We have had a very busy holiday season in our family. Mainly because I decided to be this overly ambitious, crazy Christmas spirited mom that just had to do every single activity I could think of this month. My husband appreciates it, he truly does.
But honestly, sometimes those crazy, packed weekends are what make the best memories. And we have been filling my son’s 2019 holiday season with tons of magical moments. What better way to make a memory for my boy though, then with trains.
We’ve made a few visits to Essex Steam Train over the four years my son has been obsessed with trains. Every year, when Thomas visits, we are there. So, he is quite familiar with Essex and how they are the “train town”. He actually had been asking about visiting Essex for a while, and that was how we found ourselves booking a ride on the Santa Special Elf Academy.
Essex Steam Train, during November and December, has two big events: The North Pole Express, which is a nighttime Christmas train experience and the Santa Special Elf Academy, a daytime Christmas ride. They are both very popular events, and when tickets go on sale months prior, they sell out fast, especially the North Pole Express.
We decided to book a daytime train ride, mainly because most of the weekend rides we were looking at were sold out, but also because we liked the idea of making this a day trip to Essex.
So on a Sunday in December, we headed down to Essex to learn how to become an elf!
Essex Steam Train is located right off Route 9 in Essex. Since we have always visited during the popular Day Out with Thomas, we were not used to getting to park in their main lot. However, for their December rides, the parking lot was open. The main entrance is just off Rte. 154.
In case you are not sure if you are at the right spot, look for the trains.
Follow the driveway past the trains, and into the parking lot.
Once you are parked, they had a special entrance and pathway into the event. Just follow the decorations!
Since we bought our tickets after the cutoff date for mailing, we had to pick up at the ticket counter. It was super easy and our tickets were waiting for us! They say to allow time for ticket pickup, and during a busy time, you may have a line; but on the day we went, we sailed right through!
We were on the 12:30 train and arrived about 45 minutes early. Our train was not yet back in the station, so we had some time to check out the other activities inside River Valley Junction. Inside they had some special activities, photo ops, character greetings, a model train display and a place to grab lunch.
The inside was decorated for the holidays!
They also had a model train railroad that always steals my son’s attention. He could stand and watch those trains all day if we let him!
He also loves the train table, as did most of the kids there!
He was super excited to meet Rudolph and he showed him his newest buddy, a stuffed Rudolph toy! He was a little unsure of The Nutcracker – mainly because he had never seen the movie!
We also loved the photo ops they had inside including this awesome sleigh! My husband and I had a chuckle because I suddenly became the random photographer for a few different families. I think it’s the big camera I carry that people assume I know what I am doing with a phone camera!
Before we knew it, the train was back in the station!
It was time to board!
The inside of the train was decked out for Christmas!
We had coach tickets, which was actually still really comfortable. The seats are cushiony and you can totally sit for the full hour with no issue. If you upgrade and splurge on the first class tickets, you get individual swivel captain’s chairs. They did look rather fancy but honestly, coach worked just fine for us!
Before we were ready to depart, it was time to start Elf Academy! We had one silly elf professor who was ready to teach us how to laugh, play, sing and dance like an elf! He spent the whole hour singing Christmas carols, telling silly Christmas jokes and keeping everyone’s spirits bright! Every child also got an elf hat (which my boy refused to wear, so I rocked it instead).
We had the laughing part down pat!
Half way through our ride, we had a visit from two very special people!
He had a great visit with Santa Claus and made sure to ask for his wooden train track with a steam passenger train (he’s very specific)! He even received a special gift (all the kids received a Santa bell).
After a fun hour, he finally graduated from Elf Academy and received a button to proof that he was a real elf!
After an hour long ride out of Essex and back, we were back at the station with our little elf graduate.
We spent some more time at the River Valley Junction. We also made sure to check out the gift shop, of course.
After buying a few too many ornaments and trains, we headed out. But of course, not before one more cute photo op with the trains!
We had a really fun time riding the Essex Steam Train Santa Special Elf Academy train. We knew we could not go wrong with a train ride this holiday season with our boy, and the extra holiday activities were a fun inclusion. Since I’ve not been on the North Pole Express, I can’t say for sure which is the better option. But if you do go on the daytime Santa Special, you will enjoy it.
And for the 2019 season, there are still tickets on sale for their last weekend (December 21-23)! So if you need a last minute Christmas activity, this is a great choice!
This about sums it up…
The Valley Railroad Company- One Railroad Avenue -Essex, Connecticut
Hours: Annual Event – Held in November/December
Santa Special-Elf Academy runs during the daytime on Saturdays and Sundays (and December 23)
North Pole Express runs in the evening daily (except Mondays and Christmas Eve/Christmas Day)
2019 Prices: Tickets start at $26 and vary based on daytime or evening train ride, as well as coach vs. first class
- Stroller friendly overall (cannot be brought on the train, but there is a stroller parking area). The ground cover is rocky but you can maneuver pretty easily.
- Large parking lot available
- Bathroom facilities at Essex Station and in River Valley Junction.
- Nursing Mothers Lounge found in River Valley Junction.
- Cash and Credit accepted for food and souvenir shop.
- Food for purchase
- Character greetings and photo ops
- Dress warmly – while the train is warm, the outdoors can be cold (especially if you stay outside and wait for the train!)