What’s more fun at Christmas time than a magical rail ride to the North Pole for a heartwarming visit with Santa?
Florida’s Brightline Polar Express (soon to be part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains USA) is a special one-hour journey full of holiday cheer, including a read-a-long from the beloved 1985 children’s picture book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, which was made into a 2004 film starring Tom Hanks.
“The Polar Express is an amazing and immersive experience where children’s faces light up and adults relive the spirit of the Christmas holidays,” Jamie Ryan, Marketing Manager for Rail Events, a special events company licensing the Polar Express, tells PEOPLE. “The entire ride is like stepping into a page of the original story.”
The ride is like a theatrical production, complete with a soundtrack from the movie, Christmas carols, and lots of live singing and dancing down the center aisle, performed by a cast of professional actors, including a conductor, chefs, elves, a hobo, and yes, Santa Claus.
In partnership with Warner Brothers Consumer Products, Brightline’s Polar Express journey begins Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 29 on select dates from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale Brightline rail stations. Ticket prices range from $50 to $75 depending on date, time and departure location.
But no matter which date you choose, all family members are encouraged to wear their pajamas, like the characters in the book, for the journey on the train, which touts its wide aisles, comfortable seating and clean environment.
The original Polar Express story centers on a skeptical little boy who boards a mysterious yet magical train late one Christmas Eve that turns out to be filled with children bound for the North Pole to see Santa Claus.
They travel through small towns, up and around mountains and across the Polar Ice Cap to reach Santa’s workshop. Once the boy arrives, Santa offers him any gift he desires. He asks for one bell from the harness of a reindeer, so that he can remember that Santa is real. His journey of self-discovery during the experience illustrates that the wonder of life and the magic of Christmas never fades for those who truly believe.
One south Florida child, who made the Florida trip last year, can attest to that magic.
“I loved wearing my pajamas and taking a picture with the child acting out a part from The Polar Express book,” Jack Henry, 5, (pictured above) tells PEOPLE after his exhilarating ride from Fort Lauderdale to the North Pole and back with his parents and baby brother Patrick.
“The train ride was magical—I enjoyed seeing the North Pole and meeting Santa Claus so I could tell him what I wanted for Christmas. He even gave me a special silver jingle bell so I can ring it and it feels like Christmas whenever I want it to!”
The festive ride is inspirational and entertaining for all members of the family. Once on board, the costumed rail hosts work their way through the coach, punching each passenger’s golden ticket, just like a scene from the movie.
Along the way, amid the decorated rail cars filled with evergreens, ornaments like tea cups and pendants, colorful lights, and beautifully wrapped gifts, the kids and their parents delight in sips of hot chocolate with marshmallows and snickerdoodle cookies served by dancing chefs.
“My favorite part of our ride to the North Pole was the hot chocolate and cookies!” says passenger Sophia Mareska, 6 (pictured above).
Other fun events during the ride include opportunities for kids to wear Frosty the Snowman hats and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer antlers while dancing with the hosts, and an appearance from a hobo (an essential character from the story) working his way through the train, asking passengers questions and if he can see their golden tickets.
Also, during the journey, the train changes direction when encountering a Caribou crossing, then again after hearing a mysterious sound which turns out to be Santa, when his sleigh lands on the train’s roof.
Santa then amazes the kids by walking into the various cars to visit with each guest and get their Christmas wish lists.
“It’s unique that Santa actually approaches each child onboard,” Ryan says. “He visits with them and gives the families many photo opportunities. It is a magical moment for each kid.”
At the end of the trip, all passengers take home the silver sleigh bell, souvenir golden ticket, and plenty of touching memories.
“I would love to visit the North Pole again aboard the Polar Express and sing the hot chocolate song with everyone on the train,” says Jack Henry. “It was my first time ever riding on a real train, and it went super fast. I especially loved that the destination was the North Pole!”