Is the Polar Express train ride worth it? An honest review

Bryson City's Polar Express

Bryson City's Polar Express train ride is great for kids (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

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Bryson City, a small town located in Western North Carolina, is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train ride for 10 months out of the year.

But each November and December, it is the host of something more magical.

Based on the classic children’s book and subsequent movie, the Polar Express arrives to carry passengers – many decked out in their finest pajamas – from the mountains of North Carolina to the North Pole and back.

Complete with a dancing crew that serves hot chocolate and a visit from Santa Claus to bestow a silver bell from his sleigh, the Polar Express celebrates the wonder of Christmas.

There are several considerations you need to weigh before making the trip to Bryson City to ride the Polar Express, not the least of which is where your child is on the relative scale of suspension of disbelief.

Here are a few tips and things to consider before your magical journey on the Polar Express in North Carolina:

Polar Express train ride in North Carolina
The Polar Express Train ride in North Carolina is a real train ride that offers a themed, immersive experience in the holiday season (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

How much is the Polar Express train ride?

Ticket prices vary by selection. At the time of this writing, tickets for children range from $29-47 and $43-67 for adults.

Considering travel time, the Polar Express is not necessarily a cheap family adventure.

The pricing levels vary from first-class down to coach, each class with a variety of pricing options based on times and the type of train involved.

Steam trains are generally more expensive.

Still, the Polar Express train ride in North Carolina is very popular, so we recommend you book early if you plan to ride this season.

The price was worth it for us. Our middle child is absolutely in love with trains. Riding a real train, any train, was an exciting prospect. So really, the Polar Express hoopla was mostly icing on the cake.

To get the full experience, however, you have to come in with the eyes of a child, or at least the heart of one.

Read Also: Is Christmas at Biltmore worth it? An honest review

How long is the Polar Express train ride in Bryson City?

The train ride is an hour and 15 minutes round-trip. There’s a reason the scenic rides are significantly longer. Chiefly, it takes that much more time to get to the real breathtaking scenery.

The fictional Polar Express isn’t hindered by things like logistics.

It goes where it needs to go. The track magically appears in the right spot to get to each child’s house and take them to the North Pole.

In real life, and in Bryson City, the railroad tracks don’t always run through the prettiest part of town. As you roll out, looking forward to a magical journey, it can be jarring to look out the window at so much reality.

Still, there are some pretty views as the tracks wind down by the river. Across open fields, we saw some elk (which we were able to pass off as reindeer) and mountains.

Train depot in Bryson City
All excursions with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depart from Bryson City (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is the Polar Express train ride worth it?

The train staff is game, playing with the kids, dancing and singing. It mostly falls upon their shoulders to put the merry in this Christmas journey.

Arrival at the North Pole is about what you’d expect. Production values for a small town tourist train ride aren’t exactly Hollywood-worthy.

Still, Santa was jolly and patient with the kids, making sure each got a Christmas bell.

And they each hung on to those silver sleigh bells as if they carried their very Christmas wishes.

Some of that, I think, speaks to the validity of the experience, but some also to the fact that the boy in the book temporarily loses his.

Like many things in life, the Polar Express is a matter of perspective.

My kids still talk about their train ride to the North Pole, drinking hot chocolate, seeing Santa and ringing their bells.

I’m the only one who remembers the flaws.

“The Magic of Christmas lies in your heart,” Santa tells the boy who doubts.

Maybe I need to ride that train again.

Read Also: Is the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad worth it?

Seat selection Bryson City Polar Express
Prices vary by seat selection when you ride the Polar Express train ride (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

Is the Polar Express running this year? (2021)

The Polar Express will soon be in motion for the 2021 season.

Currently, rides are available between Nov. 12, 2021 through December 31, 2021.

At the time of this writing, select days are already sold out. Remember to book as early as possible.

Trips are not always scheduled daily, so it’s important to plan ahead. Visit the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad page to learn more.

Where is the Polar Express train located?

The Polar Express Christmas train ride in North Carolina departs Bryson City from the train depot.

The entrance to the parking lot is at 45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC.

It is recommended that guests arrive one hour before departure.

For more information, visit them online at gsmr.com.

Have you ridden the Polar Express train ride in North Carolina? Did you think it was worth it? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

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4 thoughts on “Is the Polar Express train ride worth it? An honest review”

  1. We rode the Polar Express on 11/14/2020, a group of 11 of us, and we all enjoyed it! The kids were so excited to see Santa’s house and the reindeer stables in the “North Pole”. I enjoyed the hot chocolate (and would love to know what kind it was because it was the first time in years I have drank hot chocolate and not gotten an upset stomach). We will try to take this trip again next year!

  2. No. It is not worth the money or time. It was a night ride for us. You could not even see the lights bc of condensation on the big windows. Sad

  3. So worth it. My wife had cancer at the time we went and has since passed. It was a trip were we all could feel special for a little while. We could watch our son really, really have a great time which in turn made for an incredible experience.
    It was a time I will always remember, a great memory in mine and my son’s life.

  4. Worth every penny. We have rode the Poler at least four times with different members of our family, different years. Would recommend to anyone that believes in the true reason for the season.

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