You may have yet to don your Halloween costume this year, but it’s not too early to start thinking about booking a train ride to see Santa.
A ride on a special Polar Express train at O.J. Watson Park in southeast Wichita has become one of the hottest holiday tickets in Wichita since it started in 2014. This year, based on past demand, Wichita Park and Recreation officials are offering even more sessions. Reservations opened more than a month ago.
Already about half of slots in the 37 sessions scheduled between Friday, Nov. 23, and Sunday, Dec. 23, are booked, said Brian Hill, manager of O.J. Watson Park, 3022 S. McLean Blvd. Each 75-minute session can accommodate about 25 participants.
Wichita’s Polar Express event – inspired by the magical train depicted in the award-winning book and movie of the same name that takes young children to see Santa Claus – includes a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s 1986 book, craft activities and a ride aboard the park’s popular miniature train to visit an area of the park transformed into the North Pole where riders enjoy s’mores, hot chocolate and a visit with Santa inside his workshop.
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Last year, park officials ended up nearly doubling the number of sessions to accommodate a long waiting list created after the initial 16 sessions filled up. This year, Park and Rec decided to offer more sessions “from the get-go,” Hill said, and start the event the Friday following Thanksgiving, rather than the Saturday, to accommodate out-of-town family and visitors.
Officials are ready to add more sessions this year, too, if there’s a demand.
“We have a plan to add 15 more classes,” said Hill, who came up with the Polar Express event idea and continues to find things to add to the experience. Park and Rec officials call each session a class.
This year, a community volunteer with years of experience as Santa Claus will impersonate the jolly fellow and has donated decorations to convert the interior of a shed into Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, Hill said. Riders will be able to get photos and a gift – a bell, just like in the book – from Santa.
Initially park staff used to do the book reading and dress as Santa. Now, the reading is a projected, digital version featuring Irish actor Liam Neeson.
“My Oklahoma drawl doesn’t compare to Liam Neeson’s voice,” Hill joked.
Reservations for Wichita’s Polar Express sessions must be made in advance. Visit wichita.gov/parkandrec and click on the registration link to find the Polar Express class listing. Cost is $16 for ages 2 and older, free for those younger than 2. For more information, go to wichita.gov/parkandrec or call 316-529-9940.
Polar Express event at O.J. Watson Park
What: a 75-minute event that includes a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s award-winning “The Polar Express” book, craft activity and a ride aboard the park’s miniature train to visit the North Pole to enjoy s’mores, hot chocolate and a visit with Santa in his workshop.
When: More than 35 sessions scheduled between Friday, Nov. 23, and Sunday, Dec. 23, with the possibility to add more based on demand
Where: O.J. Watson Park, 3022 S. McLean Blvd.
More information: wichita.gov/parkandrec or 316-529-9940