Planning a trip to the Polar Express in Palestine, Texas? Here is everything you need to know about the popular Christmas train ride.
Texas is our favorite places to spend Christmas and the holiday season.
The Lone Star State has several Christmas events for all ages including holiday lights, ice festivals, train rides, and more.
The Palestine Polar Express is one of Texas’s best holiday train rides.
Also Read: Best Christmas Towns in Texas
The Polar Express Train Ride in Texas is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
It’s also a wonderful opportunity for families to experience something new and festive.
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Polar Express Palestine 2021 Updates!
Guess what we did over the Thanksgiving weekend? Yes, we took the kids again to the Polar Express!
It is fun, magical, and completely safe.
Enjoy the updated photos and information below.
Where is Palestine, Texas?
Palestine, Texas is a small town in Anderson County, in the Piney Woods region of East Texas.
It is the perfect day trip from Dallas or Houston.
There are many attractions nearby for tourists to explore including the Davey Dogwood Park and Museum for East Texas Culture.
It is also close to Lake Palestine which has boating, fishing, camping and hiking opportunities available.
Also Read: 18 Cool & Awesome Things to do in East Texas
What is the Polar Express, Palestine?
The Polar Express is a Christmas train operated by the Texas State Railroad during the holiday season.
The first Polar Express in Palestine ran in 2007 and has soon become one of Texas’s beloved holiday traditions!
In fact, the 2020 Annual Polar Express train ride from Palestine, Texas carried a record-breaking number of people in spite of the pandemic!
So what exactly is the Polar Express?
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The Polar Express Train Ride in Texas is an exciting holiday event based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book “The Polar Express.” as well as the famous movie.
This train ride features an interactive experience with Santa Claus, Christmas carols, hot cocoa and cookies!
Families can enjoy singing holiday songs with their fellow passengers and experience the mesmerizing story of the Polar Express come to life on their journey.
The experience is a favorite with the kids!
Also Read: 10 Best Gifts for Children who love trains
The Polar Express Experience
So when you purchase tickets to the Polar Express, what exactly are you signing up for?
Here’s what goes down once you arrive for the Christmas train ride at the Palestine Railroad Depot.
Picking up tickets
Riders need to arrive 45 minutes early and pick up their tickets at the Will Call booth.
The magic begins here as you will receive your Golden Tickets just like in the movie!
After picking up your tickets, take some time to go through the Polar Express theme souvenirs and gifts in the Depot Holiday Market.
Here you can buy Christmas tree ornaments, snow globes, train sets, Polar Express jigsaw puzzles, Polar Express mugs, and even robes similar to the one the boy wears in the movie!
Christmas Lights and photo ops before the train
Stepping inside the depot is like stepping inside an enchanted fairy land.
The Palestine Railroad Depot, the engine, and the train coaches are all decorated with twinkling lights, wreaths, and ribbons.
The trees at the Depot are also covered in twinkling lights.
It all looks and even smells Christmassy!
(Btw, Do you know they sell Christmas fragrances in a bottle? Perfect if you are like me and love being reminded of Christmas all year long!)
All around you, you will see families and kids holding their golden tickets in hand, and staring wide eyed at the activity of the station.
But there are plenty of other things to do before the ride begins.
You will find numerous photo ops – including an official paid one with the steam engine!
This has a bit of a line but you can purchase great photo souvenirs at the end.
You will find several other photo ops with snowman, Santa Claus, Christmas tree as well as believe golden ticket photo op.
There’s a hot chocolate hut as well as concession stand.
On the Depot grounds, you will find several picnic tables where you can eat something before the ride.
All aboard. Choo choo!
The Polar Express magic begins as soon as the vintage steam engine (or diesel engine, depending on which day you go) pulls into the station.
Tip – as soon as you hear the train whistle, run to the platform to see the steam engine pull into the Depot!
This will usually happen about 20 minutes before your ride time.
The train conductor, dressed like in the book and movie, shouts ‘All Aboard’.
Visitors can see the boy dressed in his blue pajamas climb the train behind the conductor.
Then the train boards all the riders.
Tip – to be right in front of the conductor when he tells the boy to get on board, look for the blue wooden platform placed near the car doors.
Ride to the North Pole
Finally, the magical ride begins!
As the Polar Express movie soundtrack streams in the background, the coaches are filled with the chugging sounds as the train pulls out of the station.
Soon enough, the awesome railroad staff – dancing and dressed as elves – serve hot chocolate and cookies!
Then the staff recites the wonderful tale of The Polar Express; the staff has a big book which they pass along so everyone can take a look.
Some of the movie characters including the Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and Billy also make an appearance during the train ride to the delight of the kids! (Off course, its the awesome railroad staff again!)
The conductor punches the Polar Express Golden ticket for everyone!
The North Pole and Santa Claus!
Then the Polar Express train chugs its way to the North Pole, located about 25 minutes away from Palestine, Texas.
While you can’t actually get off the train, everyone gets a chance to see the North Pole from the carriage windows.
