Polar Express: Matching PJs Edition

We rode the Polar Express run by the West Coast Railway for our third time. This was, by far, our most enjoyable year, though that had as much to do with planning as with the age of our children. This year, we rode the train at 2pm, which allowed us to fully enjoy the activities in the Roundhouse after the train ride, while still preserving the illusion of “arriving” at the North Pole. 

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Though Aiden is not as obsessed with The Polar Express as he was in the two previous years, he did still enjoy the entire trip. His face lit up when the conductor came by and when the child actors came in pretending to be the children from the movie. Very nice addition to the experience and one we did not expect at all. Aiden literally glowed! He was also beside himself with excitement to tour the interior of the engine that mimics the real Polar Express:

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The next bonus was the child-led controls in the mini train area, which was a highlight for Aiden. He was mad we had to move on when Damien lost interest, but that was our only low point in the night. 

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Each year the experience gets better and I am so happy it’s a part of our holiday traditions! Damien also loved riding a moving train, even though he’s not as immersed in the Polar Express culture.

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This year, I managed to get both kids into their PJs (I wavered and gave them their Christmas Eve PJs early, since SO CUTE!) and planned it all better, to have two layers of PJs to avoid the cold. This year Aiden was interested in wearing his PJs, so that was a bonus. He didn’t want them last year and the previous year he only consented to wear the top. Finally, after years of struggling to find them matching PJs (who knew it was so hard), I purchased a matching set (2 months in advance, let me tell you). Huzzah!

Unearthing History at the Britannia Mine Museum

On our return trip from Squamish, we stopped at both Shannon Falls and at the Britannia Mine Museum. We spent about 2.5 hours in the museum and could easily have spent twice as long, particularly if the day had been nicer. 

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I have been wanting to visit the mines for some time, but I was a little wary that it would be too much for Aiden, with the loud noises and his very sensitive hearing. It turns out, the loud noises come in 4 short bursts, with lots of warning, so you really can cover your child’s ears (and wear the supplied earplugs for yourself) and not face much of an issue. The largest sound was the whistle at the end of the tour, and Aiden missed that since he had to rush to the washroom. 

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The tour takes you through a section of the mine where a tour guide shows you some of the equipment used over the years of the mine’s operation, as well as some of the challenges faced by the workers. What a horrible work experience, the hours of backbreaking labour with almost no light, no space, and the likelihood of an early death. Ick. 

In addition to the tour inside the mine, you can visit the factory to see the conditions there, as well as several outbuildings that house equipment used during the operation of the mine. There is a short video about the history of the mine as you come into the Museum. I felt like we learned a ton about mining and the history of the area, I really liked the whole experience.

For the kids, the real highlight was the panning for gold. Ok, it was a highlight for us too. I was so into it I didn’t take any photos. Oops. Unlike other places where panning for gold has only been sand, the Britannia Mine Museum seeds the sand with gold shavings and many other stones to be found. This is hugely satisfying for kids and adults alike!

On nicer days, there is a great play area with sand, water, a boat structure and a train tunnel, as well as a picnic area and on-site food options (not open when we were there). Plan to go on a nice day if you want to take advantage of these great features.  

Check out all our photos from the Britannia Mine Museum here.

The Polar Express 2013

One of our most special activities around the holidays is a visit to the Polar Express run by the West Coast Railway in Squamish. Each year we trek up to be a part of the experience that goes along with Aiden’s all-time favourite movie.

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Earlier this year, I held a Polar Express party to “break out” the movie, which I’d reserved just for this time of year, seeing as he wasn’t willingly going to stop watching it otherwise! We had cookies and hot chocolate and popcorn and crafts and a lovely movie experience. We have since watched the movie many many times more. 

I felt like West Coast Rail really put a lot more thought into the whole Polar Express experience this year. There were far more places for family photos – the caboose, with Santa, professional photos in an interior caboose (for a fee), the pop-out people – just so much more went into the year. The train ride was also longer than normal, but I don’t know if that was on purpose. I was happy that our coach had a better sound system to hear the story and that the carolling was also more organized – such a fun time.

