Based on the movie The Polar Express starring Tom Hanks, the Polar Express is a Christmas attraction at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish.
2019 dates for the special movie-themed train experience were the Saturdays and Sundays of November 23rd & 24th, November 30th & December 1st, December 7th & 8th, and December 14th & 15th. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event did not take place in 2020. 2021 dates and details are to be confirmed.
Polar Express Christmas Train Ride
Ever wanted to wear your pajamas and ride a magical train to the North Pole to visit Santa just like in the movie The Polar Express? You can at the railway museum in Squamish on weekends from late November until mid-December in most years.
Where is the Polar Express?
The Polar Express event takes place in Squamish at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park at 39645 Government Road.
Especially if you like trains, the Railway Museum is an interesting attraction to visit any time of the year. Its regular facilities are usually open on non-Polar Express days in November and December, and year-round every day except for December 25th and January 1st when there isn’t a global pandemic.
Polar Express 2019
In 2019 the Polar Express event happened at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park on November 23-24, November 30 and December 1, and December 7-8 and 14-15. Three dozen or so trips take place in total and the experience most years includes a real train ride, cookies, hot chocolate, carol singing, crafts and other fun Christmas-y stuff!
During the winter holiday season departures on the Polar Express are usually at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00 pm on Saturdays, and at 10:00 am, 12:00, 2:00 and 4:00 pm on Sundays.
Polar Express Admission Prices
Admission to the Polar Express in 2019 ranged from $39.00 per person up to $59.00 (plus GST). The year before, for $1800, you could have rented an entire luxury train car for yourself and friends (with fancy refreshments included).
A couple of years ago passengers could choose between four different main classes of fare – Candy Cane Class ($35.00), Priority Coach Class ($45.00), First Class ($52.50) and Premium First Class ($59.00). In 2019 there was just Coach (for $39.00) and First Class (for $59.00).
Golden tickets for Candy Cane Class a couple of years ago included a ride on the Polar Express train to the Squamish Estuary and back, a complimentary cookie, cup of hot chocolate, craft activities, photo opportunities with Santa, and a ride on an indoor miniature train. This was likely what you got with a Coach ticket in 2019 (but we didn’t go so aren’t 100% sure).
Regular First Class passengers a couple of years ago got the same benefits as Candy Cane Class ticket holders plus assigned seating, priority boarding and disembarkation, a Polar Express souvenir collector’s mug and a fancier and more nicely decorated train car to ride in. We expect First Class passengers in 2019 got similar benefits (but, again, we aren’t 100% sure).
Premium First Class passengers the year before last received the same as regular First Class folk, but for an extra $6.50 they also got a complimentary 1-year membership with the West Coast Railway Heritage Park. We’re guessing that wasn’t included with the regular price of a First Class ticket in 2019.
Parking at the event usually costs around $5 per vehicle, an optional wooden train craft activity in past years has cost $10, and souvenir toys and snacks like popcorn cost extra. Other than that, most everything else is usually included in the price of admission.
What to Expect
At the Polar Express event you can expect to see lots of young families, a few people in their pajamas, and trains (both real and toy) all over the place. There are also volunteers (mostly older retired men) wearing conductor uniforms, and teenagers dressed as characters from the movie. It’s a very merry place!
Attendees park their cars, walk to the front gate, collect their golden tickets and make their way to the train station waiting room. When the train is ready to board people are directed to their respective train cars, with First Class passengers usually going first. The train is a real, full-sized train!
The Train Experience
Once everyone is settled in their seats the head conductor blows his whistler and the train sets off. Passengers remain seated for the entire 50-minute journey.
During the trip the conductor in charge of each car provides commentary and cooking staff serve cookies and hot chocolate. Part of the Polar Express story is read out loud over the speaker system and there are cameo appearances by characters from the movie. Christmas music from the film plays in the background for some of the time, and passengers participate in a few minutes of carol singing.
Around 50 or so minutes after departure the train returns to the station, passengers disembark and everyone makes their way to the North Pole (which is located indoors in the main museum building).
