Pajama-clad passengers will board trains bound for the North Pole at more than 30 railroads nationwide this holiday season, and Northern Nevada families will be part of the fun.
"'The Polar Express,' a Christmas book by Chris Van Allsburg, has already become a classic, and Warner Bros. has invested a lot not only in making it a blockbuster movie but to create it as an institution, their holiday classic," said Jon Schlegel of Miami-based Rail Events Inc.
"Just like 'Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer' and 'Frosty the Snowman' were the time-honored classics of my childhood, this is a classic now in its seventh year," he said.
Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that while attending Railway Heritage Preservation conferences, she started hearing about all the success stories from other communities that run the Polar Express train annually.
"They say they make all of their operating budget between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, so we wanted to bring something fun here that would also help our hotels," Duncan said.
"The three things we hope to accomplish are having the event pay for itself, boosting the caliber of the train, and putting heads in beds," she said.
Tom Gray, vice president of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, said Virginia City's the railroad, is kicking off the holiday season with a variety of special trains for the entire family, including the V&T Christmas Holiday Train which departs from the F Street depot in Virginia City at noon and 2 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11. On this ride, families will hear the "Night Before Christmas" story read by Mrs. Claus, while a costumed elf takes toy orders for Santa's Village. The ride includes cookies, hot chocolate and cider. Cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children. Ages 2 and younger ride free.
The Polar Express could become even bigger, however. It is a franchised event with specifically mandated criteria.
Gray is providing the diesel engine and enclosed Pullman cars. A perfect spot has been selected for the North Pole - past the Highway 50 crossing and around a bend, so it's nice and dark out. The diesel train ride takes about an hour. The train leaves each Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from Nov. 25 through Dec. 18.
Rich Crombie from NV Shows LLC is providing a Western town for the North Pole, where youngsters will get a chance to talk to Santa, and decorations will adorn the North Pole as well as the Eastgate Depot.
The Brewery Arts Center is stepping up with actors such as chefs and elves, and the Chamber of Commerce will provide volunteers.
The total cost to produce The Polar Express will be just under $200,000, Duncan said.
"We have a capacity for a little more than 7,000 tickets, and we've been assured (by Rail Events Inc.) that they have no doubt it will be a huge success because of our location and reputation," Duncan said.
Gray said The Polar Express promises to be "a wholesome family event that will become a holiday tradition, and the demand next year will be even higher.
"We'll take three enclosed cars down to Eastgate after we finish the V&T Christmas Holiday Train each day," he said.
He said Salt Lake City isn't doing The Polar Express this year, but Ely is. Sacramento offers a Polar Express, but it was sold out in two or three days. Duncan said that helps Northern Nevada.
"We've been advertising in Sacramento, and I've talked to several parents who are bringing their families from that area to stay several days," she said.
IF YOU GO:
What: The Polar Express round-trip journey to the North Pole.
When: 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 and Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11; and at 4, 5:30 and 7 p.m. Nov. 27 and Dec. 2, 9, 16, 17 and 18.
Where: Eastgate Depot, 4650 Eastgate Siding Road, Carson City.
Tickets: Adults 13 and older are $34; children 3-12 are $25; and children 2 and younger are free, riding on an adult's lap.
Details: www.visitcarsoncity.com or call 800-638-2321.
Ely Polar Express video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN6xI0RCd-A&noredirect=1
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
• Why should my children dress in their pajamas? In the story, all the children taking this magical train ride are awakened from their beds on Christmas Eve. Join the fun by bringing your children in their pajamas too. Adults are also welcome to join the PJ party fun.
• If I haven't read the book or seen the movie, will I still have a good time? Yes, you can read along or just listen.
• Where can I buy a copy of the movie or story book in advance? Some railroads will take orders for merchandise at the time of the reservation.
• How long is the train ride? Each railroad ride will last at least 60 minutes per round trip.
• Will I get to meet the conductor of the train? Yes, he will call "All aboard!" when the train is ready to leave the station. There will be other storybook characters on the train, as well.
• Will my child get to meet Santa personally? Santa will make an appearance at the North Pole. There may also be photo opportunities with Santa. Inquire at participating railroads.
• Will there be other things to do at the train station? Yes, and activities will vary from each location. Inquire with each individual railroad as to what special events will be taking place.