Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride a train? Not a model train like they have at the zoo or at birthday parties, but a REAL TRAIN? Have you wondered what it would be like to experience the Polar Express in real life?
A friend posted about a Polar Express experience a couple of years ago, and since then it has been on my bucket list for my family to have that experience. I researched prices, different train locations and routes, Polar Express experiences offered within a 200 mile radius, and did a ton of reading. I narrowed my options down to two: French Lick and My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. I settled on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train for several reasons:
- We are a foodie family! We love food. We appreciate fine dining and love any experiences that offer a chance to try new or high quality food. By the way, the food on this train was superb.
- The thought of eating a delicious meal AND riding a real train AND having a Polar Express experience with Santa, Mrs. Claus, caroling, hot chocolate, and a chocolate Choo-choo train was irresistible. French Lick offered hot chocolate but not a meal. French Lick does offer a dining experience but it was either or. I liked that Kentucky Dinner train allowed us to do Polar Express AND dining combined.
- Cost. We could drive to the Kentucky train, enjoy or ride and drive back same day. We live near Nashville so this was a better location option for us. French Lick would require us to stay the night which would be an added expense and time investment.
- French Lick was sold out. I did my I guess you have to be on the ball to book with them! I was somewhat disappointed because French Lick looked more like a true Polar Express experience. I was also somewhat relieved because in my heart of hearts I wanted the dining and Polar Express! Wish granted!
If you are would like your family to have an unforgettable train ride of a lifetime, keep reading and I am more than happy to share our experience with you, as well as tips for planning your own experience.
When you book, you can choose North Pole Express (that is what we chose and what they call their Polar Express experience), regular dinner train, murder mystery, or bourbon excursion. I recommend booking a month or two in advance. I was thankful we thought ahead!
When choosing your date, you might be tempted to choose a date closest to Christmas, but we opted for November. This was a great choice for us because there was still a little fall foliage and the fields we passed along our ride were golden and quite pretty. It also was not as cold as December which is a personal draw for this cold-natured human. What I loved best about going in November is that it got us in the Christmas spirit. I am ready to decorate anything that stands still and Hallmark movies are life!
When considering the departure time for your trip, the North Pole Express departs at 11:00, while the regular dinner train leaves at 4:30. The 11:00 was good for us because we were able to have our train experience and get back home before dark. We did have to get up pretty early and leave our home in Tennessee around 7:00 am, taking into account the time change. We lost an hour traveling there since they are in Eastern time zone and we are in Central.
They ask that you arrive at least a half hour early. This was perfect for us because we were able to get our tickets, use the restroom (there are restrooms on each train car, by the way) browse in their gift shop, visit with Santa and lounge in their charming wait area that was nicely decorated for Christmas.
There is a dress code posted online which was funny to us. We laughed out loud at “sweater set.” While we did follow the dress code, we traveled with quite a few passengers who did not and no one seemed to be giving them a hard time.
We were delightfully surprised when we boarded the train to see a conductor taking our tickets and that the wait staff were dressed as elves. The train cars were decorated for the holidays and the tables were already set with our salad plates and the charcuterie platter and pretzel sticks and beer cheese that we added on.
Before the train even departed, we had time to eat our salads, appetizers and enjoy a couple cups of coffee. Our charcuterie platter was perfect: olives, pepper jack and gouda cheeses, several gourmet crackers, pepperoni, pralines with honey, grapes, and strawberries. They served lemonade or tea, your choice and you get refills the entire trip. You could also order adult beverages if you wanted.
When you purchase your tickets, you are required to submit your food order. The menu is pretty limited, but the food was so surprisingly good. My mother-in-law, older daughter and I ordered the pot roast with mashed potatoes. It was so yummy and the portions were VERY generous – they let you have to-go boxes. My husband ordered the hot brown, and we got chicken tenders for the younger daughter. Kids get a big cookie for dessert and all of the adults ordered the chocolate raspberry mousse which was divine. We added on chocolate choo-choos for the girls. They were a sight to behold, filled with chocolate mousse and whipped cream.
Santa and Mrs. Claus led the children singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” They walked through cars off and on for the duration of the ride and made appearances, greeting each of the children with plenty of photo ops.
You will pass some pretty farmland, neighborhoods and Jim Beam distillery. Half the ride you will face forward, then the engine is pulled around and attached to the other end of the train. The other half of the ride you face backward. For half of our ride, our car was the caboose so it was fun to walk to the end of our car, stand in the open air and see the train tracks disappearing behind us.
I would say we were on the train a couple of hours. It was the perfect amount of time, with plenty of time to savor your food, but not too long either, by the time our natives (children) became restless, it was over.
When we arrived back at the train station, the children got their tickets punched and they both received a “Believe” bell keepsake ornament. Santa and Mrs. Claus were also available for photos.
We loved our North Pole Express and dinner train experience! It was a unique opportunity that we all hope to have again. Visit My Old Kentucky Dinner Train’s website for more info.