A few years ago I started hearing about the Polar Express Experience and I knew right away it was something I wanted to take my children to. The hardest part was picking which one....Essex? Saratoga? New Jersey? I heard such mixed reviews about all of them. I waited for a few years and researched through the experiences of the wonderful moms on my Facebook page and finally the answer came to me...North Conway, NH! It seemed like every review was a good one so I thought go big or go home! I am so glad we went big!
Our experience started with putting our names on the wait list in January of 2015, yes 11 months in advance! Through internet research I came upon the Christmas Farm Inn and Spa in Jackson, NH and I am so glad I did! Our package through the Inn included two nights at the Inn, four first class train tickets for my family, breakfast both mornings of our stay and a dinner with Mrs. Claus. I waited and waited and in May I got the e mail that our name came up on the list! I was elated and booked immediately....now to keep the secret! In November, the day after Thanksgiving, our elf arrived carrying a letter from Mrs. Claus (which the Inn sends to your house) inviting our family to come for a visit.
First the Inn...driving through New Hampshire takes you back to your childhood immediately, even if you did not grow up in New England. Living in the constant hustle and bustle of Long Island it is nice to drive through small, quaint towns nestled in the middle of mountains, and full of Christmas cheer. There are literal Clydesdale horses pulling sleighs through the middle of town in Jackson and it wasn't for a beer commercial! Driving under the covered bridge and pulling up at the Inn you immediately feel as if you are home. From the first interaction with the staff you know that you will be treated like family. The Inn is quintessential New England full of plaids and paisleys. You are greeted with homemade cookies and coffee and a warm fire that you could sit watching all day. We took a room at the Inn and were so happy we did. Now, for those who have never stayed at an Inn, this is a true Inn experience. If you are looking for brand, spanking new decor this is not the place for you. If you are looking for stairs that are all the same height and level floors, this is not the place for you. But if you are looking for a place where the sights, sounds and smells invite you back to your childhood then this is the place for you! Walking into our room we were greeted with presents on the beds for our children, which immediately set the tone for our trip. The kids were so excited to see what goodies were inside and their package did not disappoint. Now for the food....as I mentioned before breakfast both mornings was part of the package and this was not any old bland buffet breakfast, this was a "pick anything you want off of the menu" type of breakfast. We traveled with two other families and every single person said their breakfast was hands down, the best breakfast they ate in a while. Homemade waffles and pancakes, Eggs Benedict, Omelets....each one perfection! Here is the added bonus...there is a game and TV room right off of the dining room. There I said it and yes we did it, "OK kids you are done eating, go ahead and play in the game room while we finish our breakfast." This is New Hampshire after all not New York City, so the kids played while we ate out meals in peace and quiet. I know for all parents this is a simple pleasure in life which is rare. While we are on food I have to mention the Mrs. Claus dinner. This was perhaps just as magical as our ride on the Polar Express. Dinner was in a converted barn on the property with a huge 15 foot Christmas tree in the middle of the room. Walking in I was surprised and impressed to hear live music. All of the kids rocked around the Christmas tree like it was their job! The food was buffet style and each dish was more impressive than the last. I am not a steak eater but apparently the steak tips were second to none according to our friends. After dinner the announcement of Mrs. Claus' arrival came and the children all sat down for a story with Mrs. Claus. Not only did she read the story to them but they each got a signed copy of it and another special present to take home. Here is another part of staying at the Inn that is so different from staying at a hotel. You really get to meet and interact with other people and families. We actually befriended another couple and after our Mrs. Claus dinner we all went back to the inn to talk and relax. The parents hung by the fire with some cocktails while the children watched a movie and played in the game room. This is the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings and I was so glad to be living in one, even if it was only for a short amount of time.
Our first night in town we ate at the Red Fox Bar and Grill in Jackson before our Journey to the North Pole. This restaurant was huge and the best selling point was a play room for the kids. Upon arriving we were asked if we would like to eat adjacent to the game room so our children could play while we ate? "Yes please!" I know you are probably seeing a trend here and I don't care because kid friendly places are just where we are at in our lives and if we can get two seconds of a quiet meal without anyone asking us, "How many more bites?" we will take it time and time again! The food here was to die for! As I stated earlier, I do not eat red meat, but just about everyone we went with did because wood fired grilling is their specialty at Red Fox and a big thumbs up was given by all. My food was just as good and the children had a wonderful time eating and playing in the game room. I was seeing a trend in New Hampshire that I liked...everything was super child friendly and even more so, every establishment was very welcoming of children. After our meal we made the short drive to North Conway for our train ride. The town and train station in North Conway will literally take your breath away. It amazes me how these small towns are able to keep that "small town" feel even after all of these years. Yes, things are updated and you can see newer restaurants and shops but they are able to keep that small town feeling. The train station is smack in the middle of town and almost like the crowned jewel that puts the finish on the town. The train you take to the North Pole is not as luxurious as I have seen from other North Pole experiences but it is adorable and beautifully decorated and our ride was full of Christmas songs, hot chocolate and fun! Now here is where this experience differs from the rest. We actually got out at the North Pole, yes the real North Pole (or at least the kids thought so). After about a 15-20 minute train ride you are greeted at the gates of the North Pole by elves holding lanterns. The elves light your way up the hill and as you walk you can drop off your special letter to Santa (which is given to you either at the Inn or on the train) at the North Pole Post Office. The elves are these adorable little creatures (also known as local teenagers and some local residents) who really get the kids excited about meeting Santa. We were instructed to ask their name, age and occupation and each one had a different story. What impressed me the most was how into the experience the elves were. They hugged the children and gave them high fives and not a cell phone was seen...were these really teens? We arrived at the top of the hill and entered a small arena type area. We sat down and were treated to a little show where the elves sang songs and "The Night Before Christmas" was read. Finally it was time, the big man himself came out! He went around and greeted each and every child while everyone else sang Christmas songs. Sometimes in life while you are living in the moment you know you will remember it forever...well, this was one of those times! At the end of the show you had to walk back down the hill and received more hugs and high fives from the elves and as the train pulled away we even had a few elves chase our train. One poor elf bit it and fell hard, lantern flying and all, which gave me a little chuckle, but got right back up laughing and waved goodbye to the train.
I will not say our experience was cheap, it ran us around $1,000 for the package, but this is one of those things in life where we wanted an experience that our children would remember forever. Our children loved it so much, they begged us to stay one more night...I think it's safe to say we were all caught up in the magic of this trip. We will return one more time before the magic leaves my older child and while my younger one is still starry eyed over Santa. You have lots of options for the Polar Express all over the country, but I can safely say you will not have an experience such as this if you don't go visit the North Conway Journey to the North Pole....tell Santa we sent you!