I bought the tickets in July–I booked the hotel room so early I actually forgot where we were staying and had to call every hotel in the Dennison, Ohio area to confirm our reservation.
I get dumb when I’m excited.
Finally, the day was upon us. Dressed in Christmas PJs, we headed to the Polar Express (with a confirmed hotel reservation thankyouverymuch). The experience did not disappoint. There was magic and excitement and more adorableness than you can shake a candy cane at.
The cynic in me couldn’t help but make note of all the not so magical elements as well. And I’m sharing them here because ’tis the season to be snarky. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!!!
Before we embark on our journey to the Polar Express, we make a last minute decision to stop by my husband’s golf club’s annual Breakfast with Santa. Our three kids eat their weight in donuts then sit on Santa’s lap and request an X-box, Christmas doll, and a pony with hay, respectively.
Once on the road, our five-year-old asks: “How is Santa here and at the Polar Express?” I mumble something about teamwork and turn up the Christmas carols. NOW IT’S A PARTY!
She persists, so I offer: “Not every Santa you see is the real one. Sometimes he sends his helpers because he’s so busy.” She is horrified. I am stellar at this parenting thing.
We arrive at the hotel early which is worth mentioning because early is not how this family rolls. Taking stock of the empty indoor pool, the kids jump in and my husband and I marvel at the fact that no one else is around. It’s like a ghost town and WE LOVE IT.
We plan to attend 5pm Mass at a local Catholic Church Husband found on Google before boarding the train, and because I am the epitome of efficient, I decide the kids will wear the same outfit to church and the PE: bright Christmas pajamas. Traipsing in like the outsiders we are, too young to notice the stark contrast between them and the three-piece-suit-clad parishioners, the kids take their seats in a back pew and our two-year-old promptly passes out like a liquored up drunk: on her back across my lap with her adorable baby gut hanging out, arms outstretched over her head. She gives not one eff and I’m certain Jesus doesn’t either.
Into the cute town of Dennison we go. We’re ready to board the train, but the train is not ready for us. So we wait in a long ass line in the 20 degree frigid air, breathing in locomotive fumes among hundreds of irritable parents and squirmy kids. I get a couple cute pictures before my kids become one with the squirmy and I with the irritable.
The whole setting is quite impressive, though. Everyone who works on the Polar Express is a volunteer and I can’t quite fathom that much kindness in one place, but here we are. The conductor, the creepy guy in the newsboy hat that lives on top of the train with a roaring fire and coffee–seriously, how whacked out is this movie?! Anyway, they’re all here and it really is pretty awesome.
Finally, we’re escorted onto our double-decker car which the kids think is the coolest thing EVER (Mom and Dad pop their collars), whereupon a passenger above us tosses his cookies. I’m not talking about the complimentary cookies from the elves, which are delicious by the way; I’m talking about barf-o-rama and the smells that accompany it in a small space. Generally speaking, I don’t care for other people’s kids, but my heart hurts for this mom and her son–the cookie tosser; I offer wet wipes so he doesn’t have to keep scraping his pukey face with those awful brown sandpaper towels.
Off topic and perhaps the wrong time to mention, but the hot chocolate? Also delicious.
So we listen as the story is read to us (pro tip: bring your own copy of the book to follow along–little kids in confinement are NOT quiet); we sing carols; we participate in Christmas trivia. Then it’s time. Time to drive through the North Pole. All the kids storm the right side of the train; the conductor turns out the car lights. And there it is. Right outside our window, the lights, the people, the waving, a child’s sweet, sweet thrill of being THISCLOSE to Santa Claus!! There he is, in his workshop!!! He’s making toys!!!!!!!!!!
I’m verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.
We ride through the North Pole again on our way back to the station, but someone is missing. WHO IS MISSING?! IT’S SANTA! I KNOW HIM! I WATCH TOO MANY WILL FERRELL MOVIES!
Santa left his spot at the workshop to board the train and hand out silver bells to the kids. I mean, come on. Does it get any more magical?! He signs the kids’ autograph books and asks what they want to find under their trees on Christmas morning. Again, we hear: X-box, Christmas doll, pony with hay. I notice my five-year-old is really studying St. Nick’s face; I pray she doesn’t tug his obviously false white beard like Buddy the Elf: “you smell like beef and cheese.”
Santa leaves unscathed.
However, a running analysis about him continues until we’re back at our hotel:
5yo: I don’t think that was the real Santa because his cheeks weren’t wrinkly enough. His beard was too white. Were his eyes even blue?
2yo, lip quivering: Where my pony? Pony at home? I say to Santa, “Pony, peeze!” but I have no pony!
7yo: I’m hungry.
Husband and I drown out their questions with cheap Rudolph cups from Denny’s where the handles are also headbands and the Christmas lies continue uninterrupted. Yippee!!
Back at the hotel, we’re finally able to stretch our legs. Please note, I’m barely 5’1 but even my little nubs were feeling the pain of a cramped train car. Let it be known the Polar Express is probably not for the claustrophobic. Or anyone with legs.
Every parent knows the 10th circle of hell is sharing a tiny hotel room with their children. It’s not because we can’t control the passion brought on by hotel bedding–though that stuff is exquisite and you know it; it’s because kids never stop moving or speaking even in their sleep, which means zero shut-eye for Mom and Dad. I can’t even count how many times my two-year-old stared me awake this weekend. Her little curly head appeared from her portable pack-and-play like a groundhog from its hole and she would just…watch.
Anyway, the next morning–at a festive 5:30am–we’re all awake and ready for breakfast with Santa. If you’re keeping track, that’s the third Santa in two days. The five-year-old decides she will not be telling this third Santa about her Christmas doll; she worries she’ll be receiving duplicate gifts. My seven-year-old son is A-OK with receiving three X-boxes so his dreams will effectively be shattered on December 25th. The groundhog child is still pissed she is pony-less.
After breakfast, our grand plans to hit up the hotel pool are ruined by a contamination issue. A lovely lady at the front desk informs me a child done shat in the pool and it will remained closed for the duration. (Please refer to my previous statement about other people’s kids.) I think about asking her to break the news to my children, but see that she is already traumatized enough by the pool pooper.
We get lucky on our two and a half hour drive home; the seven-year-old uses written directions to navigate from the back seat (our evil ploy to get him reading, muahahahahahaha!) and the girls sleep the whole way because Christmas miracles do exist.
Thanks to the Polar Express, we are $400 poorer, in the market for a pony, and have to get more creative with our lies about the existence of jolly old St. Nick.
Would we do it again? Hell yes. Why? Because
And it doesn’t get much better than that.