Your sidekick’s still got candy in her trick-or-treat bag, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t started making her list, checked it twice and is already planning a sit down with the Big Guy in Red. But where she sees serious QT with Santa, you see long lines at every turn. Just say no to the waiting game this season, when your crew rides the rails with Santa instead. We’ve mapped out all you need to know about the hottest train tickets in town. Ho, ho, ho-p on board!

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 photo: Northwest Railway Museum Facebook page

THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride
Everybody’s favorite Santa train is getting a makeover in time for Christmas 2016. This holiday season, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad will run their first ever POLAR EXPRESS train, from Elbe to the North Pole to pick up Santa. Dress in your Christmas jammie best for this out-and-back, 90-minute trip through the Upper Nisqually Valley. Once the train takes off, families can snuggle up in heated cars with hot cocoa to sip and cookies to munch, while entertaining chefs dance through the aisles reading aloud from the magical Polar Express storybook. The return trip kicks it up a notch because Santa’s in the house. He’ll go through the train cars, greeting kids, snapping pics and doing what he does best, passing out a special gift (the first gift of Christmas) to those who truly believe. Your kiddos will be jingling all the way home after this one!

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photo: Mt. Rainier Scenic Mountain Railroad website

Good to Know: If you want to make sure your crew sits together, First Class tickets are the way to go. They guarantee seats and come with a special souvenir mug, too.

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
54124 Mountain Highway E.
Elbe, Wa 98330
360-569-7959
Online: mtrainierrailroad.com/train-excursions/polar-express

Dates: Nov. 19- Dec. 30, 2016
Times: Daily, 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. except Nov. 21-24 & 28-30; Dec. 5-6, 12-13 & 25
Cost: $24-$39/Kids (2-12); $44-$59/Adults; 2 & under Free

The Santa Train
Families have been riding the Northwest Railway Museum’s annual Santa train for three generations, so you know it’s gotta be good. This popular steam train excursion, that runs from the North Bend Depot out to the Snoqualmie Depot and back, is steeped in history. The 20-minute ride out on decked-out train cars is a scenic one, especially on a winter morning. And it’s the prefect train ride time frame for wiggle worms and babes in arms, too. When your crew arrives at the 1890’s historic depot, they’ll be greeted by Santa, who’ll have time to snap a post-worthy pic and pass a little gift to each of his adoring fans. Families can also check out the old train cars that are on display after they hang with the Big Man. Be sure to wander in to the 1950’s era medical kitchen car where families will find a coal-fire oven, as well as coffee, hot cocoa and cookies for everyone to enjoy. The baggage car is another good spot to stop before heading back on the return train. It’s heated and has some places to sit if your tiny tots legs are getting tired. When all is said and done, plan for two hours riding trains, visiting with Santa and exploring during this train-tastic adventure!

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photo: Northwest Railway Museum Facebook page

Good to Know: The Northwest Railway Museum will run two special Santa Trains for the 2016 season. The 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 27 train will cater to families with special needs, like those that need more time to board, more space and more quiet time, too. There won’t be a train scheduled immediately following and tickets for the 9 a.m. departure will be limited. Then, on Dec. 16, the NRM will be turning back the clock with a first-ever Victorian Santa Train. Expect to see era re-entactors alongside a very special Santa on this historic re-creation ride.

Northwest Railway Museum – North Bend Depot
205 E. McClellan St.
North Bend, Wa
425-888-3030
Online: trainmuseum.org/index.php/programs-events/santa-train

Dates: Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3-4, 10-11 & 16-17, 2016
Times: Hourly from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; except no 10 a.m. on Nov. 27; no 9 a.m. & 10 a.m. on Dec. 16
Cost: $24/person; 2 & under Free

The Snow Train
Rise and shine to board the train for this day-long Amtrak excursion. Over the river and through the woods, the day’s adventure starts at King Street Station, then stops at the Edmonds and Everett train depots before making the final climb up to Leavenworth, so passengers can enjoy the tree lighting ceremony. On the way up, families can settle in to nosh on breakfast and wave to carolers and oom-pa-pah bands as they make their way around the train entertaining onlookers. And word on the street is that Santa and his crew will be there too, handing out gifts and snapping pics with all the good little boys and girls on his list.

The train rolls in to Leavenworth around lunchtime, and families are carted from the station into town on a festive shuttle, where they can then spend the day shopping, dinning and enjoying the snow-y events in this tricked out mountain town. The highlight of the trip is when everyone gathers for the tree lighting ceremony, around 4:30 p.m., with plenty of time to spare before the first shuttles begin whisking people back to the station for the return trip, where dinner and cups of hot chocolate are waiting for everyone back on board. The gentle train ride home is the perfect place for your tuckered out tots to fall asleep after a very full, but well worth it, day. And to all a good night!

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photo: Leavenworth SnowTrain Facebook page

Good to Know: Premium and Dome seating options are all sold out for this season, and the remaining coach seats are flying as fast as Santa’s reindeer. Book now if you want in on this action!

Alki Tours
800-895-2554
Online: alkitours.us

Dates: Dec. 3, 10 &17, 2016
Time: 8 a.m. (departs at King St. station)
Cost: $199/person (coach); $289/person (premium); $339/person (dome)

Do you plan to get on board one of these Santa trains this year? Have you ridden one before? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe