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Go Ask Mom

The hottest ticket in Raleigh might surprise you (unless you have kids who can't wait for Santa)

Posted July 25

Credit: Keenan Hairston
Courtesy: City of Raleigh

At 7:59 a.m., Tuesday, thousands in the Triangle had their fingers hovering over their keyboards or tablets at the ready for the exact second when what just might be the hottest ticket of 2017 went  on sale: Tickets for Pullen Park's Holiday Express.

The tickets for the Christmas event, marking its 10th year this year, went on sale at 8 a.m., Tuesday. By 8:30 a.m., 95 percent of the tickets were sold out. Within another hour, they'd be all gone. All 15,450 of them.

The event, which features visits with Santa, Christmas lights, crafts and rides on the Raleigh park's kiddie train and carousel, has becoming increasingly popular in recent years.

Last year's event, originally scheduled to run eight days, sold out within hours after crashing the city's RecLink event registration program. A couple of months later, the city added a ninth day, which also quickly sold out.

This year, the city sold the tickets only through Eventbrite, an online event site, to avoid another crash. It also added more days to the event, which will run for 10 days - Dec. 7 to Dec. 10 and Dec. 12 to Dec. 17. The site didn't crash, but tickets sold more quickly than they ever have before - even with the extra days.

"For our office pool, nobody had today," said Jenna Kostka, a parks employee who supervised the event's ticket sales. "The fact that it was half an hour and that nobody had today in the office pool, I was very surprised."

But, Kostka said, she had early indicators that today's ticket sales might set some records. At 8:02 a.m., 74 orders had come to her email. Just a minute later, at 8:03 a.m., 400 orders were in her inbox.

"The speed at which they were coming into my email, my email couldn't handle it," she said.

Kostka is fielding a couple of questions and concerns from parents and others who weren't able to purchase their tickets.

Some said that, at checkout, the system told them that the tickets they selected were no longer available. Kostka said that was because another person was a split second quicker to push "buy." The tickets were purchased based on train departure times.

"They were so popular and so many people were trying to buy them at the same time," she said. "It’s just as popular as a Beyonce concert."

Kostka also said rumors continue to swirl that people are buying up large blocks of tickets to sell them elsewhere. Some tickets were resold last year on Facebook or Craigslist, Kostka said.

"But it was one or two tickets here and there," she said. "It was not hundreds."

This year, people couldn't buy more than 10 tickets at a time. Kostka said nobody bought more than 10 tickets at one time. If they attempted to buy another 10, they were forced to finish their transaction for the original 10 first.

"We've had a couple of orders where people bought more than 10 because they placed two different orders," she said. "People are not buying them to sell them."

No major changes are planned to the event this year, other than people will be able to walk around the park's lake. In past years, it's been closed off.

"Every year, it gets more and more popular," Kostka said. "Even recently, the people I bring it up with, they say, 'I heard from a friend about it and I haven't been.' People who haven't been are as excited as the people who have been every year."

Could that popularity mean that they might add another day or two to the event this year? Kostka recommends disappointed parents not get their hopes up.

"For now," she said, "we don’t anticipate adding any more dates."

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