Dec 5, 2023 - Things to Do

The Polar Express is the hottest ticket in North Carolina

Polar express

Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

If you’re trying to get tickets on The Polar Express, it’s already too late.

State of play: Thousands travel to Spencer, North Carolina (less than an hour from Charlotte) and Bryson City, North Carolina (about three hours from Charlotte) every holiday season to board The Polar Express. Tickets sell quickly each year — the N.C. Transportation Center website says it has only a few single seats and random pairs of seats left this year — and if it’s on your bucket list, you should start planning for next year now.

Why it matters: Boarding The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum is one of those semi-local holiday traditions that’s fun for the whole family.

Details: The trip in Spencer is set to the sounds of the animated movie of the same name. The cost of admission ($34+) includes hot chocolate and cookies, plus a story reading of “The Polar Express.” 

  • Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas to enjoy the experience.
  • Tickets for the experience in Spencer go on sale each year in June. You can book online or call 704-469-5231 to make a reservation.
  • Tickets for the Bryson City experience are even harder to come by. 2024 tickets are already available online starting at $29 for kids 2-12 and $44 for people ages 13 and older.
Polar express
Inside the train, riders get hot chocolate with whipped cream, cookies and a bell delivered by Santa himself. “The real one, because we believe,” Michael says. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Driving the news: Axios’ Michael Graff was lucky enough to go this year with his family. He bought tickets for a ride out of Spencer early in the fall, but even that was “too late,” according to Michael.

  • The only tickets left were in the first-class cabin “which was nice,” Michael says, but pricey.
Polar express
Just before the end of the ride, you stop and get off at the “North Pole,” and actors reenact the scene from the movie with the kids and Santa. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios
Polar express
Santa and his reindeers give one last wave before getting back to work. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Go deeper: Holiday guide: 26 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter

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