Tip – This can be a bit of a letdown for the kids! Our daughter started crying, because she wanted to go to the North Pole.
The North Pole has elves, reindeers, a big Christmas tree and off course, some fake snow!
At the North Pole, the train picks up Santa Claus!
When Santa Claus comes aboard the train, the kids just go crazy.
Also Read: Best Places to Visit in Texas in winter
They flock around Santa Claus and take photographs, ask him to sign the train ride tickets and Polar Express books, and tell him what they want for Christmas!
Santa Claus patiently interacts with all the kids and gives them a silver bell each – reminding them to believe in the magic!
The Polar Express return trip to Palestine is full of music, Christmas carols, and dancing.
Polar Express seating options
The Polar Express offers a variety of seating options and it can get confusing to first-time visitors.
Here’s what you need to know about the different cars.
Ultimate Splurge experience!
The cars feature large curving picture windows that extend to the ceiling as well as luxury leather seats.
You will receive the Keepsake mugs to go with your hot chocolate and cookies!
The dome car can seat about 60 people – so these don’t get sold out as fast – especially considering the cost!
Expect to pay about $100 per adult on peak days for the steam train and a little less per child.
Is it worth it? Yes!
We have been in the dome class as well as the coach class and nothing comes close to the magical experience of the Dome glass!
The train has two presidential cars: Coach 1511 and Coach 42!
Both feature comfortable seats and a table to keep your hot chocolate mug.
Both the cars are vintage and really pretty.
Presidential coach 1511 is better for couples with its intimate seating style while Presidential coach 42, with its plush couches, is more comfortable for families.
The large and deep plush couches are especially comfortable for families with infants or lap child under 2.
They however have limited seating and can get sold out pretty fast.
These tickets also have the Keepsake mugs and great views.
Pricing is similar to The Dome class.
The choice between Dome and presidential cars is really down to which car interior you like better.
First class also has the Keepsake Polar Express mugs as well as soft padded seats with a table top.
This is a great mid tier option for those who have small kids and absolutely need a table top to avoid spills.
The First Class offers a more practical and convenient rather than luxury experience.
The tickets range between $70 – $80 depending on the diesel vs steam train.
Your best bet if you’re looking for budget-friendly options to ride the Polar Express in Palestine.
The cars are closed and air-conditioned and have soft padded seats.
However there is no convenient table top between two seats.
We recommend this option for older kids who can be trusted to keep their hot chocolate cups stable through the entire ride.
Also, the coach class does not have the Keepsake mugs and the drinks are served in the Styrofoam cups.
Want to book the coach class with younger kids?
It is doable however you need some advance planning.
Definitely carrier reusable and portable drink carrier to place your drinks from time to time and free up your hands for things such as taking photos with Santa and reading the book.
Polar Express Palestine FAQs
Here is some useful information about the Palestine Polar Express Texas train ride that will help you plan your trip.
How long is the polar express ride in Palestine?
Wondering how long is the Texas State Railroad ride? The Polar Express train ride is 1 hour (60 minutes) long.
Where does the Palestine Polar Express depart?
The Polar Express ride departs from Palestine Railroad Depot inside the Rusk Palestine State Park.
The Palestine Railroad Depot is located at 789 Park Road 70, Palestine, TX 75801.
How to dress for the Polar Express?
Palestine and the Piney Woods region can get quite cold in the winter.
We recommend dressing kids in thick holiday winter pajamas and carrying along small blankets just in case.
Be prepared for the chilly weather and keep a watch on the weather apps for any storms.
Very festive Santa hats for great photo ops.
Tips to book your tickets for the Polar Express
Here are some things to remember before you book your tickets for the magical train ride.
When to book tickets
The tickets for the holiday train get sold out quite fast.
Book tickets at end of summer or early in the fall to get your preferred time or for peak days.
You can book tickets here.
Which date to pick for the ride
Choose a less crowded weekend for the train ride if you have smaller kids.
Avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas weekends as they have maximum crowds.
Any of the weekends prior to Thanksgiving or the early December weekends are good to enjoy the ride without crowds.
However for the most magical experience, there is nothing better than close to the Christmas week!
What time is the best for the ride?
The Polar Express departs from Palestine, Texas from late afternoon to midnight.
The 5 pm or 6:30 pm ride is our favorite.
You get to see and photograph the vintage steam engine in broad daylight.
Plus it is dark enough by the time you reach the North Pole to enjoy the holiday lights, and you can take photos back at the Railroad post ride in the dark.
However, the Polar Express runs through some pretty amazing scenery in the Piney Woods.
If you want to enjoy the outside views as well as have a fun experience, then pick the earlier day rides around 2 pm or 3 pm.
The North Pole is on the side opposite to the station, so try to get tickets on that side.
Steam vs. diesel train
The train is operated either by diesel engine or the steam engine.
The Vintage steam engine offers the ultimate Polar Express experience similar to the book / movie.
However, the steam engine train operates only on limited days and the tickets are more expensive than the diesel engine train.