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Once we were back inside, we had a quick visit with Santa (though I do wish they had a Santa with a real beard!) and a trip on the mini train. This year, Santa came out on the mini train with Mrs. Claus and there was a tunnel on the mini train, so that was very nice. 

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In addition to the gingerbread cookie station, this year they set up the second floor of the roundhouse with a Christmas Village train set and a whole row of crafts and activities. Unfortunately, due to Damien’s nap, we had to book a late train ride and we were cutting it close to their dinner time by the time we’d finished with Santa. We skipped the craft sections, viewing only the lovely little village set up. 

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I was hoping to wait for the nice photos from our SLR before publishing this, but who knows when Ianiv will be done with those! Still, some nice shots here anyway!

The Polar Express Adventure

For the second year in a row, we boarded the Polar Express out of Squamish-based West Coast Railway Association. The experience was mostly the same, though 15-minutes longer on the train ride. The conductor on the ride was amazing this time around and they really upped the fantasy factor with small details such as the “spirit” walking the aisle. To draw out the experience, the cookie and hot chocolate were served separately this year, which I liked. We had both Oma and Babby there, which really made the experience fun for our boys.

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Although I love the whole experience, it is still a little slow for the young ones since the train does a lot of track switching and doesn’t travel very far. Aiden was a little disappointed that the locomotive was not steam-powered and that it was not snowing, like in the book / movie. He would notice those things, right? We also made the mistake of not immediately lining up for Santa and then having to wait an hour for our visit. Oh well, it meant skipping the mall Santa visit. 

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Damien woke from a nap about 10 seconds before this photo was taken! Although I put them in PJs, as per the suggestion for the Polar Express adventure, I didn’t think about using the cute PJs for the photo. Oh well, next year!

I also think it’s crazy how different parenting a second child is! We never would have taken Aiden to The Polar Express at this age, or Squamish either. Damien actually is ok in his car seat during the day, so he stayed awake for all but the last 2 minutes of the trip (grr, we hoped he’d nap). He napped twice while we were at The Polar Express and we all went out for dinner before our trip home. Aiden fell asleep almost instantly at around 5:30 but Damien cried the whole way home. Boo for that. 

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The Polar Express from West Coast Rail

Today we took Aiden out to Squamish to board the Polar Express 2011 run by the West Coast Railway Association. Just like the book and movie, the Polar Express invites children young and old to board a train to the North Pole. The 60 minute train ride includes some of the story over the speakers (sadly, a little too quiet), a cookie and hot chocolate (huge hit) and the singing of Christmas carols.

The train doesn’t go very far during the ride (my geek of a husband tracked it) and made stops during food delivery, but all the kids seemed quite happy with the ride they did get. If you go in the afternoon as we did, it will be getting dark just as you return.

After the train ride, you stop at the North Pole, set up inside the Roundhouse, which is a great open space featuring a few trains to look at as well. There were lots of crafts set up, a gift shop, and a little coffee shop. The line to visit Santa takes some time, but it’s worth it. A visit to Santa brings the “first gift of Christmas” – the reindeer bell. Totally awesome.

Included in the coach ticket is a lanyard with the Gold ticket, the train ride with goodies, access to the North Pole to visit Mr. & Mrs. Claus, one ride on the mini train and access to all the crafts set up on site. Though seating is first come first served, it didn’t appear to be an issue for anyone. The first class tickets, sold out for the year, also include a free collectors mug with the assigned seats.

Next year we will read the story (which we bought there) and watch the movie before the ride too, to really get into it. Even without that, Aiden had a downright fantastic afternoon. He was thrilled with every aspect, even if he didn’t want to sit on Santa’s knee. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, to tell Santa, Aiden said “apple,” then “treat,” both of which we can easily manage. He rode the mini train (huge for him), and was heard to say “Bye Bye Santa” as we left. See all our photos here.

Tips for families: Lots of people got into the spirit by wearing PJs, but do bring warm clothes to put on top. Also bring your camera, as you’re encouraged to snap your own shots with Santa (save on mall Santas?!). I was kicking myself all afternoon for forgetting our SLR. Next year!

Disclosure: We received one adult and child pass complimentary, but paid for the additional two passes.