The Polar Express Experience? I won’t risk it.

the polar express

Like most families, we take our Christmas rather seriously. We have a LOT of family traditions and rituals which must be observed, and make it as magical and special a time as we possibly can. We’re very big on the magic.

One of the Christmas-is-really-coming! markers for us is the annual Christmas Film Fest – we get all the Christmas DVD’s out during December, and have regular family film nights with all of our favourites. The last one we tend to watch, usually the night before Christmas Eve, is The Polar Express. It’s a little slice of Christmas Magic which we all love.

So when I received a press release this week, telling me that the ‘officially licensed The Polar Express™ Rides are coming to the UK’ this winter, I got a bit excited.

For the briefest of instants, my brain thought this was a brilliant idea. To actually get to go on The Polar Express – dancing chefs and hot chocolate and cynical ‘hobo’ and everything.

But then, I hesitated. And great big ding-dong-annoyingly-loud-and-ringy alarm bells began to ring.

We fell for this once before, when we took the children to Lapland UK. And look how THAT turned out (don’t click that link now, it’s one of the longest reviews I’ve ever written, and you’ll be gone for ages).

I’m all for making Christmas special, and I LOVE creating magical experiences that create amazing memories for my children. I really do.

But there’s a HUGE risk when you take on anything like this. There is no ifs, buts or excuses – if you want to create an experience like this, it has to be perfect to the tiniest detail. If you don’t do it really well? Please don’t do it at all.

If you’re a fan of the Polar Express, you know what you’ll be expecting. And, more importantly, what your children will be expecting. Does this video match up to that?


No, me either. I am aware this is an American trailer, as 2012 is the first year in the UK. But I would be expecting a professional company of amazing dancing chefs, a really good character actor for the hobo, a conductor with some serious hole-punching-talent, and a look at a truly magical North Pole out of the window.

The price is a bit irrelevant; though the one hour round trip isn’t cheap – to take my family would cost me £100 on the standard tickets, and first class (which gets me bigger seats and a commemorative mug) will set me back £170.

Of course, I’m the first to agree that the value of a little genuine magic in a child’s life is priceless.

But the scary flipside is that if you get this wrong, if the child – and let’s be honest, they’re no fools – sees through the charade you’re putting on, is less than impressed with the dancing, the hobo isn’t the character they expect for the film (or book), if the conductor disappoints them with a dull click-click with his hole punch? Well, the cost of that is potentially unimaginable.

It’s not just about this one particular train ride – there are lots of ‘Magic of Christmas’ experiences you can buy in to. But there’s very few people I’d trust to do it well enough to make me take the risk. Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis clearly understood this – there’s a great interview with them here in which they expound this point in a much more eloquent manner than I ever could.

For me, you just don’t mess with the magic of Christmas. The magic that I have spent so many long years creating and nurturing in my children. The magic that brings joy and wonder to every December, which doesn’t seem to diminish as they get older; it simply becomes something stronger and more rooted in our family.

The risk of tarnishing that is too great.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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  1. OMG I totally agree, I been working with the rail company in Japan trying to bring the polar express to Japan trying to explain this very thing to them and they keep wanting to go STUPID and Cheap on me.

    If you going to do it, do it right. There is so much at stake here

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    • Wow Jamar – well done you, and keep on shouting loudly! make them make it magic – apart from anything else, surely making it the very best of experiences is that’s the best way to give it longevity and make it massively profitable?

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  2. Yes, I work for these guys so consider my opinion biased by all means but for the vast majority of kids who have been on the train they have come away with a huge smile on their face and the magic of Christmas firmly intact. I’m talking about kids who have watched the movie the very afternoon they have come on the train (I know this because they tell me) Funnily enough they don’t seem to actually expect back-flipping chefs and hot chocolate squirted into a cup from thirty paces and if they do then they certainly seem happy with what we provide instead. And don’t worry, I’m a brilliant character actor ;)

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    • I’m really really glad – and if done properly I’m betting it’s an incredibly magical experience. I’ve never been, so I really don’t know from personal experience. It’s more the principle in general about how risky these experiences can be on such a fragile thing – I’ll never forget having to distract my children from seeing TWO Father Christmases at a different ‘cabin in the woods’ to the one we were visiting as they did a shift handover. And then having to start singing carols loudly to cover our own FC inside his cabin asking his ‘elf’ for what the name of the next kid was (and then not having my son in his ‘book’). *shudders*
      Glad your character acting is up to scratch ;)

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