Can you hear the bell ringing? After a night aboard Whitewater Valley’s The Polar Express™ Train Ride, I think you will. Located in Connersville, Indiana (which is about an hour and 15 minute drive from Indianapolis) we boarded a train in our pajamas, drank hot cocoa, met Santa, sang Christmas carols and were filled with the Christmas spirit. The Polar Express™ ride is definitely a memorable experience your family will enjoy.
Here’s the secret…. buy your tickets early. We bought ours last May and back then several dates were already sold out. It is an officially licensed Polar Express™ ride and very popular. So plan ahead. The rides are offered Friday, Saturdays and Sundays mid November through mid December. And, to join in the fun, plan on wearing your pajamas (we wore our Polar Bear PJ’s) because the ride has characters from the book on board the train and you can feel like you are part of the story.
Changes Due to COVID
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the following modifications are being made to this year’s event. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding in keeping everyone safe.
Everyone age 8 and older must wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while on the train and in the station.
Face coverings must be in place before boarding the train.
Children over age 2 and under age 8 are highly encouraged to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while on the train and in the station.
Face coverings can be removed while eating or drinking but must be replaced when finished.
See Indiana Executive order 20-43 paragraph 3.d for other allowable exceptions.
Maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing between yourself and other people who are not part of your group.
Train capacity has been reduced by 50% to allow for social distancing between groups.
Railroad staff will direct you to a seat during the boarding process. Please follow their instructions and remain seated during your trip.
Wash or sanitize your hands frequently.
Restrooms will be stocked with soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be available in the station, at boarding locations, and on the train.
Please wash or sanitize your hands before boarding the train.
All on-board characters and crew members will limit physical contact with passengers as much as possible. This includes Santa, The Conductor, Chefs, Elves, and Hobos.
Santa will still be walking through the train and visiting with each group for a few minutes.
Santa will not be sitting down down during his visit.
Bells will be passed out by the Elf assisting Santa.
Letters to Santa should be put in the mailbox at the station instead of given to him on the train.
The Conductor will not be punching or handling tickets.
Disposable gloves will be worn during hot chocolate and cookie service and during trash pickup.
The train and station will be sanitized with an electrostatic fogger using an EPA approved product before each trip.
All railroad volunteers and employees will undergo a daily health screening and anyone sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be sent home.
Any railroad volunteer or employee exposed to COVID-19 will not be permitted at the railroad for 14 days.
For everyone’s safety, an officer from the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department will be riding the train and patrolling the station and surrounding area between trips.
On The Train
(This narrative reflects a pre-COVID experience, please see above for changes to the 2020 experience) Connersville, Indiana is home to the Whitewater Valley Railroad. (This is the same place you can do Day out with Thomas and Friends Train Ride in the summer.) There are parking lots around the Depot which are free. Inside the heated Depot there are restrooms, a souvenir stand and professional photographers on hand to take family photos. Be sure to use the restrooms before the train departs as there are no restrooms aboard the train.
The train cars had the official PE (Polar Express™ ) logo on the outside and were decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments on the inside. It was a chilly November night, but inside the train cars were quite warm and comfortable. Once seated on the train, the Conductor shouted “All Aboard!” Next stop… the North Pole.” And the train lurched forward. The Conductor then came along and punched up our tickets to look like Christmas Trees, Snowflakes and Reindeer. The little punched out flakes of tickets flew through the air and went everywhere (just like in the movie.).
Next, we saw the Hobo run through the car looking to steal a seat, and before we knew it cookies and hot chocolate was being served by chefs to all the riders. Their trays were full of cups and how they kept from spilling on the train car as it rocked back and forth over the tracks, I’ll never know. The whole time music was playing with songs from the movie and everyone was excited for what would come next.
As we enjoyed our treats, the Polar Express story was read over the loud speaker and characters walked along holding up the pictures in the story book for kids to see and enjoy.
Then about 1 hour into our trip, we reached our destination…. The North Pole. Outside our train windows were lights and trees, and many decorations around Santa’s Workshop. When the doors to the workshop opened, out stepped Santa with a large sack on his back. Everyone on the train cheered when they saw him. He waved and climbed aboard the train. The train then proceeded back to Connersville and Santa made his way around to every family to visit with them, take photos and give every passenger a special gift. (A bell off of Santa’s sleigh, and only those who believe in the magic of Christmas can hear it ring.) The ride back to Connersville was full of caroling and talking to the characters from the story. Each character interacted so nicely with us and made us feel very welcomed aboard the train.
The entire ride was amazing and I would highly recommend it to any family. My kids are 5 and 7 years old, and loved every minute of it. The story truly comes to life aboard the train and my kids felt like they were living it for themselves. While the ride did take 2 hours total, I felt like there was enough going on to keep the kids entertained. I took along some coloring books in my purse, just in case, but never used them. We took extended family with us and as long as you arrive 20 minutes early to the ride, they can seat large parties all together.
What to know before you go…
- Use the restrooms before the train leaves as it a long ride and there are no restrooms on board.
- Dress in PJ’s, everyone else does too, it’s half the fun.
- Photographers are on board the train taking photos, so you can order them online afterwards.
- Think about getting a hotel and spending the night, as some of the train rides are in the evening hours. There are hotels in Rushville, Indiana which is about 20 minutes away.
- If you have any dietary or allergy concerns you are able to bring your own food/drink aboard the train.
- You can purchase the Polar Express Book with your tickets, in the depot, or bring one from home. Either way I recommend having one for the kids to look at during the ride and it makes for a great keepsake.
Polar Express Train Ride Tickets
Tickets for the Polar Express train ride are $36 per person age two years and older for rides November 13-22. Tickets are $37 for age two years and older November 27-December 19.