It was a suitably cool Saturday evening when my husband and I surprised our children with a ride aboard the brand new St. Marys Express.
We left home telling them we were going on an adventure, and they were in awe when we pulled up to St. Marys’ Theatre by the Trax, where an open air train adorned with holiday garlands and bows awaited its next load of passengers.
My 5-year-old son, a longtime Thomas the Tank Engine fan, couldn’t believe we were climbing aboard a real train for a ride. And my daughter, who’s 2, couldn’t take her eyes off the folks who were joining us: the Grinch, Scrooge, a couple of Santa’s elves and of course a friendly ticket man much like the gentleman we’d seen in the movie “Polar Express” earlier that day.
The train ride lasts an hour and 15 minutes altogether. We were on board the “Santa Express,” so of course our trip was all holiday-themed. We sang Christmas carols, visited with characters (played by actors from the theatre), and eventually arrived at our turnaround point, which was decked out to look like Santa’s Christmas Village.
We never got off the train, but rather crowded to one side of the train to get a look at Santa in his village, sitting on a sleigh as snow fell above him. Once we came to a stop, Santa climbed on board to ride back to St. Marys with us. He would make the rounds to each child, giving everyone a small gift.
But before we could pull out of the little “village,” our locomotive needed to move to the other end of the train. Watching the locomotive move past us on the tracks next to us was probably my son’s favorite part. As it passed, we all waved to a father and son who had purchased special tickets allowing them to ride in the locomotive. The express also offers special tickets for passengers who want to ride in the caboose.
My kids were wide-eyed every minute of the trip. As we traveled, people in cars, parking lots and back yards stopped what they were doing to wave to us. Then, as we traveled further, we were able to see a more rustic area few people get to see. We went through wooded areas and saw some gorgeous views.
If that wasn’t enough to keep the kids’ attention, the characters made the rounds, spending time talking to each family. The policeman showed us a magical snow globe, an elf used a special meter to check whether the kids were on the naughty list or the nice list. My daughter downright refused to make eye contact with the Grinch when he came over for a chat, but she hasn’t stopped talking about him since.
In fact, the kids haven’t stopped talking about their adventure, period. The St. Marys Express captured that magical spirit that makes childhood so much fun, and that makes grown-ups feel like kids again.
The express is quite new to the area. It made its debut in October with the “Pumpkin Express,” which sold out in a matter of days. We were ready when ticket sales started for the Santa Express: we booked our tickets more than a month in advance, and even then many of the dates were sold out.
Clearly, you need to plan ahead if you want to experience it. But there will be lots of opportunities to ride. Over the next year, they’re offering a Wild West Express, Mardi Gras Express, Peter Cottontail Express, America’s Heroes Express (for Memorial Day) and America’s Birthday Express.
Get the dates – and purchase tickets – at their website, stmarysrailroad.com. When you purchase your tickets, you’ll receive an email that you can print out. When you arrive the day of your ride, show them the email and they will give you a paper ticket at will call.
If you’re interested:
When: Various dates throughout the year (usually Saturdays) with departures at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Where: Excursions always begin at Theatre by the Trax, 1000 Osborne Street, St. Marys, GA 31558
Cost: Below are the costs, and then a $3 processing fee and sales tax will be added to your total.
- Open Air Railcar Rides: Adults $17, Children (3-12) $11, Children under 2 FREE
- Locomotive Rides : $50 per person, limit 2 people in the Locomotive
- Caboose Rides Limited to 24 passengers $25