All Aboard! Take a Memorable Ride on the Santa Express

When it comes to holiday traditions, kids just can’t seem to get enough of the man in red. And a chance to visit with him? Well, let’s just say it’s beat out only by opening presents on Christmas morning. This year, spice up the annual Santa sit-down with a day-long railroading adventure that’s sure to make an impression on little believers. All aboard!

Santa Train hugs RSMRphoto: Hilary Mercer Photography

Ho Ho Ho
Recreate the Polar Express (or a pretty close replica) for your kids this season with a ride on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s special Santa Express train. This new twist on an old favorite leaves the mall Santa in the dust, literally. Because this Santa has his own car on the train, where he welcomes little passengers and their parents for cookies, hot cocoa and a souvenir gift. He’s available for pictures too, so be sure to snap some good ones for your favorite social media platform, or even the family Christmas card. As always, Santa will be taking orders for Christmas morning surprises from good little girls and boys. The Santa Train runs for a limited time, and spots fill up quickly (Hint: A few time slots are already sold out!), so make your reservation early. We suggest booking on the Friday 3:30 p.m. trains or the 10 a.m. weekend trains to get a seat and avoid the crowds. And who knows, if you’re lucky, you might even have some snow on the ground!

Santa Waving Elbe Trainphoto: Hilary Mercer Photography

All Aboard!
The journey with Santa starts at the North Pole er quaint train station in Elbe. We suggest arriving a good 30 minutes before the scheduled departure to get checked in and watch the train approach. It’s one of those moments where feeling small is an understatement, and your little engineers will stare wide-eyed for good reason. To add to your special experience, head up to the engine car and hop on board as it turns around for the next adventure. The engineers are psyched to share their passion for trains with passengers (remember, they’re volunteer hobbyists!). And they can answer all kinds of questions from curious minds, little or big. They love to share stories, so get ready to geek out with those who live the dream!

Conductor getting tickets Elbe trainphoto: Hilary Mercer Photorgraphy

The ride out to Mineral is about 40 minutes, and it’s a throw back that’ll have you longing for warm summer nights and a slower paced life. That rhythmic clickety-clack of the train on the tracks, the rustic wooden benches in the cars, the classic whistle of the steam engine. You can’t help but feel like you’re in the middle of a Norman Rockwell painting as you ride along over streams and through forests, slowing to take in the beauty of Rainier looming above the trees (psst… the view’s on the east side of the train, so grab a seat there if you can). This is one situation where it’s definitely all about the journey. Like any train ride, passengers can get up and move through the cars, so you can keep the kiddos happy with some exploration and movement on this outing. Once you arrive in Mineral, you can get out and explore the new museum and stretch your legs a little bit, or you can stay put as the train turns around the make the return journey.

Santa Train Engineer Courtesy Bob Harbison 300DPIphoto: Bob Harbison Photography

If you’re feeling peckish, visit the snack car where you’ll find a full menu of munchies, like crackers, candy, nuts, chips, and drinks too. Everything’s on the cheap side (nothing over $3) and cash is a must-have. This is also where you’ll find the restrooms. If you need to change a diaper, you won’t find a changing table in either bathroom. But there’s floor space for a change in the bathroom facing the snack counter. If you can plan it (listen up, babies, we’re talking to you) change a diaper before you depart or after arriving in Mineral. Both of these restrooms have changing tables.

Railroad snack carphoto: Allison Sutcliffe

Good to Know
Happy kiddos, happy life. (Is that the saying?) Check out our tips below to keep your trip on track.

1) Plan for about 2 hours round-trip on the train, and about 2 hours each direction if you’re driving down from the city. This is an all day, weekend adventure that’s worth the trip!

2) BYO is kosher when it comes to snacks and other food on the train. Just avoid glass bottles or things that can roll and spill, please.

3) Expect spotty cell service and Wi-Fi for the trip. This can either be the perfect excuse to unplug and enjoy the ride, or it can mean a little planning ahead when it comes to downloads meant to occupy the littles.

4) All the train cars are covered and heated, but a warm blanket for laps can help to keep everyone cozy (these are 100-year-old, single-paned windows after all). Plus, it’ll add a little sleigh ride feel to your holiday excursion.

5) Practice the carnival ride caveat to keep the kidlets safe on the train. Hands and limbs inside the moving vehicle at all times means they won’t encounter ant low-hanging, unfriendly branches along the way.

Food, Glorious Food
Just north of the Elbe train station, there are a few eateries that will satisfy your appetite for food and trains, too. Eat aboard a renovated train car at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company Restaurant, where they serve up traditional diner fare like burgers, salads, pastas, and desserts that you’d be embarrassed to tell your dentist you actually ate. Everything’s homemade, and let’s just say you should expect some leftovers when it comes to serving size. The Elbe Pizza Express serves up super yummy slices for here or to go. So, sit down and enjoy a pie. Or take out a slice or two for some (moving) train car dinning. Either way you get to extend the train experience just a little longer with these restaurants. There are also a few picnic tables outside the train station, if the weather’s good for outside eating. And for those who need a cuppa, check out Jackie’s Java, just across the parking lot from the Elbe depot. Jackie brews some of the best lattes, mochas and americanos around, and a free kid’s hot cocoa is yours with the purchase of a full price latte when you’re a Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad rider. Useful fuel for the whole crew!

Mt Rainier Dining Co Restaurantphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

Y’All Come Back Now, Ya Hear?
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad resumes its usual schedule this May. Just in time to watch the world come to life again and enjoy the sights and smells of spring in the mountains. On this train, passengers get to disembark at the depot in Mineral and check out the world’s largest collection of steam logging locomotives. If engines are your thing, (and even if they’re not) get ready to marvel at some of the rare and vintage beauties housed in their sheds. Move over, Thomas. Sodor ain’t got nothin’ on this place! And although you won’t find Sir Topham Hatt wandering around these sheds, you’ll probably find some people busy working on engines at the Shop. The tools alone are worth a peek. There are plenty of photo ops as you wander through the Rod House and the House of Gears, weaving in and around these massive metal machines. Each engine has a story to tell, and interesting facts are posted to help those of us who may not be so in-the-know figure out the cool in what we’re seeing. There’s serious history in the American railroading culture, and here’s a chance to learn all about it!

snow Train elbe trainphoto: Bob Harbison Photography

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad
54124 Mountain Hwy E.
Elbe, Wa 98330
360-569-7959
Reservations: 1-888-783-2611
Online: mrsr.com

Dates: Nov. 29- Dec. 22, 2014
Cost: $31/adults (ages 13-61); $24/youth (ages 5-12); $15/kids (ages 3 & 4); 2 & under free
Times: Fri.-Sun. at 10 a.m., 12:45 p.m., or 3:30 p.m.

Do you plan to ride the Scenic Mountain Railroad with Santa? Have you taken the trip before? Share your experience in a comment below.

—Allison Sutcliffe