This time every year, the magic of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Christmas story and the North Pole are brought to life on the Mount Hood Railroad’s Polar Express Train Ride. Recently, my family and I made the scenic, 62-mile drive east from Portland to Hood River, where we began our round-trip journey to the North Pole from the town’s historic train depot.
When we arrive, darkness has fallen outside and the bright, festively-decorated depot is teaming with pajama-clad families of all ages clutching their tickets. (All passengers are welcome to come in their sleepwear, like they do in the book. Every kid receives a Golden Tickets to be stamped by the conductor.)
The doors to the platform are thrown open and my husband Erik, our six-year-old son Finn, my mother-in-law Sally and I are escorted to our seats by cheerful chefs in one of the train’s vintage passenger cars. All cars are heated and decorated to celebrate the holidays.
Then we’re pulling away from the station, traveling through the cold, dark forests of the Hood River Valley to the North Pole. Finn presses his face up against the window, looking for white-tailed rabbits and lean wolves. Dancing chefs serve us rich hot cocoa and cookies. While we sip, they hold up large copies of The Polar Express, the story read to us in mellow tones over the speakers.
Soon after the book ends, we pull into in the brightly-lit North Pole. All the kids in our car, including Finn of course, buzz with excitement when they spy Santa Claus from the windows. He and his helpers quickly board the train.
As we chug back to Hood River, St. Nick visits every child on board and gives him or her the first gift of Christmas – a silver sleigh bell. Then our chefs lead us in singing Christmas carols and our car fills with the sounds of bells and voices. Looking at my son’s happy face, I once more experience the magic of the holidays.