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.
In 2021 the train rides took place on the weekend of November 27th and 28th as well as on December 4th, 5th, 11th, 12th, 18th and 19th.
2022 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.
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. In normal years, its regular facilities are open on non-Polar Express days in November and December, and year-round every day except for December 25th and January 1st.
Polar Express 2021
In 2021 the Polar Express event took place at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park on November 27-28, December 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination passports and identifications were required for everyone over the age of 11 in 2021.
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 2021 winter holiday season, departures on the Polar Express were at 10:00 am, 12:00, 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
There were two main ticket options for the Polar Express in 2021: Coach ($39) and First Class ($49). The cost was the same for everyone aged two years and older. Infants under two years were free and had to sit on someone’s lap.
The 6:00 pm departures on Saturdays were special “Night Time Rides” and tickets for those cost $59 for everyone. There was also the option to book an entire VIP coach which seated 15 people. This cost $1500 and included pre-boarding and priority access to the activities at the North Pole at the end of the ride.
All tickets included a ride on the Polar Express train to the Squamish Estuary and back, a complimentary cookie and candy cane, and live entertainment onboard. The First Class tickets also included assigned seating and a collector’s mug.
Parking at the event cost 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 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 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 the cookies and candy canes. 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 treats like hot chocolate and cotton candy, 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 by 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.
Suggestions for Before You Go
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: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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.
Other Tips and Things to Know
TIP #6: 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 #7: 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 #8: 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 #9: 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.
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: