We decided in early November that it’s high time we took the kids on a Polar Express ride. I searched local events and found one put on by the Monticello Railway Museum in Illinois. After a bit of research, I discovered that people were generally very pleased with the attraction and, after looking at the Museum’s Facebook page, realized that several of our friends had been on the very same ride! (This makes sense as it’s only about an hour from our town.)
I visited their official web page to find that tickets were few and far between. This only makes sense because, unbeknownst to me, the tickets went on sale back in August. We lucked out, though, and were able to snag some tickets during Thanksgiving break. In fact, an 8:00 p.m. ride on a Saturday night suited us perfectly! I hesitated momentarily due to the price. They only had a deluxe table left, which ran about $300. However, I looked into the amenities, considered the occasion, and ultimately decided it was worth the risk.
I’m happy to tell you that it was worth every penny. Every. Penny.
When you first arrive, everyone is as nice as they can possibly be. You enter the depot to get your physical tickets–you pick them up right before the departure time, they are not mailed to you. If you’ve got a little time to kill, you can walk across the parking lot to a large gift shop area. They also have a set where you can have your picture taken. You have to use your own camera, but the backdrop is fantastic and they have volunteers to take the picture for you. (The only reason I didn’t post ours with this article is because it could become our Christmas card.)
When it’s time to board, you walk along the Polar Express replica. As you can see from the below picture, they went all out with the exterior. My kids were in awe. You might even get to see Hobo Joe by his campfire. Odds are, if he sees you, he’s going to say hi with a big smile on his face.
Once aboard, you are pretty much entertained from start to finish. The wait staff (primarily composed of a local dance troupe) sing and dance throughout, they give you as much hot chocolate as you want, as many cookies as you want, as well as all the soda, peanuts, water, and other goodies that you could ever want! Each table has a sparkly silver gift bag that reads “The bell still rings for me” with a ceramic Polar Express mug inside. The conductor punches your ticket in quite the creative fashion, Hobo Joe makes a run through, and Santa himself even makes an appearance while handing out sleigh bells! Keep in mind, this is all happening as the train is actually rolling along.
We rode at night, so we couldn’t see much out the windows, but they made a point to have the “North Pole” all lit up with Santa waving to the train cars before he gets on board to say hello to the kids. Honestly, there’s so much going on inside the train that we never had time to look out!
Now, one thing I want you to remember is that we were on the “deluxe” car. I have no idea if all of this went on in the “coach” cars. Though the deluxe was expensive, I feel that we definitely got our money’s worth.
I have a few suggestions to help you enjoy your time even more. Make sure the kids are seated by the aisle. We were starting to have them sit by the windows and a nice man next to our table whispered to me that we want them along the aisle so that they can get plenty of picture opportunities when Santa arrives. Also, if Hobo Joe sees your entire family in matching pajamas, he’ll give you a special ornament. I knew they liked families to wear matching pj’s, but the ornament completely surprised us. Furthermore, parking is a bit of a free for all. We found a spot easily enough, but count on parking in the surrounding area somewhere. Don’t expect to park right in front of the depot. Finally, there are no bathrooms on the actual train, but the gift shop area has a few. Beware, though, they were a disaster. With that many people coming through, they couldn’t keep up with making sure those restrooms stayed clean.
The Monticello Railway Museum’s Polar Express left us 100% satisfied. Everyone treated us exceptionally well, we were entertained throughout, and they made it as special as they possibly could for the kids aboard. Our ten-year-old and six-year-old can’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it, which, of course, delights their mom and me. If you live in the Central Illinois area, I completely recommend you take part in this wonderful event.
(Did you enjoy this article? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)