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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Do you believe?

Dec 05, 2016 10:25AM ● By Sandi Cameron

The scenes at the beginning of the book show a boy of age 10 or so who is seriously questioning the existence of Santa Claus, although his younger sister is excited about his visit on Christmas Eve. The boy mumbles his disbelief and heads off to bed. However, he is awakened to the sound of a powerful, magical train that is on its way to the North Pole, and has stopped at a depot close to his home. He rubs his eyes, heads out the door to investigate, and is invited on board by the friendly train conductor. He is not so sure about the prospect, but eventually hops on board.

The book’s description states that the story is a “journey of self-discovery, showing the boy that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.”

During the course of the train ride, the boy meets and befriends other children, also attired in their pajamas. Each one is given a special golden ticket that eventually will need to be punched with a word significant to the ticket holder, such as “believe,” which is what the boy receives. Many adventures await the young boy during this train ride as the locomotive travels at lightning speed through forests, mountains and a lake of ice until it eventually reaches the North Pole. This setting is filled with magical, mischievous toy-making elves, along with many traditional Christmas icons. After a number of events, Santa Claus gives the boy the First Gift of Christmas, a magical silver bell, and invites the boy to join him for his Christmas Eve worldwide gift delivery. When the boy arrives home after the return trip, he realizes his robe had a hole in its pocket, and he lost this treasured bell. Happily on Christmas morning, the special bell, found and returned by Santa, reminds the boy of his incredible adventure.

The Polar Express is a Caldecott Medal winner of 1986, and has been a favorite of children since. It has been a favorite of my grandchildren as well. Five of them are ages 6-11, so my husband and I agreed that they were the perfect ages to enjoy the Durango-Silverton’s Narrow Gauge Polar Express experience. Utilizing their famous steam train, we decided that a special Christmas gift would be a weekend trip to ride the Polar Express in Durango last December.

Planning the experience

For the first stage of this gift, I researched the schedules and fares online at Coordinating times with family to determine the best weekend for all was a priority. Once we decided on the first weekend in December, I called the Durango office at 1-888-872-4607 to make reservations for seven.

I was surprised that so few tickets remained five weeks prior to the date but, thankfully, I was able to procure seven seats in coach class for 8:25 p.m. on a Saturday. Although we had hoped for an upgraded deluxe car and an earlier time, we knew the children would still love the experience.

Our grandchildren excitedly anticipated the upcoming adventure for the next few weeks and we looked forward to our time together. When the date arrived, we left Grand Junction one early morning with our Toyota Sienna full of passengers, young and young at heart.

When we arrived in Durango, we found our hotel, relaxed, ordered pizza and played in the wilderness area adjacent to our ground-floor room. It was perfect for releasing some pent-up energy. Then it was time to “get dressed” for the event. “You did bring pajamas, didn’t you?”

All aboard!

As it neared 7:30, we drove to the train depot and visited the wonderful little gift shop with a wide array of Polar Express gifts. (I should have planned for a little more cash for each child, as the items were a bit more than dime store prices.)

As we stood by the tracks and watched the billow of steam covering the tracks from the chug-chug-chugging train, the children were wide-eyed in anticipation, eager to board the train. The conductor looked out and addressed a boy, who looked to be about 10 or so, separated from the crowd, “Well, you coming?”

The boy asked, “Where?”

The conductor answered, “Why, to the North Pole, of course! This is the Polar Express! If I were you, I’d think of climbing on board.”

The children were excited to find seats close together and to await the evening’s events. Some of the highlights were the freshly made cookies and hot cocoa, the chefs and waiters who danced and led Christmas carol singing, and the reading of the Polar Express story. When the train arrived at the North Pole, the children were able to view the elves and village decorations from the train. They also saw parts of the story acted out, including Santa giving the First Gift of Christmas to the young hero. Then Santa jumped on board, visited with each child, presenting them with a “magical” silver bell. After the most glorious trip, lasting 75 minutes or so, the children had the conductor punch their golden tickets with the personal, encouraging word that belonged uniquely to them. Only a few, including our youngest grandson, got the coveted “believe.”

After the train ride, we visited the depot museum (free with the train ticket) and took some fun photos.

Our three granddaughters and two grandsons slept well that night. After breakfast, we settled in for the long trip home. The remainder of the trip was rather quiet, as the children were still sleepy and recovering from their enchanted experience. A train ride is fascinating, but the Polar Express is in an entirely different league for amazing experiences for the whole family.  ν

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