All Aboard! Take a Ride on Seattle’s Favorite Santa Train

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When it comes to Santa visits, kids just can’t seem to get enough. But all the waiting coupled with the crowds is enough to overwhelm any of Santa’s little helpers (and their parents). Take the wait out of this year’s Santa visit, and add an unexpected twist, by booking passage on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s Santa Express. There’s plenty for excited kidlets to see and do before and after their visit with the big man in red. Plus, there’s the train! Read on for everything you need to know about the coolest holiday choo-choo ride around.

Santa and Mrs. Claus Elbe Train

photo: Mr. Rainier Scenic Railroad

Ho Ho Ho
Recreate the Polar Express (or a pretty close replica) for your kids this holiday season with a ride on the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s special Santa Express train. Santa’s elves have been working overtime fine tuning this year’s experience with an eye on easy and exciting. Easy for parents, extra exciting for kids. Sounds like a winning combo to us! And we don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but rumor has there are some possible VIP visits in store, too. As for visits with the Man in Red, he’ll have his own special place on the train where eager kiddos can share their Christmas wishes and snap post-worthy pics before receiving their special souvenir gift. And don’t forget the hot cocoa and cookies doled out before boarding to keep everyone warm and set a festive mood. The Santa Train runs for a limited time, and spots fill up quickly (psst… a few time slots are already sold out!), so make your reservation early. We suggest booking a 10 a.m. trip for the easiest parking options. And who knows, if you’re lucky, you might even have some snow on the ground!

Mr and Mrs Claus at the depot gift shop

photo: Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad

All Aboard!
The journey with Santa starts at the North Pol…er… quaint train station in Elbe. We suggest arriving a good 45 minutes before the scheduled departure to get parked, 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!

Boys watching Santa Train

photo: Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad

The ride out to Mineral is about 40 minutes and it’s a throw back that’ll have you longing for 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 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. (Isnt 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.

Good Eats
Just north of the Elbe train station, sits the train-car-turned-restaurant, Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company Restaurant. Here they serve up traditional diner fare like burgers, salads, pastas, and desserts that you’d be embarrassed to admit you ate to your dentist. Everything’s homemade and let’s just say you should expect some leftovers when it comes to serving size. If you find a long line here, or feel the need to sink your teeth into a juicy burger, the Elbe Bar and Grill is a good alternative. With a kid’s menu and a truly local feel, it’ll help your crew fill their tummies before or after the trip.

Mt Rainier Dining Co Restaurantphoto: Allison Sutcliffe 

Y’All Come Back Now, Ya Hear?
The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad resumes its usual schedule in 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!

Santa Express Train Elbe WA

photo: Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
54124 Mountain Hwy E.
Elbe, Wa 98330
Reservations: 1-888-783-2611

Dates: Nov. 28-Dec. 21, 2015
Cost: $32/Adults (ages 13-61); $27/Youth (ages 5-12); $18/Kids (ages 3 & 4); 2 & under Free. $2 parking.
Times: Sat. & Sun. at 10 a.m., 12:45 p.m. & 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