By NASH NUNNERY
Most people might recognize “The Polar Express” as a popular book and animated film written by Chris Van Allsburg. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the 2004 movie stars Tom Hanks and features human characters animated using the live action performance capture technique.
But come November, there will be a real Polar Express train in north Mississippi.
Operated by Premier Rail Collection under the auspices of Iowa Pacific, the Polar Express Train was launched last November in Batesville and utilizes the revitalized Grenada Railway. The inaugural 2015 holiday season event was wildly successful, drawing more than 56,000 passengers and establishing the Panola County seat as a bucket list “must do’ Christmas destination.
In late November, the train will begin daily departures from the public square in Batesville, which is bisected by the former Illinois Central main line, the route by which storied trains such as the Panama Limited and City of New Orleans traveled for decades.
“Batesville is an amazing town and has been a great partner with us,” said Premier Rail Collection corporate director of special events Matthew Abbey. “The city rebuilt the public square, added to the train platform and helped with parking. We work well together and are looking forward to the second season of The Polar Express in Batesville.”
This year’s Polar Express Train Ride begins Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 27. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers relive the magic of the story. Once onboard, dancing elves serve passengers hot chocolate and cookies while they read along with the classic children’s book.
Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the “North Pole,” then board the train, where each child is given a silver sleigh bell. Chefs aboard each car lead Christmas caroling on the ride back to Batesville.
Southaven resident Mary Lou Harris and her family of six enjoyed the experience so much she plans a return trip this year.
“Riding the Polar Express was so much fun and the kids want to do it every year and make it a tradition,” she said. “You can hear the sounds of the movie soundtrack as you’re rolling. It really set the tone for our Christmas season.”
Angela Lane, vice president of sales and marketing for Premier Rail Collection, said families need to plan ahead to ensure a seat on the 2016 Polar Express.
“People in Mississippi and Tennessee loved the first season of the train ride so much that tickets for 2016 are already in high demand,” added Lane.
The Polar Express Train Ride on the Grenada Railway offers three classes of service. All classes are in comfortable, heated cars and include a visit from Santa and a silver sleigh bell. The train ride lasts one hour, and all passengers are encouraged to wear pajamas just like characters in the movie.
For exact dates, fares and excursion times, go to www.GrenadaPolarExpressRide.com or call (877) 334-4783. Ticket prices range from $20 to $85, depending on booking date and class of service.
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