I have mixed feelings about our recent trip on the Polar Express (Dec 2013). To say we were disappointed with the car parking was an understatement. The car park is essentially a big field which in the middle of December was an enormous muddy mess; not nice to try and squelch through with three children under 5 and everyone wearing their PJ's!
You are advised to get there an hour early to ensure you get tickets etc but to be honest this seemed a ploy to get you to spend time in the cafe (which was essentially an overpriced burger stall) and the gift shop. As the Polar Express is my little boys favourite film I fully intended to treat him with some nice souvenirs but there was little choice of gifts and they all seemed a bit naff and overpriced.
My husband and I also found the train itself to be very disappointing, bearing no resemblance to the Polar Express at all and in standard class it seemed as though we were sat in a regular arriva train carriage rather than on the 'magical Polar Express'.
When on the train the 'waiters' bring round hot chocolate and cookies for everyone but we thought it lost it's 'sparkle' somewhat by the fact that it was served in white polystyrene cups (like you would get from a burger van) and we felt for the money paid it could have been served in something nicer, such as a branded cardboard cup at the very least.
Finally when the train arrives at the North Pole it's actually only on one side of the train which is very disappointing especially if your sat on the other side like we were. We had to lift the children up to see and we thought the set was a bit poor.
Despite the negatives mentioned there were some very good bits to the Polar Express. The station looked very pretty all lit up and the gold tickets that the children get are nice keepsakes. The staff were exceptional and really made the journey very special and had everyone joining in singing along with songs. Santa boards the train and spent time chatting with all the children and gives them a rather nice bell and the inspector comes and stamps all the children's tickets (which was my little boys favourite bit). The hobo also wanders throughout the train looking for spare tickets which the children find amusing. All the staff were happy to take photos and made it a very personable experience.
I would have rated the Polar Express as 1 star but the staff were so amazing it made up for a lot of the bad points and the children really enjoyed it and to be honest, that was after-all the most important thing.
Despite the negatives I would go on the Polar Express again, however, I would upgrade to first class. The carriages looked much nicer, less crowded and the souvenir mugs looked worth the extra money by themselves.
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