I have been keen to book on a Polar Express train ride for the past couple of years now. Usually, its a bit too far away but last year I did try to book the one in Norfolk and it had already sold out. When I heard that the Polar Express was coming to the Wensleydale railway for the first time ever I got on the email list so I didn’t miss the day of release. The day the tickets went on sale I booked us in for close to Christmas so we could truly get into the Christmas spirit. It did not let us down! It really was an experience not to be missed. I booked in June time as I didn’t want to miss the perfect slot for us.
This is a review previous to 2020 – some aspects may not be the same this year. Please check their website.
The Wensleydale railway is in North Yorkshire, Leeming Bar near Northallerton.
Standard or Premium Seating?
Every Christmas I like to splash out on something special. I opted for Premium seating and I was glad I did. From what I could see our tables were better decorated with a cute lamp (not to take home) and we each had a Polar Express souvenir ceramic mug plus a bag to share to take home.
I booked for the 21st of December, this cost around £180 for a table with four seats plus postage of our tickets. Premium seating can only be booked as a multiple of four. As there was only 3 of us I paid for the extra seat so we could enjoy premium seating, otherwise we may have been sat with someone from another family.
I did not make a note of the standard seating price but I think it was around £32 per person. This still includes a hot chocolate and a cookie plus the first gift of Christmas for everyone, one of Santa’s reindeer’s bells. Premium seating had the best view of the north pole which you only get to see from the train.
What is the Polar Express?
The Polar Express is the most wonderful and cleverly animated Christmas film starring Tom Hanks. It was originally released in 2004 and has been a firm favourite of ours for the past couple of years. It’s a slightly more mature film than most and it is perfect for slightly older children that may be questioning the magic of Santa. It picks up a select few children on Christmas eve and takes them to the north pole to see Santa.
The lead child in the story is there because he doesn’t really believe anymore. In fact, he can’t even hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh. But in the end, he does believe and he can hear the bells. The bells we were all gifted ring exactly like they do in the film.
Our ride on the Polar Express
If you have seen the film you will know that the kids are all picked up in their pyjamas. Everyone is encouraged to wear theirs. We didn’t but my son did and he loved that he was wearing them on a day out. In hindsight, I wish we’d have worn our dressing gowns over our clothes. But there were quite a few parents not in pyjamas. The whole experiences lasted for around 1 hour 30 minutes with one hour spent on the train.
There is no parking at Wensleydale station. The designated parking for the event is actually at Leeming bar services. This sounds a bit strange but it wasn’t. It was run really well and everything went without a hitch. You are urged to arrive at least 45 minutes beforehand. There were people in the car park directing you to spaces and you then cross the road and check-in. There were a few souvenirs in here and we bought our son the cutest conductors hat. You could also purchase dressing gowns, pyjamas and a few other souvenirs. We were advised that this was also the best place to go to the toilet but they did have some at the station.
We then boarded the festively decorated courtesy bus. These seemed to run every few minutes and we didn’t have to wait for one on either journey. You are then driven about 5 minutes to the train station. Here they had a few food and drink stalls.
You then wait in a large marque where the Polar Express film was being shown on a big screen. 20 minutes before departure there was a show to get you in the festive mood. The idea is to help one of them regain his Christmas spirit. Everyone was having a great time joining in.
The screen behind them parted and you then see the boarding now backdrop and everyone left the room. Before our visit, I’d been sent a Polar Express round trip ‘golden’ ticket for each of us. You won’t need these until you are on the train but we did need our booking paper which had our seat numbers and carriage number. This, along with some big signs, helped finding where to stand and wait really easy. It did get quite crowded on the platform though so make sure little ones hold your hands.
There was Christmas music from the film being played on the speakers and you could just about spy the train with its steam billowing away in the distance. After a few minutes, a voice came on the speakers and the excitement built as the train rolled into the station. Next to us, there was a big machine spraying ‘snow’ over us all. It was truly magical with the chefs and the conductors waving from the train as it pulled in. I must admit I got a bit emotional. We then heard ‘all aboard, all aboard’ and our chef was soon guiding us on the train.
Now it was time for the real magic to begin. It was non stop entertainment from start to finish. The journey started with the Polar Express theme tune to really get everyone in the mood. As we had booked premium there were 4 big, almost tankard like mugs, waiting for us. Plus a lantern and a bag to take our mugs away in.
The journey then pretty much played out like most of the film. The waiter, conductor and chef did a great job with the ‘Hot Chocolate’ song. We were brought ‘hot hot hot’ chocolate in Polar Express cups. We poured ours into our new big mugs. They also brought us a huge and wonderful cookie each.
The story was retold through singing, performances and some reading from a very big Polar Express book. Everyone was made to feel welcome and involved.
The ‘ghost’ from the roof of the train even made a couple of appearances with his guitar. They had even provided scrapers for the windows in case you got steamed up which was a nice touch and fun for the kids. We had our tickets checked and our son had a J punched in his for his name.
We were then told that we would be meeting Santa at the North Pole where he will give the first gift of Christmas. We got to see him from inside the carriage waving outside at his north pole platform. After a few minutes we then spied him in our carriage waving at the door. He moved around each table greeting and chatting to everyone.
One of his elves followed on behind him handing out a silver bell from the film that rung exactly like the one in the film. It was so enchanting and everyone gets a bell, young and old. Santa later returned for a photo with anyone who wanted one.
We then made our way back to the train station while singing some Christmas classics such as Jingle Bells, the twelve days of Christmas and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. Everyone had such a big beaming grin on their faces. Everyone and I mean everyone was touched by the magic of the Polar Express.
You then exit via ‘Santa’s Workshop’ where kids can write a letter to Santa or do some colouring. There is then another gift shop to pass through. We then boarded the first bus back to our car.
If I was to be picky there were a few things that I felt could be improved on. For us we found the ‘North Pole’ to be very disappointing. The backdrop looked a bit like someone had rushed making it and it would have been nice to see some ‘fake snow’ and maybe some elves with Santa.
We also felt the marquee where you wait to be a bit disappointing. It would have been nice to have been welcomed in and for the room to feel a bit more festive. We all thought it was a shame that the outside of the train carriages didn’t have Polar Express on them. But I’m just being picky. All in all it was amazing but it could be truly amazing.
I hope you enjoyed my review. Please comment below. Never miss a post and subscribe to my newsletter. We are very active on social media and we would love a follow please on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Why not pin this post for later? And give us a follow. Simply click on the image below to take you over to Pinterest.