Last December, I was able to check something off my bucket list that I have I wanted to do with my grandchildren for forever – attend The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC! I have a feeling I was the biggest kid there that day, and I’m so happy we had the opportunity to go with my daughter, Victoria, and her family. It’s a magical event and I wanted to know more about the behind the scenes. I recently was able to sit down with Mark Brown, the Public Information Officer for the N.C. Transportation Museum, to find out more about this special event.
Months of Planning
One of the first things Mark told me is that an event company by the name of Rail Events Inc., out of Durango, Colorado, has the license for The Polar Express. Rail Events provides the standards for the event, the marketing materials, and they work with the museum per Mark, “to make the most believable experience for their guests”. They actually send out someone to see how the event planning is going and assist where needed.
I was surprised to learn that they start planning for this event in March. By planning this far in advance, they are able to start ticket sales in April. The Polar Express is a 10-month long planning process.
I was surprised to learn that when this event first started there were only 14,000 people that attended. I am sure people were just not sure what to expect. However, since the first year, the attendance has grown tremendously. Last year, 52,000 people came to Spencer, NC to ride The Polar Express. This year, which is their 6th year, they are expecting even more and have 55,000 tickets for sale. Believe it or not, they have several rides that are already sold out.
It Takes a Village
I knew from attending last year that this event takes a lot of helping hands to make is such a wonderful experience. According to Mark, there are over 170 total people working the event. That includes museum employees, rail workers, chefs, and, of course, the actors that bring this event to life.
Lee Street Theatre is a huge help for this event by auditioning everyone that is a part of The Polar Express cast. Tryouts were held back in September. I would have loved to have auditioned myself, but I would probably have a hard time containing my own inner child during the shows!
Fun fact: two actors, which are brothers, are flown in each year from Texas by their dad, who is a pilot. They both play the “Hero” role, which is the lead character in The Polar Express. Along with the two brothers, you will find 6 total “Hero” kids, 60 chefs, 8 Santas (Santa’s Helpers of course, because we all know the real Santa is busy making toys at the North Pole for his big night), 40-50 Stewarts, and 8-12 Elves.
A Huge Benefit to the Museum
According to Mark, “Polar Express has funded an enormous amount of renovations on this site.” Mark adds, “Prior to The Polar Express, the museum saw 75,000 visitors a year and now we see over 146,000 annually.” This event is attributed to breaking visitation records for the museum.
The N.C Transportation Museum has multiple events year-round including Tractors and Trains Festival, Fire Truck Festival, Brew & Choo, and Day Out With Thomas™. The Polar Express is a longer running event that allows for more visitors to experience all that the museum has to offer. This is a definite positive for the museum and Rowan County.
Behind the Scenes
I wanted to know more details about behind the scenes of the Polar Express including details on the hot chocolate and cookies!
Debbie Suggs Catering of Salisbury does all of the cooking for the shows. Not only does she make the delicious hot chocolate and those yummy chocolate chip cookies, but she also cooks for the performers and the staff during the run of event.
When Mark was telling me about Debbie, he said he looked forward to her Chicken Pie. Other staff chimed in as well saying their favorites include Beef and Rice and Chicken Alfredo. If you have ever had Debbie’s cooking, then you know the homemade goodness that she brings to every event she covers. I’ve always loved her salad dressing.
Another question I had wanted to ask ever since I attended last December was, how do they make it snow? The snow creates such a magical touch when you are boarding the trains to start your adventure. The secret is… it’s soap! So, I wouldn’t recommend sticking your tongue out to catch any of those flakes.
According to Mark, “We could not pull off the event without our partners. Lee Street Theatre is so important by providing the performers and actors that make the shows special. Also, Virtual Sounds of Salisbury provides the sounds and lighting for the shows.”
I also asked about the Christmas light decorations you see every night when you drive through Spencer. Daniel Peck does all the field work for those making it festive during arrival and departure from the event.
Also, the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau are awesome partners providing overnight stay packages that include “free” tickets.
Where Everyone Hears the Bell
Be sure to arrive early so you can enjoy some of the activities going on at the museum during The Polar Express, like writing a letter to Santa, coloring pictures, and making keepsake ornaments.
Take a family photo with the Old Red Truck that was donated to the Transportation Museum! My family actually used this photo for our Christmas cards last year.
Find a comfortable rocking chair to rest in while the kids play and don’t forget to stop in the N.C. Transportation Gift Station and pick up some of the wonderful souvenirs to remember your trip!
At the end of the day, The Polar Express lives a life all of its own. Families show up night after night in matching pajamas to make Christmas memories! It is fun to watch how it has grown each year and the magic that it brings to those that attend. For me, it reminded me that it’s okay to be a kid again and to remember the excitement of “believing” in a childhood memory. Who knew a bell could bring so much joy?
The train rolls out Nov. 15-17, 22-24, Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Dec. 6-8, and Dec. 12-22. Purchase tickets to The Polar Express here.
Also, be sure to check out the other events happening at the museum including:
Winter Fever Train Rides: Dec. 26-29, Jan. 2-4
Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge: Jan. 16-March 29
Wine & Dine on the Rails: February 14-15
…and many more!