other lady in the performance was even using sign language when performing Jingle Bells.
After the performance was over they pushed the screen back to reveal the exit onto the platform. Each carriage was marked on the platform so you knew where to stand and Christmas music was being played. Slowly the platform filled up but there was no sign of the train yet! We waited for a little while before the first gasps and cries could be heard from our left. “Its coming!” a little child said. One thing we did notice is that years ago, children would have been lifted high onto adults shoulders for a better view, but now people were raising their mobiles instead (yes, me included).
The steam from the train was all we could see at first as she slowly approached the platform, the black engine barely visible in the dark and carriage after carriage, windows steamed up promising a warm space inside. Chefs waiting at the doors waving as they passed and lanterns on the tables glowing orange and flickering. Fake snow was sprayed above us and ‘When Christmas comes to town” was being played from the movie soundtrack announcing the arrival of the Wensleydale” Polar Express!
Once the train stopped the conductor stepped onto the platform talking to a boy who hadn’t been at his best this year. He had not sent his present list to the North Pole, or had his picture taken with a department store Santa and had left his sister to put out the milk and cookies. The conductor encouraged the boy to get on the Polar Express and after a little persuasion, he agreed! Once he was aboard, the conductor asked if all of us would like to join them too and a roar of cheers erupted from the crowds!
The famous “ALL ABOOOOOARD” echoed down the platform as everyone started to board the train.
Once everyone was seated we set off for an adventure on the Wensleydale Polar Express all singing, all dancing, interactive ride no one will forget! Every ticket holder will receive a freshly baked cookie and a hot chocolate on board the ride as well as the first gift of Christmas – A silver bell from Santa himself.
I had purchased the premium tickets for us and this gave us a few extra goodies. We came away with our very own Polar Express ceramic mugs and also the best views of the “North Pole” as we arrived. With the carriages now in motion, we were treated to the singing and dancing chefs who entertained and sang along to the Hot Chocolate song as they brought us our refreshments and the Polar Express song!
It’s a magic carpet on a rail
Never takes a rest
Flying through the mountains and the snow
Ride for free and join the fun (You can ride for free)
If you just say yes!
'Cause that’s the way things happen
On the Polar Express
The conductor came down the train to check tickets taking the children’s golden tickets and punching their initials into it, just like the film. Our conductor made sure to do this right above the children’s head so they got covered in confetti! (It looked as though every carriage had its own set of characters to make sure all passengers got the same experience).
The homeless man/ghost also made a few appearance’s talking to the children about their persuasion with the Big Man Santa. An emergency stop did need to be made because of caribou on the line, but once they had moved the train was free to continue onwards!
The first gift of Christmas
Once at the North Pole, Santa boarded the train and worked his way along the carriages meeting the children. It seemed that this Santa had a real beard and was incredibly authentic. He loved to meet the children and signed his autograph in the Polar Express books they had brought at Wensleydale station. A little girl – maybe 3 or 4 years old, was calling down our carriage to him “Santa, I love you!” and when he got to her he picked her up and she wrapped her arms tightly around him, burying her face in his neck.
It was so sweet to watch all the children, who still believed in Santa, bursting with excitement. Santa gave each child their silver bell and his trusty elf dished out the adults so he could spend a few extra seconds with the children. Once he had left they continued to shake their bells, staring at them with wonder as they could hear the Christmas spirit in each one.
They all rung their bells together, the whole carriage was alive with the sound of sleigh bells whilst the train started its return journey to the station. On the way back the singing chefs continued to sing to us and the train driver began to tell the story of the Polar Express. The chefs held up giant illustrated books for all the passengers to see as the story was being told and with one last visit from the ghost and conductor, the Polar Express pulled back into Wensleydale station.
On exit from the train we were directed into Santa’s workshop where you can linger for as long as you want. There is the SCANtaclaus 5000, a doorway scanner that sorts the good children from the naughty children and lots of merchandise you can purchase as gifts for others or to remember this event for years to come.
Once you have finished, there are busses waiting to take you back to the car park, the children were starting to get a little tired and restless at this point and I saw a post on a facebook group a few days ago that came to mind.
It said that at this time of year, we should be patient with children. They have likely been plied with sugar and will have higher highs and lower lows. Children are excited by Christmas as will likely overdo it on adrenaline before crashing out. They will not have set out to embarrass or disappoint you, but it is harder for them to regulate their behaviour when their routines are so out of sync compared to other times of the year.
So if your little one throws a tantrum because they didn’t get to hug Santa, or they want matching pyjamas, don’t be too hard on them. They are only young once, and when they stop believing, Christmas will never be the same again. Embrace them and encourage them to imagine great possibilities.
Wensleydale Polar Express
We loved our trip to Wensleydale and the Polar Express ride. The staff were amazing, friendly and helpful. They gave us all such a gift and for just a few hours, we were all children again waiting for Santa.
I would highly recommend taking this trip if you can. The level of details and effort put in from the organisation to the casting of the staff is fantastic. It was easy to believe you were part of the film and everyone was included to feel the magic. So whether you believe still, or maybe a little part of you hopes Santa is real, or you just want to see the faces of your kids and gradnkids, this event is one of the more fun activities we have ever been a part of!
If you would like more information on the Polar Express, click here to visit their website. At the time of printing there are still a few seats available before this years run finishes just before Christmas but we hope it will return again next year!
Don’t forget to check out other locations we have visited too!