Get on Board!
The Mt. Hood Railroad turns into the Polar Express for the holidays. With three seating options – coach ($), lower dome ($$) and parlor ($$$), and a variety of dates and times, this might be the perfect holiday family outing, especially if you have a train-loving toddler like we do.
The railroad station is easy to find in Hood River. Parking at the station is $4, or plan ahead to find cheaper street parking in town.
When you first board the coach seating, you find a place to sit. We had a large group (four adults, 1 paid child and 2 lap children), so we fit snuggly in six seats facing each other. Luckily we didn’t have to share the space with anyone else.
The coach was very warm and we shed our layers very quickly. All of the children were dressed in their pajamas, as they are in the book and movie. In fact, I went out that morning to buy pajamas withOUT feet since Future President only owns feet pajamas and I wanted him to be able to wear shoes. I shouldn’t have worried, however, because there were plenty of children wandering around in their feet pajamas without shoes on. And like I said, it’s very warm on the train, so there’s no need to bundle up your child except for the walk from the car to the train.
During our ride, it got dark almost immediately after we boarded so there wasn’t much to look at outside the window. Luckily there is plenty to keep the kids occupied while on board. First, everyone is served hot chocolate and ginger cookies. The hot chocolate is the perfect temperature for children to drink and is served in small disposable cups with lids. (Note: you do not get a souvenir mug in coach seating.)
Next, the conductor comes by to punch the tickets. This was by far the most exciting part of the train ride for our little guy. He’s not a big fan of Santa, so the fact that we were riding to the North Pole to pick up his arch nemesis was not a highlight. The conductor, who had a strangely strong New York accent, was kind enough to punch Future President’s ticket even though it wasn’t the bright golden ticket that each (paid) child is given.
The Polar Express is then read, helping pass the time to get to the North Pole, where Santa is waiting and waving to the children. After he boards, Santa’s elves lead the singing of Christmas carols while Santa visits each group to pass out Polar Express bells, a take-home souvenir.
And by then, the train has arrived back at the station.
All told, the trip takes about an hour and a half. The drive to Hood River takes longer than I remembered, even though I’ve driven past it more times than I can count on my way to and from Walla Walla. The train did not depart precisely at 4:30 p.m. as scheduled, but do allow enough time for the drive, to park and of course, the most important thing of all, photo ops! It was too dark after the train ride to really take any decent photos outside of the train.