My family and some friends hopped aboard New Hope Valley Railway's Santa Train on Saturday. It was our first time on this open air train near Apex, which is open monthly through most of the year for rides on its historic trains.
This is definitely a unique spot, run by volunteers who work hard to keep this living railroad museum alive. The Santa Train, which continues next Saturday and Sunday, features rides aboard the train, decorated with some hanging gifts and balls from the ceiling, and a visit with Santa, who hands everybody on the train a small candy cane.
The hour-long rides, with departure times from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., run mostly through forested areas. Wooden figures of penguins, snowmen and other holiday characters dot the terrain.
There aren't a lot of bells and whistles here, other than the actual bells and whistles of the train. There are no light displays as the activity is complete before the sun sets. There's no Christmas music, craft tables, inflatables or other activities that are common at so many holiday events around here. And there weren't any lines either when we were there for the 4 p.m. ride on Saturday.
What you will find is a simple celebration of the holiday here. The kids in our party - two three-year-olds and two seven-year-olds - loved the model train display that stands outside behind a chain link fence. They searched for Thomas and chased after the trains as they went around the large track. Then they climbed in and out of some of the real train cars that are part of the museum. A favorite was the mail car.
The train ride is low-key and relaxing. There are no bathrooms on board (and Porta Potties back at the station). And there are no snacks on the train.
Santa walks through with a helper and talks to everybody. (For what it's worth: The critical seven-year-olds in our party both agreed that he was definitely Santa's helper and not the actual big guy).
The highlight for our crew was the moving of the engine from one end of the train to the other as we prepared for our ride back to the station.
New Hope Valley's Santa Train continues next Saturday and Sunday. Departure times are 11 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for kids ages 2 to 12.
Go to the railway's website for much more information and to buy your tickets in advance (which is recommended).