The Time is Now to Jump On Planning Your North Pole Express Train Ride
Christmas might be the last thing on your mind, but if you’re hoping for a chance to hop on the North Pole Express Train located in Owosso, MI this year, it’s time to fast forward and look ahead to Christmas now!
This magical Christmas experience only happens for a few weekends of the year, and tickets sell out way in advance, so now is the time to start planning!
The North Pole Express is NOT Just a Train Ride
The North Pole Express is a Christmas journey that will have your family feeling like they’ve entered into the pages of Polar Express.
It’s a four-hour holiday experience that includes a ride in a steam locomotive that winds you through a winter wonderland, delivers you to a Christmas festival in a nearby village where you are dropped off to explore, and then returns you once again by train.
Your North Pole Express Experience Will Depend on How You Prepare and What Package You Get!
Different people have different experiences on the North Pole Express.
LFF Team contributor Beth recently took the trip, and her family LOVED it! She shares:
“The whole experience was amazing and definitely worth the money! The volunteers are wonderful and really make the experience magical, from caroling on the train ride and serving hot cocoa to mailing your letter to Santa at the old post office! It’s something my family will never forget!”
Beth and many other families rave about it, but when you read all the reviews, you’ll find a mixed bag!
So why do some people love it, and some people not so much?
We Think Your North Pole Express Experience Depends on:
- How prepared you are – are you dressed warmly, do you have what you need?
- What you expect – is this your first or tenth time?
- What package you choose – with 5 different options, there’s a spectrum of experiences!
- Your Kids ages – are your kids in that sweet age of fully embracing the magic of Christmas, or too young to notice/too old to care?
- You and your kids’ Personalities – do you love Christmas with all your heart? Or find it overhyped?
Since your experience might depend on a variety of things, we’re here to give you the low down so you can decide exactly the right ticket for your family!
1 – Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
The experience is four hours, half of which is outside! There is also some outside time standing before boarding the train, so make sure everyone is layered in suitable winter (and waterproof) gear. Once in the town, you are there for two hours, which can put a damper on your time if you aren’t prepared for cold or rain. Snowpants, hats, mittens, check!
Bring Games or a Travel Activity for the Train Ride
The hour-long train ride is beautiful, but for small travelers with small attention spans, beautiful scenery may not be enough to get them through. The experience includes cocoa and carols on the train, which definitely helps pass the time too! Bringing a few travel games, books, or coloring packs isn’t a bad idea to make sure little travelers stay happy the whole ride.
Concessions are available, but if you want to keep it easy for doling out on the train or while walking around, bring snacks. Lots of snacks.
Bring Cash – And Be Ready To Spend Some
Some places in the town of Ashley take cards, but not all. And some of the activities are free, but again, not all. To make the most of your two-hour experience, it’s good to have some cash on hand to keep everyone busy and entertained for the full time in town.
Small Strollers Only
Due to storage on the train, strollers have to be less than 25 lbs and able to fold up. If the stroller is too big or doesn’t fold, you won’t be able to bring it, so baby carriers and smaller strollers are recommended!
2 – Know What To Expect
Daytime vs. Nighttime
If you go in the day, the scenery is much more visible. At night the festival in town is especially fun, but you do miss out on the snowy train ride views!
The Town of Ashley is Small-Town Sweet
The town of Ashley is truly a small, rustic town. Nothing fancy, but nothing commercialized either! The Festival has an arts-and-crafts feel that gives the experience of a true small town full of friendly faces and the joy of Christmas.
No Sit Down Restaurants
If you’re planning on a meal, there are plenty of options, but no sit-down establishments. Think hot dogs or fish fry to take with you while sitting around a toasty campfire, or to carry around with you while enjoying the festival.
The Festival Activities
The festival has horse and carriage rides, arts and crafts for kids (for example, making wooden trucks in Santa’s workshop), outdoor fires for gathering around, carolers on the streets, and visits with Santa and his reindeer.
Your Kid’s Age
The ages and personalities of the crowd you’re with can really make a difference on the North Pole Express. There is definitely a sweet spot in age for this magical adventure, similar to the age where a kid will enjoy Disney’s the Magical Kingdom. If your kids are between the ages of three and nine, then get ready for your heart to melt as you see their eyes light up in wonder! But just like with Disney, young or old can both still experience the magic of Christmas through a child’s eyes.
3 – Choose the Package That Best Fits Your Family
Included for Everyone
When you board the train, you’ll be treated with hot cocoa. Once comfortably seated with hot chocolate in hand, you’ll wind through beautiful winter wonderland scenery. After an hour, the train stops in the village of Ashley, where for the next two hours you’ll join the Christmas party! The festival has carriage rides, arts and crafts, photo ops for family photos in front of the train, and the best part for kids – a visit with Santa! The final hour is back to the train, where you’ll head back where you came from, enjoying the snow-covered scenery while back to being warm and toasty inside the train.
There are FIVE Different Class Services
Tickets start at $50 and go all the way up to $145 per person. Different packages offer different seating, souvenir options, level of service, and amounts of hot chocolate. It may seem like a huge range in price, but rest assured that choosing the packages between $50 and $60 will still give you a full-on experience. Check out the details on each package here.
4 – Understand the Amazing Steam Engine
It may increase your appreciation to know that the steam engine you’re riding in is a pretty big deal! If any of your kiddos are interested in trains or vehicles, this experience will feel like a dream come true.
The North Pole Express is pulled by the world-famous Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive.The blueprints for the PM 1225 were used as a model for the Polar Express in the movie, and they used the actual sound of it too. How cool is that?
5 – Rest Assured That This Enchanting (and Slightly Expensive) Experience is Also Highly Educational
As a former teacher, just insert the word “educational” and I admit you’ll find me first in line! I love having fun with my kids, but more than anything, I love when we can learn something together while having a great time.
The North Pole Express is run by the Steam Railroading Institute, whose mission is to: “educate the public about steam era railroading in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. This includes the preservation of the skills and technology for maintaining steam locomotives by operating steam era equipment and providing the experience of steam locomotives in actual operation.”
True to its mission, the Steam Railroading Institute (along with Michigan State University) has made it possible for this locomotive to be one of the only ones of its kind still up and running! Check out the story here, and be sure to share it with your kids too!
6 – Get An Incredible Family Photo
Once you get to town, the train parks on the tracks so there’s enough time for each family to get a group photo right on the train and tracks! Capture this moment forever – and maybe even get that perfect shot for next year’s Christmas card!
7 – Connect it to the Polar Express
In case you haven’t read the Polar Express book or watched the movie (or both) with the kids in a while, make sure you do this before taking the trip! The connections your family will make to this classic will make the North Pole Express experience even more magical.
8 – Extra Tips
- Go straight to Santa if kids want to sit on his lap. The line is shorter than if you wait and walk around first.
- Definitely get your picture in front of the train! They pull it forward before you get back on and leave the town of Ashley so you can see the smoke puff. So fun!
- You load back into the same train car, so if you wanted to leave anything on the train, you can.
It feels funny to be looking forward to spring at the same time as getting excited for Christmas, but yet I am! I can’t wait to get my ticket this year and have our family experience the magic of Christmas through the North Pole Express!
The “Polar” North Pole Express is located at 405 South Washington Street, Owosso, MI 48867. You can purchase tickets and find more information on their website or by phone: 989-725-9464 Tickets: 989-399-7589
Have you ridden the North Pole Express? Did you love it? Was there anything you wish you knew ahead of time? Please share your experience with us and help us out with any tips!