The latest update for this article is written by Lindsay Podolak.
With Christmas just around the corner, New Jersey families with young children are on the lookout for magical ways to celebrate the season. One of the best ways to get in the holiday spirit is to climb aboard a holiday-themed train. New Jersey is home to several great train rides that feature beautiful holiday music and decorations, delicious sweet treats and even an appearance from the big man himself.
During each of these trains, Santa makes time to talk to every young rider and pose for photos. These popular holiday train rides sell out quickly, though, so be sure to get your tickets soon!
The North Pole Express on the Black River & Western Railroad
Where: 80 Stangl Road, Flemington
Details: The Black River and Western Railroad offers the only steam-powered Christmas Train in New Jersey. Beginning on November 17, riders can hop aboard the North Pole Express, a two-hour excursion that features a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Guests board the train in Flemington, where they meet the conductor and Santa’s elves. The train then heads to the North Pole, where riders can disembark to get a cookie and hot cocoa, visit the museum and take pictures.
Why I like it: Got a big group? Rent the train’s Little Red Caboose for up to 18 people and you’ll enjoy a private visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
More info: Visit www.blackriverrailroad.com or call 908-782-6622
The Polar Express Train Ride
Where: 1 Railroad Plaza, Whippany
Details: Passengers aboard Whippany’s Polar Express Train relive the magic of the beloved children’s story during this one-hour trip to the North Pole. Each car has its own host who will punch your golden ticket before dancing chefs serve cookies and hot chocolate. Passengers are then treated to a reading of the classic holiday tale. Santa and his helpers board the train to greet passengers and give each child the gift of a silver sleigh bell. Guests can choose between Coach and First Class amenities. The Polar Express Train Ride departs from Whippany Station, with rides beginning on November 16.
Why I like it: You get to choose your specific seats when you purchase tickets, so there’s no rushing to make sure your entire party is seated together when you board the train.
More info: Visit www.whippanythepolarexpressride.com or call 973-419-6255
The Christmas Express on Pine Creek Railroad
Where: Allaire State Park, 4265 Atlantic Avenue, Wall Township
Details: A ride on the Santa Express has been a holiday tradition of many families for more than 35 years. Due to the train’s popularity, even more trains have been made available for the 2018 season. Santa visits and chats with every child on the train during this ride through the forest of Allaire State Park. Tickets are currently available, but must be purchased in person. Train rides begin on November 23, with both day and evening rides available. In addition to the train ride, guests can explore the Historic Village at Allaire and celebrate the joys of Christmas past. The Village offers weekend events during the holidays, including Christmas Lantern Tours.
Why I like it: Trains leave every half hour between the hours of 11:00 am to 4:00 pm and 6:00 to 8:30 pm, so there’s bound to be a train to fit with every family’s busy schedule.
More info: Visit www.njmt.org or call 732-938-5524
The Santa Express on Cape May Seashore Line
Where: Reading Avenue & Mill Road, Tuckahoe
Details: Climb aboard the Santa Express, which makes regular runs between the river towns of Tuckahoe and Richland. The train itself is decked out with holiday lights and decorations, and features Christmas music in every car. Santa and his elves visit each child on board. Riders also enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. The Santa Express starts its run the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 24. An evening Starlight Express will also run on select weeknights. Families are strongly urged to purchase tickets online prior to their train ride, as they sell out quickly.
Why I like it: Forgot your camera phone? A professional photographer is on board to help document your visit with Santa.
More info: Visit www.capemayseashorelines.org
Tri-State Santa Train
Where: Wayne/Route 23 Transit Center, Route 23 Southbound & West Belt Parkway, Wayne
Details: On Saturday, Dec. 8, the Tri-State Railway Historical Society hosts its 26th annual Santa Train. There are four time-slots available for this one-day only event. Operated by New Jersey Transit on a modern passenger train, the 60-minute trip features a visit from Santa himself, who provides each young passenger with an activity book, candy cane and a small toy. Tickets are available for purchase online starting in October. Don’t forget your camera to capture this special holiday moment!
Why I like it: Passengers with disabilities can access the train via a wheelchair ramp leading up to a high level platform, ensuring that no one wishing to experience the magic of Christmas is left out.
More info: Visit www.tristaterail.org or call 973-656-0707
The Polar Express Train Ride
Where: 99 Elizabeth Street, Phillipsburg
Details: Last year, tickets went on sale June 1 and sold out within 15 minutes. Currently, tickets are still available…but don’t wait much longer! Each guest on the train enjoys hot chocolate and cookies, along with a reading of the classic storybook. Santa visits with each child and gives sleigh bells out to those who believe. On-board entertainment also includes roaming hobos and a juggling chef. Guests are encouraged to wear their pajamas and join in on the magic of the season. The train is pulled by an antique diesel locomotive and consists of antique restored passenger cars from the 1950s.
Why I like it: Both a snack bar and gift shop have items available to purchase on board the train.
More info: Visit www.877trainride.com or call 877-872-4674