My family had the pleasure of taking a train ride with Santa Claus this holiday season. It was a surprise for my little boy, just 3 years old, who loves trains. We drove over the rivers and through the woods to Elbe, where the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s vintage steam train departs.
Elbe is farther out than it looks on a map, so we arrived in haste just minutes before the train left the station. Driving into town, we saw the clouds of steam billowing out of the engine’s smoke stack. We had but minutes to rush inside and exchange our tickets.
I was so anxious at the thought of missing the train (and then an unfortunate incident of locking my son in the car as I ran around like a crazy person) that I really wished for some Peppermint Schnapps in that hot cocoa they served onboard.
The steam engine, the conductor, the cookies and cocoa…it was all very Polar Express. The train attendee, dressed in proper vintage train attendee attire, walked down the aisle to greet all the children. He offered them a visit with Santa Claus in the next car.
We were one of the first families to hop across the gangway connector (the most exciting part of the ride) and wait in line for Santa, who was sitting in a corner of the refreshment car that had been adorned with a fireplace scene and a glittering tree.
My son was very excited, that is, until it was our turn. He took one look at that jolly old elf, turned heel, and ran in the other direction screaming. I managed to gather him up and took him back over to where Santa sat smiling and offering a candy cane. He refused to look at Santa, and wiggled to get away, so we snapped a quick photo and returned to our car.
Before we left, Santa reached into his big red bag, knowingly searching for something just right for this little boy, and pulled out a small plush football. My son did not let go of that football for the rest of the night.
After about 40 minutes of passing by gorgeous natural scenes of alpine lakes and raging rivers as the sun set behind the hills, we arrived at the restoration center where volunteers continue to work on vintage locomotives. The sun had set by then and the equipment sat in shadows.
After 15 minutes or so, the train was ready to return, and the great steam engine whistled and smoked in anticipation. We climbed back aboard and returned to our seats to watch the darkness pass by. The children who had already seen Santa sat drinking their hot cocoa and clutching their new toys.
One girl passed by us with a new Barbie doll, and the three little girls across the aisle from us each had a new stuffed animal. One little boy, clasping his parent’s hand as they walked toward Santa’s car, held in his other hand a letter written in little boy script addressed to Santa. It was adorable to watch these children enjoying a happy Christmas season.
Sleepy and hungry, we returned to the station in Elbe. We had a lengthy drive home, so we decided to have that long-awaited drink at the restaurant next door to the station housed in old railroad cars. With hot buttered rums and peppermint cocoas, we toasted our adventure with Santa and wished a Merry Christmas to all!
Purchase tickets ahead of time to ensure a space on the train. Tickets can be purchased online here.
Youth (5-12): $22
Child (3-4): $15
Tots (2 & under): Free
There is a gift shop on-site
Elbe is an hour and half drive from Seattle so give yourself plenty of travel time in case of traffic.