Planning a Polar Express Train Ride Experience on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

I knew I had to plan a Polar Express Train Ride shortly after my son watched the Polar Express movie for the first time.

For several weeks after watching, much like most 4 year olds learning about the world around them, he acted out scenes from the movie all day, every day.

Him: “Well, are you coming?”

Me: Where?
Him: “Why to the Norrrff Powwe of course!”

Rinse and repeat until Valentines Day. 

The Christmas that my son turned 5 years old, I decided was the perfect time for him to experience first-hand The Polar Express Train Ride through the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

We were going to be in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge for a week on vacation anyway, so adding in a drive to Bryson City, NC was an easy decision.

What is The Polar Express Train Ride?

The officially licensed The Polar Express Train Ride events are set to the sounds of the movie and passengers get cookies and snacks, hot chocolate, a sing-along and a read-aloud of The Polar Express book by Chris Van Allsburg. 

THE POLAR EXPRESS film is based on Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Christmas picture book, which tells the story of a boy who takes a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa.

First published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 1985, The Polar Express became an instant family favorite and has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. In 1986 it won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for Illustration.


What to Expect on The Polar Express Train Ride Experience

Upon arrival at the North Pole, Santa greets everyone and hands out sleigh bells, just like in the movie!

We ventured out to Great Smoky Mountain Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina from Pigeon Forge at around 5 p.m.; it was about a 2 hour drive through winding mountain roads for the 8 p.m. trip to the North Pole.

I made reservations in early August so upon arrival, all we had to do was park ($5 parking fee) and head to the depot for our actual tickets. Each person receives a paper ticket, but children receive a ticket much like the one the kids in the movie get. 

The Polar Express


We purchased First Class tickets aboard the deisel Carolina Shine train and were free to walk around the depot, check out the replicas and museum and do some shopping until it was time to board.

Once on the train, we walked to our section, past hot cocoa being prepped for us and got settled into our seats.Once aboard we ate cookies and candy, drank our hot chocolate, sang songs, enjoyed the ride and finally got to chat with Santa when we arrived on the North Pole

My entire family (including the big kids, had a great time) but my son and Santa shared a very special interaction –  Check out the video below for the entire Polar Express Train Ride experience and see how amazing Santa was with Zac!


Where Can I Take The Polar Express Train Ride

There are just under 50 locations across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom where visitors can meet Santa at the North Pole aboard The Polar Express.

The Polar Express Train rides are officially licensed by Rail Events on behalf of Warner Bros. and have been running since 2007.  

Frequently Asked Questions FAQ About The Polar Express Train Ride

How do I book tickets for The Polar Express Train Ride?

Tickets for each location are sold by the individual host venues and links to each website can be found on the main The Polar Express Train Ride location page. 

When Should I Purchase Tickets for The Polar Express?

Once tickets are on sale at the location of your choice, it is recommended that reservations are made as soon as your group knows which date and time you would like to attend. Tickets often sell out quickly for this popular event.

Should We Wear Our Pajamas on The Polar Express?

Families are encouraged to wear warm pajamas just like passengers from book and film. Passengers may spend time on an unheated platform as they board and disembark from the train, so appropriate winter attire is also recommended.

How Long is The Polar Express Train Ride?

Trip lengths vary by location, but are generally no less than 60 minutes and no longer than 75 minutes per round trip.

Visiting The Great  Smoky Mountain Railroad

We were quite pleased with our chosen The Polar Express train depot location in Bryson City, NC.  Their was ample, affordable ($5) parking adjacent to the depot and staff members were fun, attentive and kind.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad also features other events like the PEANUTS Great Pumpkin Patch Express as well as a BBQ & Brews Rides!  For more information on those and other fun family-friendly events, check out their website!





  • Tandra - Thriller Mom

    We’ve talked about doing this for quite a while now! Then we put it off & the event is sold out by the time we think of it again . I’m considering your post my reminder! We recently visited the N.C. Transportation Museum & the staff filled us in on their upcoming Polar Express ride & other happenings. Sounds like so much fun! I’m sure my girls will have a blast!

    • Marie Shaurette

      I know! It sells out so quickly. If you get the chance though, definitely try to make it – sooo much fun!

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