Forget the sleigh; Santa is riding the Long Island Rail Road this holiday season.
Take the train into New York City with jolly Kriss Kringle and his elves during the MTA’s fourth annual Holiday Express ride, set for Dec. 7 and 8. Two passenger trains, originating at stations in Babylon and Ronkonkoma, will be decked out for the holidays to deliver a festive experience.
“This is not your average commute,” says LIRR president Phil Eng. “The whole way in, there will be giveaways for the families, magicians, gift bags and music throughout. It’s a celebration and an opportunity to spend some holiday time away from everyone’s busy lifestyle.”
The ride draws from the fictional world of “The Polar Express," a popular film in which a child is whisked on a magical journey to Santa's workshop at the North Pole. On the LIRR Holiday Express, families will board double-decker trains — decorated with garland, ribbons and wreaths — to find onboard festivities, including visits from carolers dressed in Charles Dickens-themed garb, gift bags from Santa and more.
Holiday Express, which made its debut to 700 riders in 2016, "continues to sell out," Eng says.
“My kids absolutely had so much fun on the ride,” says Nicole Style-Audette, who owns Precious Moments Preschool in Coram. She took her kids Ava, 6, and Ryan, 10, on the Ronkonkoma Holiday Express in 2017 and plans to purchase tickets again this year. “I would highly recommend it.”
The experience expanded from one train ride to two in 2017, and nearly 1,400 Long Islanders are expected to turn out for this year's event, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.
“There’s always been this magic about holiday trains," Eng explains. "I've seen it even when it's not the holiday. Kids love getting on the train. It's great to be able to bring a little bit of that joy to our riders."
Families are encouraged to gather at their station of origin 45 minutes before the scheduled 10 a.m. departure time for a festive kickoff that's set to include live entertainment. Previous years featured performances by Carols for Causes, run by Islip native Lisa Kiernan, which raises funds for Island Harvest and local food pantries. This year's talent has not yet been announced.
The trains run express to Penn Station. Special reservation tickets, which secure each rider a seat, are required to be purchased before the event at mta.info. Reservations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Adult tickets start at $35, while children, ages 5 to 11, ride for $1. Those under age 5 ride free.
The Holiday Express ride is one way only, but the fun doesn’t end once the train pulls into Penn Station. Consider keeping the festivities going with a trip to Bryant Park's Bank of America Winter Village, which includes a view of a decorated Christmas tree less crowded than Rockefeller Plaza, access to an ice rink and dozens of holiday pop-up boutiques. Or, drop in Macy's Herald Square for a trip through Santaland. The 13,000-square-foot indoor Christmas village ends with a visit to Santa's workshop.
Throughout the season, the LIRR is also offering holiday ticket packages. Riders looking to attend Madison Square Garden's "Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes" or "‘Twas the Night Before … by Cirque du Soleil" can use code "LIRR" at rockettes.com/lirr to ride free, round-trip.
For more information on the LIRR Holiday Express trains, visit mta.info/lirr/getaways.