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Mount Rainier Railroad Polar Express Train

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Disclosure: We received tickets to review the Polar Express to share our experience; all opinions are our own. 

Mount Rainier Railroad Polar Express Train

Mount Rainier Railroad Polar Express Train – What to Know

The Mount Rainier Railroad in the tiny town of Elbe, WA,  less than 20 miles from the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park has a special, themed holiday train that they offer every year around Christmas time. It is an immersive train ride featuring the very popular book/movie, The Polar Express.

If your family loves the Polar Express, then the Mount Rainier Railroad Polar Express train ride will be a hit as they bring the book to life with a theater on the rails as you travel from the train station in Elbe to the Logging Museum in Elbe, WA. You stay on the train the entire time & are treated to a fun & interactive experience that the whole family will love with fun entertainment, hot cocoa & a ride on the train for 90 minutes.

What is Mount Rainier Railroad’s Polar Express Train:

Train for Mount Rainier Polar Express Ride



The Mount Rainier Railroad brings The Polar Express story to life as soon as you step foot on the train. Each train car will have chefs who will serve you & entertain you with song & dance during the entire trip, while also seeing actors playing the characters in the book traveling thru the train & sharing the story of The Polar Express as the train moves towards its destination.

The Polar Express story is all about a young boy who no longer believes in Santa until he takes a Christmas Eve journey on the Polar Express train & arrives at the North Pole. This Mount Rainier Polar Express train ride also will be a journey to the “North Pole” which is the Logging museum in Mineral down the road. The train will come upon the museum all decked out in lights & the surprise will be seeing Santa waving & waiting to board the train. He will hop on board the train & then Santa will make his way thru each of the rail cars to visit with all of the families as the train travels back from the “North Pole” back to the station.

How it Works:

Polar Express Ticket

Make sure to arrive early to the Mount Rainier Polar Express and you will catch the pre-show that sets the scene for your departure on the Polar Express train & how you will board the train. You will also pick up your tickets in a closed envelope. We waited to give our girls the tickets until they were in line for the train as they are special golden tickets that will make a fun keepsake.

Hot Cocoa Song on Polar Express

Once you are seated, they will come around & punch your tickets just like in the movie. The performance will start with the characters from the story moving thru the cabins as they act. Next up is the hot cocoa & cookies with a fun song & dance by the chefs on the train – this was one of our favorite parts of the train ride. It was such a fun, lively number!

Reading the Polar Express

As you drink your cocoa & eat the cookie, the chefs will walk around the cabin reading the story of the Polar Express, but they have these giant story books which make it so fun to look at as they walk up & down the rows. You can also bring your own book to look at the pictures with your kids as the story is read out loud on the train.

North Pole on the Polar Express Train

Once the story is finished, you will arrive at the “North Pole”, which is exciting for kids as it is all lit up with Christmas lights & the surprise for the kids is that Santa is here & he will hop on the train.

Santa Visit on Polar Express Train

As you travel back to the station, Santa will make his way thru each cabin to visit with all of the families. I was really impressed with how attentive Santa was with each family & kids, as he gave each person the special first gift of Christmas (a keepsake silver bell). He chatted with each of the kids and then posed for pictures & we didn’t feel rushed at all. He was also such a good sport when kids would come rushing up to him to hug him as he moved thru the train.

As the train travels back to the station & Santa makes his visits throughout the train, it is very lively on the train with fun, upbeat Christmas songs. Loved seeing the actors so excited & having fun with all the guests with laughing, singing & dancing. Families were enjoying the music & dancing & singing along. It’s just a very festive atmosphere.

Silver Bell from Polar Express

This train ride is the most ideal with the preschool & elementary aged kids as they will be at the perfect age to truly soak up the whole experience. The whole train ride & show is just a fun experience for the whole family & a great way to celebrate the season with an hour & a half long ride (really, this felt like the perfect amount of time) & entertainment that will keep you engaged & enjoying the ride & immersed in the unique story of The Polar Express!

What to know before you Go?

What to Wear:

Polar Express Train Ride with Bell

The trains are heated, so dress in layers. You will be nice & warm on the train, but you are headed out to the town of Elbe, which is close to the entrance of Mount Rainier, so it can be colder there & dependent on the weather, there could also be snow on the ground or roads as it’s closer to the mountain. (There was no snow this year when we went the week before Christmas, but I’d say to always check into road & weather conditions before you go just because of their location.)

Elbe Train Station

Even though it will be heated on the train, they do have a pre-show that happens under a covered tent in front of the gift shop where you will wait to board the train until your train car is called. So, this is where you will need layers as it could be quite cold as you wait. I was thankful for my heavy coat & gloves.

As for what to wear, they encourage you to wear your pajamas so it’s just like you were riding the real Polar Express (even better if you have matching Christmas pajamas). You will see a lot of people (adults included) wearing pajamas, so don’t be shy & wear those PJ’s! We did not have matching PJ’s at the time, so my girls wore (mostly) matching PJ’s & my husband and I wore red flannel, so it was pretty close.

When to Arrive:

Pre Show at Polar Express

Make sure to get there a minimum of 30 minutes early, but 45 minutes early is even better. You’ll need to park, check in & pick up tickets, and then be there in time for the pre-boarding show that starts 30 minutes before you board.

You may also want to get there earlier to visit the gift shop. They have a fantastic gift shop filled with some darling Polar Express memorabilia & such. If you are on the earlier train, I would come earlier to visit the gift shop before the pre-show. And if on the later train, visiting the gift shop while the 1st train is still gone is definitely the best time.  If you try to visit the gift shop between the two train times, it will be super busy & very crowded.