Be sure to check which train is operating before you book the tickets for Polar Express Palestine Texas.
Tips for the Polar Express Train Ride
Here are a few tips to get the most from your Polar Express Christmas train ride in Palestine, Texas.
The railroad requires visitors to reach 45 minutes before your trip to pick up the actual tickets.
However – Go about an hour to hour and a half early before your train ride!
You will have enough time to take photographs with the Polar Express at Palestine Railroad Depot without crowds.
With that much time in hand, you can find parking with ease, take pictures with the elves, and pick up your Golden tickets without feeling rushed.
Create the atmosphere in advance
Use the power of ‘believe’!
Read the Polar Express book and see The Polar Express Movie about a week before you go.
That way, the story is fresh in your kids’ minds and they can relate better to the experience.
This is especially true for toddlers and preschoolers, who can forget things easily.
If you have kids that can get easily overwhelmed – then preparing them for the experience and setting helpful aids for what to expect through the books and movies is the key!
Take your own book
Take along your own copy of the The Polar Express book to keep kids happy and read along with the staff.
Honestly it is much more fun than waiting around for the book to be passed around!
You can also ask Santa Claus to sign your copy of the book.
You may also be able to buy the book at the depot gift shop, but it’s pricey compared to deals that you can score online!
Dress everyone in matching pajamas from babies to adults.
It makes a great photo op aboard the Christmas train.
During the holiday season, you can easily find matching Christmas themed family pajamas in various toys from Target to Macy’s.
Or order them from the comfort of your home at Amazon!
Adults, if you don’t want to wear the Christmas pajamas outside – then opted for pretty and cool Christmas sweaters but even an ugly Christmas sweater!
Use your golden ticket
Ask Santa Claus to sign your Golden ticket and keep it as a souvenir.
The kids will receive a golden ticket as a part of The Polar Express experience.
Or you can even order a customized Polar Express ticket with the kids name and take it to the train ride.
Take along some marshmallows and put them in the hot chocolate served by the staff!
Stop at the gift shop at the Palestine Railroad Depot before or after your ride.
It is crowded but an excellent place to pick up some train themed Christmas gifts!
Don’t forget to take the time to appreciate the train cars or the engine.
The train is a vintage one from the 1920s and very well maintained.
The engine is also a classic.
Take a camera
Don’t forget to take plenty of photos and Santa’s autograph on tickets or books.
Gift a polaroid instant camera to your kids and enjoy their faces light up as they see their photo with Santa form before their eyes!
Or use your regular phone camera – but be sure to take the photos – you won’t believe it but several folks forget this in all the excitement!
Other Events by Texas State Railroad
The Texas State Railroad has many other specialty train rides and events.
Kids love going aboard the Texas State Railroad’s Pumpkin Patch Ride in the fall.
They also have fall foliage rides and Valentine’s day romantic train rides for couples.
There is a spring dogwood and wildflower special, a photography excursion, and an Easter ride as well.
Are there other Christmas events in Palestine?
Yes, Palestine does have other Christmas events that are equally fun to attend.
The Texas jail house in downtown Palestine is home to Grinch’s Lair.
This experience is based on ‘How the Grinch Stile Christmas’ book by Dr. Seuss.
On a visit to the jail house, kids can see the Grinch and have fun walking through his lair.
Other activities include carriage rides in downtown, seeing the holiday lights at the courthouse, holiday markets, and several other fun events.
Things to do near Palestine, Texas
Palestine, Texas is one of the best small towns to visit in the Lone Star State.
It is one of our favorite day trips from Houston, Texas.
Palestine is home to many historical attractions as well as a charming downtown district.
If you’re looking for more than just history though, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation here as well.
Here are some of the best things to do in and around Palestine, Texas.
If you’re looking for a vacation to Palestine, Texas then there are plenty of things to do.
You can go to the courthouse and explore the historic buildings downtown.
If you have time, take a tour of the local wineries or look for treasures in one of the many antique stores.
Read our post on 13 Best Things to do in Palestine, Texas.
Rusk, Texas is a charming small town that looks pretty in the holiday season.
Be sure to stop by our historic downtown district where you will find great restaurants, shops and more!
Visit Rusk’s museums and historic sites where you can learn about how early settlers lived in East Texas.
Jacksonville, Texas is a small town surrounded by scenic landscapes and rolling hills.
Though it may be small, there are still plenty of things to do in Jacksonville. From the historic buildings to Lake Jacksonville, this city has something for everyone.
Explore the nature-filled trails by foot or bike, shop at local boutiques, enjoy live music downtown, and visit the historic sites in the area.
Tyler is a small city in East Texas with many things to see and do.
It has history, culture, natural beauty, shopping, restaurants and more.
There are historic homes on the National Register of Historic Places to tour or you can go for a hike at Tyler State Park.
You’ll also find plenty of great places to eat! From BBQ spots to fancy sushi bars there’s something sure to satisfy your palate no matter what it may be craving!