By ANGIE ALVARADO
The area’s first cold snap of the season and threat of inclement weather didn’t keep folks away from the Texas State Railroad’s Palestine Depot last Saturday night to begin their Christmas season with a ride aboard The Polar Express™.
Dressed in their warmest pajamas and robes, children and adults alike waited anxiously to watch the historic railroad’s steam engine pull into the depot. The yellow depot was aglow with Christmas trees and lights, keeping those waiting warm against the night’s chill.
The Polar Express™ is based on the award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg and tells the story of a young boy’s magical journey aboard the train bound for the North Pole.
According to Janet Gregg, marketing manager for the Texas State Railroad, The Polar Express™ is one of the park’s most popular events thanks to the book by Van Allsburg and the Warner Bros. film.
“It is by a mile, our most popular event. It’s our longest running event of the year and by far the most popular, biggest thing we do,” Gregg said.
In the first two weekends before Thanksgiving, ridership aboard The Polar Express™ was up over the same time last year, Gregg added. She encouraged those wanting to ride The Polar Express™ to make their reservations early.
“It’s definitely not a walk up and get a ticket thing,” Gregg said. “People need to book in advance.”
As the train approached the depot last Saturday night, children squealed almost as loud as the train’s whistle. Parents snapped pictures of their children with the train in the background as it came to a stop to let a new load of passengers begin their own magical journey bound for the North Pole and Santa Claus.
Quickly the train’s cars filled up with passengers, laughter ringing throughout.
“We’re going to the North Pole,” screamed one little boy clad in red pajamas and a Santa hat.
Soon after the train pulled out of the depot, just like in the movie and book, chefs served hot chocolate and cookies as the story of The Polar Express™ was read.
Before long, the train slowed and one could see the thousands of lights that illuminated the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop. As youngsters peered through the windows to catch a glimpse of Santa and his elves, the jolly man in red made his way to the train.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas!” Santa bellowed as he entered each train car. He made his way through the cars, stopping at every seat to hand every child a shiny silver bell tied to a bright red ribbon. He listened as children whispered their Christmas wishes and posed for pictures.
With a wave and a loud, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas to all!” Santa went on his way.
The trip back to the depot was just as merry as children laughed and sang Christmas carols as they danced in the isles with “chefs” Vanessa Giron and Taylor Brown.
Aboard car 50 was the Ramirez family, Raul and Norma Ramirez, of Palestine, and their three children, Raul Jr., 10, Leslie, 9, and Ariana, 3. Saturday night marked the family’s first time aboard The Polar Express™.
Also making the trip for the first time was the Grinspan family from Denison. Johnny and Renee Grinspan and their four girls, Lauren, 10, Hannah, 8, Emma 5, and 1-year-old Ava.
Deonna Bellard of Fresno, Texas, also was riding The Polar Express™ for the first time with her daughter, Cydney Wesley, 8, and her niece, Kelsy Bellard, 7.
“This was our first experience on a train,” Deonna Bellard smiled. “It was great. We enjoyed it.”
Bellard was born and raised in Palestine, and her 92-year-old grandmother, Clara Brown, still lives here.
Larry and Sharla Vance of Kingswood, also were first-time riders aboard The Polar Express™ .
“It was a lot of fun,” Sharla Vance said as the train returned to the depot.
“I can’t wait to ride it again next year,” shouted a little girl as she departed the train.
The Polar Express™ train rides depart the Palestine Depot at 3:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 4-8, Dec. 11-23 and Dec. 26-29.
Tickets start at $20 for children and $40 for adults.
For more information, or to make reservations, go to www.texasstaterr.com or call 877-726-7245.