The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad's Polar Express train ride proved so popular last year that it has expanded its departures from the Elkins depot.
There were 26 special holiday rides in 2011, and that has been increased to 40 for this year, said Railroad President John Smith.
"We had no idea we would sell out so quickly last year," Smith said. "All 26 departures sold out three weeks before the first run was scheduled to depart."
Children and adults alike enjoy the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad’s Polar Express holiday train ride in Elkins, which has expanded dates this year to accommodate more families.
The Polar Express holiday schedule is set to begin Nov. 9 with an official grand-opening celebration and end the weekend of Dec. 14. The company has added Thursday runs to the list to accommodate in-state and local residents who did not have the chance to ride last year. Trains will depart the Elkins Depot at 5 and 7:15 p.m. Thursday through Sunday most weeks.
The Polar Express ride is based on the holiday feature film from Warner Bros. Pictures and the beloved children's book written by Chris Van Allsburg. On this unique journey, children relive the adventure of a doubting young boy who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, pajama-clad children - and adults - interact with dancing chefs and conductors who punch their tickets. A ride filled with storytelling and sweet treats culminates at the North Pole, a wonderful city of fantasy and lights, where Santa boards the train, offering a gift to those who truly believe.
New this year are multiple-day packages, which include area lodging, the popular Railyard Holiday Package, the American Mountain Theater Christmas Extravaganza and more.
To make the experience even more unique, the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad is working with Elkins ON TRAC to develop an entertainment concept that will bring regional artisans and musicians together with downtown Elkins retail shops, restaurants and services to create a communitywide "Santa's Workshop."
"Last year The Polar Express program brought nearly 6,000 people to Elkins in a five-week period," Smith said. "We encountered visitor congestion in the Depot area and realized that as we expand the program, we need to work with the local community to offer more options to our visitors before and after their Polar experience.
"With the expansion from 26 departures to 40 departures, we are looking at nearly 10,000 visitors coming into Elkins in a six-week period," Smith said. "These visitors will expect more shopping and dining options, as well as more unique experiences connected to our mountain community. These visitors need to return home with a well-rounded mountain holiday experience!"
The Santa's Workshop concept is unique to national Polar Express offerings. Although not part of the national Warner Bros. franchise, it is a concept that will integrate and involve an entire community of merchants, artists and craftsmen, storytellers, historians with The Polar Express experience.
In a nutshell, the arts community will be paired with participating shopping, dining and service venues that will offer space to a working artisan. This creates an interactive environment for visiting families to watch artisans and craftsmen actually make gifts the family can purchase. Artisans also can entertain or educate the children while their parents find time to browse and shop.
More information on Santa's Workshop is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reservations on The Polar Express are required and many dates already are sold out. Tickets start at $48 for adults and children 12 and older; and $43 for children under 12 years of age.
The Railyard Holiday Package features a complete meal and live classic Christmas music featuring Seth Maynard before each departure. Tickets start at $23 for adults and children 12 and older; and $15 for children under 12 years of age. Children 3 and younger get in free.
More information is available by calling 1-877-MTN-RAIL (686-7245) or visiting www.mountainrail.com.