Both train times are in the evening during the dinner hour, so you will want to consider that & plan ahead. Either eat dinner ahead of time or bring food to go in the car. They do allow you to bring snacks on the train, if needed (no alcohol) & you will receive 1 cookie. There are a few possible options in Elbe but may only be open on wknds & some only accept cash.

We went to the earlier train & had snacks on the way & then we ate dinner in Eatonville at the Chop Stix Chinese restaurant. We felt it was a great value for all of food we got for the price, the service & food delivery was very fast, which was great because it was late after the train ride. This was about 15 minutes away from the train station. There are several other restaurants in Eatonville, too . Or you can drive into Graham or Puyallup for a lot more dining options.

More Tips:

The Polar Express Book

*I highly recommend you read the book (you can always borrow it from the library) and watch the movie before you go to make the story fresh in your minds before you ride the train.

*When you purchase your tickets, you will be reserving seats & you can select how you would like to configure your seats for your family. If you have younger children, I would encourage you to book seats closer to the front of the train car if possible. The actors who travel thru train will do more of the performance towards the front of the train, so you can hear it better in the front.

Elbe Church

*Parking is $4 & you can purchase online or when you arrive (cash only in person). If you purchase parking online, make sure to print off or show the confirmation by phone. Parking is right next to the train depot & the darling little Elbe church (you’ll want pictures in front of this cute church).

*When you arrive to the train station, make sure your whole group uses the bathroom ahead of time at the station. The ride is 1 1/2 hrs & they have limited bathrooms on the train. It also can be harder to head to the bathroom as the pathways are the main “stage” for the performance during the ride. There is a changing table at the Elbe train station, but not on board the train as the bathrooms are small.

*If you don’t want to drive the long drive back home, check out the Visit Rainier website for information on lodging options of where to stay nearby in Elbe, Ashford, Mount Rainier National Park & more. There are some really charming cabins & small lodges all around the area of Mount Rainier that would make for a fun little getaway to combine with the Polar Express train ride. The Longmire Mount Rainier National Park lodge would be a fantastic place to stay as well.

What Does it Cost & When to Go?

Polar Express Train at Mount Rainier

The Polar Express tickets will range in price depending on when you go & whether you want the Coach/Standard class or First Class tickets. They have 3 different options of times of when to go during the season:

    • Polar Off Peak
    • Polar Peak
    • Polar Premium

For 2019 pricing, the prices for adults range from $38 – $75/person, depending on whether it is Standard or First Class & the timing of when you go.  Kids tickets (ages 3 – 11) range from $27 – $64. Kids ages 0-2 are free.  Other than the difference in pricing depending on the dates, we have not seen that they offer any other discount ticket options.

The Difference between Standard & First Class:

The Standard (Coach) train coaches are Tacoma Rail cars from the 1950’s era Amtrak passenger cars. They are very comfortable, upholstered seats all facing forward in rows of 2 on each side. In these seats, you will get hot chocolate (in a disposable mug) & a cookie during the train ride.

The First Class tickets are in the vintage Olympian Hiawatha cars which feature table & chair or booth configurations, so that groups of 4 people can sit facing each other. For these tickets, you will receive a collector’s edition souvenir mug with your hot chocolate & cookie. {This mug is a limited edition not sold in stores}.

When to Go:

Inside the Polar Express Train

The Polar Express runs from November 22, 2019 – December 31, 2019. Make sure to check the website for the specific days it is available during this time period.

You will find the most availability on weeknights in late November & early December & those will also be the less peak times, so they will be less expensive for the tickets as well. You will have more options of where to sit, too & I recommend sitting up closer to the front of the train car, especially if you have younger kids so they can hear the actors better when they come thru each cab.

More articles you might like:

Mount Rainier Snowshoeing Tips – An Affordable Family Outing

Sledding at Mount Rainier  – 5 Things to Know Before Your Adventure

Christmas Events, Tree Farms and Bazaars in the PNW


  1. Our family has been wanting to do this for years but the cost always prevented it. This year a friend purchased our whole family tickets so we were super excited to go. I was pretty disappointed with the experience. Overall I feel like it’s way overpriced. $15-$20 would be more reasonable. Also, if your kids don’t believe in Santa, it’s probably not worth it. We were told before we got there that the entire thing was indoor so there was no reason to dress warmly. We spent 45 minutes waiting outside and freezing. When the preliminary performance started under the outdoor tent we found it sadly lacking. The sound system was terrible quality and very distorted sounding. The actor who sang a solo was very off key. This might have happened because she couldn’t hear herself due to the sound system. We enjoyed the actual train ride albeit very slow ride. The actors in the train did a great job interacting. When we finally got to the “North Pole” which included light decorations on a tractor and a decorated building, it was definitely a let down and could only have convinced the smallest child that it was the “North Pole.” Then Santa got on the train for the ride back. The whole ride there, the employees were asking the kids, “what are you going to ask Santa for for Christmas?” When Santa came through the train and gave out bells he literally only handed the bell out and walked on. There was no more personal interaction or asking of what was wanted for Christmas. Overall it was a fun family event but not worth more than 1/3 of the cost charged.

    1. Hi Brian, Thanks for sharing your experience. While we are sorry to hear that it was disappointing for your family, we do think honest feedback is really valuable to others considering an experience – so we appreciate your candor. Thanks again.

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