It might seem early to some, but it's time to start nailing down your holiday activity plans ... and those include getting tickets to the region's many Santa trains.
Many of these fill up fast. In fact, Pullen Park's very popular Holiday Express is actually sold out. Tickets for the event went on sale way back in July when I warned everybody to get them quickly!
But, never fear, there are other options for holiday train rides.
- In Durham, the Museum of Life and Science's very popular Santa Train runs Dec. 2 to Dec. 6, Dec. 9 to Dec. 13, and Dec. 16 to Dec. 20. Tickets are between $15 and $20 per rider, depending on what day you go, for ages 3 and up. Kids 2 and under ride for free in an adult lap. The event includes a ride on the museum's kiddie train, the Ellerbe Creek Railway, plus crafts, face painting, hot chocolate and more. This event sells out very quickly. If you want to go, you need to buy tickets as soon as you are able. Tickets go on sale on Tuesday for supporting members and Thursday for Explorer museum members. Tickets go on sale to the public at 9 a.m., Nov. 10.
- New Hope Valley Railway's Santa Trains are Dec. 5, Dec. 6, Dec. 12, and Dec. 13 at the railway in southwestern Wake County. Rides on the diesel or steam engines start at 9:30 a.m. each day. Tickets are between $10 and $17, depending on your age and whether you want to ride a steam or diesel train. Again, these rides are very popular. Advance ticket purchase is recommended, especially if you need to lock in a particular departure time. If you go, just prepare yourself for a possibly chilly ride on the open-air cars, along with some low-key, seasonal fun. I'd definitely recommend this one for younger kids.
- For the second year, the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, about two hours from Raleigh, will host a Polar Express train ride. Last year, the ride was incredibly popular. This year, it runs Nov. 20 to Nov. 21; Nov. 27 to Nov. 29; Dec. 4 to Dec. 6; Dec. 11 to Dec. 13; and Dec. 16 to Dec. 22. Set to the popular movie's soundtrack, families will ride to the "North Pole," enjoy some hot chocolate and cookies, a reading of the book and a visit with Santa, who presents the first gift of Christmas. At the end, everyone will get their own silver sleigh bell to take home. Individual tickets start at $30 for kids ages 2 to 12 and $36 for adults. Tickets went on sale way back in July. This will sell out.
- The Country Christmas Train in Denton opens on Nov. 27. See lights and the nativity story on this train ride. Then enjoy Christmas carols, arts and crafts, a doll museum, treats and more, including a visit with Santa. Denton is about two hours from Raleigh.
- Looking for a weekend trip? The Great Smoky Mountains Railway in Bryson City also has a Polar Express, which starts Nov. 13 and runs through Jan. 3. Tickets range between $10 (for infants) to $76 (for adults in first class). Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas. The ride recreates the classic story with a stop at the North Pole, a visit with Santa, hot chocolate, treats and more. Bryson City is about five hours from Raleigh. Tickets are on sale now.
- In Belmont, N.C., near Charlotte, for the first time, you can board "The Train to Christmas Town." Event dates are Nov. 27 to Nov. 29, Dec. 4 to Dec. 6, Dec. 11 to Dec. 13, Dec. 16 to Dec. 23 and Dec. 26 to Dec. 27. The event includes a train ride, a reading of the book, "The Train to Christmas Town," hot chocolate, cookies, Christmas carols and a visit with Santa, who will give each child a special gift. Tickets range from about $25 to $50 for kids and $35 to $60 for adults.
- Finally, Hubb's Farm in Clinton will host "The Polar Express and Santa Too" on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28. Tickets are $17. Kids under 2 are free. The evening includes a visit with Santa, an outdoor viewing of The Polar Express, a ride on Hubb's "express train," hot chocolate, a campfire and more. You can pre-order kits for making s'mores.