The North Pole Experience
The fun doesn’t end with the train ride. In the North Pole there are lots more things to see and do.
North Pole attractions typically include miniature train displays, real-life locomotives to climb aboard, craft activity stations, gingerbread cookies to decorate, and Santa and Mrs. Claus to visit. Participants also get a free ride on the miniature train. In a second building, the Car Shop, in past years there has also been a small mini-golf area and a bouncy castle (both of which have been free).
About the Movie
The Polar Express Christmas attraction at Squamish’s railway museum is based on the animated Hollywood movie of the same name. Released in 2004 and produced with a budget of $165 million, it was the most expensive animated movie of its time.
Both narrated and starring Tom Hanks, and based on the book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, the film is about a young boy who no longer believes in Santa Claus. On Christmas eve, in the middle of the night, the magical Polar Express train arrives and takes him to the North Pole.
On the journey the boy meets a conductor, Santa, and a hobo (all voice-acted by Tom Hanks in the movie). He also meets other children including a poor kid named Billy. Together they travel to the North Pole and along the way the young protagonist discovers the “meaning of Christmas” and reasons to believe in Santa.
Tips and Advice
Below is some extra information to help you make the most out of your Polar Express experience when it runs at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
TIP #1: The Polar Express attraction sells out. To avoid disappointment, reserve your spots well in advance.
TIP #2: Watch the movie or read the book before going to the attraction. Doing so will enhance the experience and help you understand what’s going on.
TIP #3: The Polar Express is a popular attraction with young families. The ideal age for kids is probably between 4 and 10, although both older and younger children can enjoy it too. Young kids (and adults) who love trains will especially have a blast!
TIP #4: Give yourself lots of time to get to the venue. Squamish is close to an hour’s drive from Vancouver’s North Shore in good traffic, parking is a 5-minute walk from the venue, and trains depart at the beginning of your designated time slot. To avoid unnecessary stress and tears, don’t be late!
TIP #5: Vehicles driving the Sea to Sky Highway in November and December are required to have good winter tires (and in some years they really do need them).
TIP #6: When snow is on the ground it makes the train ride scenery even more magical and like the story in the movie. It can also make driving conditions more challenging (and increase the likelihood of timid winter drivers forfeiting their trips because they don’t want to drive). If you want a better chance of there not being snow, go in November or on the first weekend in December.
TIP #7: The indoor North Pole venue is pretty big. In the main room in past years there has been the miniature train ride, full-sized locomotives to go aboard, crafts to do, gingerbread cookies to decorate and Mr. and Mrs. Claus to visit. Upstairs in the same building there are usually miniature train displays to admire and outside in the Car Shop there is the free mini golf and a bouncy castle. Be sure to explore the whole place and not just the main building area.
TIP #8: Expect to spend at least a couple of hours at the Polar Express attraction. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled departure, or even earlier just in case. The train ride itself lasts for about 50 minutes. And finally, at the end, you can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour at the North Pole (all depending on how long you want to spend doing crafts and standing in line to ride the miniature train and see Santa).
TIP #9: The Polar Express attraction is almost 100% indoors, so it’s good even on rainy days. Prior to the train’s departure you can wait indoors in the station. The train ride is completely indoors (inside the train car), and the North Pole activities are in a couple of the museum’s buildings. Pretty much the only outside time you’ll have is walking from your car in the parking lot to the train station and from the train to the North Pole.
TIP #10: If the weather is good, combine your trip to the Railway Museum with a visit to other places of interest. Alice Lake and Shannon Falls are both close by and nice to explore on sunny days. Britannia Mine is a national heritage site just a few minutes away and an interesting place to visit regardless of the weather. And the Sea to Sky Gondola offers a fun experience and amazing views (although it’s closed for repairs in 2019).
For more information about the railway museum see our article about the West Coast Railway Heritage Park.
For tickets and more information about the Polar Express Christmas attraction see the Railway Museum‘s official website.
For lists of Christmas-y things to do in other parts of the Lower Mainland, check out the following: