WHO: Globe feature writer James H. Burnett III, his wife, son, and mother-in-law
WHAT: The Polar Express Train Ride, courtesy of the Cape Cod Central Railroad
WHERE: Hyannis Depot and Buzzards Bay Depot
It’s not often you get to point to a fictional story, in a book or onscreen, and then turn to your kid and ask, “Wanna do that?”
Trust me, if it was that easy I have no doubt my dad would have offered to get me a ride on an X-wing Fighter, after taking me to see “Star Wars.”
My nearly-2-year-old, Max, was lucky, though, because the Cape Cod Central Railroad, with the blessing of Warner Brothers, provided us the chance to make fiction come to life with a ride on The Polar Express on Cape Cod. If you want the experience, you’d better hurry.
If you’re not familiar with “The Polar Express,” it was a children’s book published in 1985 — and later a feature film starring Tom Hanks in 2004 — about a boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus, till a magical train shows up in front of his home and carries him to the North Pole, where he encounters Santa and receives a special lifelong gift.
In what we’ll call the Massachusetts version, the train ride, which runs from locations in Hyannis and Buzzards Bay, lasts an hour and 15 minutes and features actors dressed as characters from “The Polar Express,” including suspicious hobos, the warmhearted conductor, the pastry chef, and a gaggle of elves serving cookies and cocoa.
A narrator even reads the book over a speaker to music from the movie’s official soundtrack, as the train rolls. Meanwhile the elves — local high school students — make their way through cars, holding up copies of the illustrated book and turning the pages in synch with the narrator and the music.
They forgot a few lines on our ride, but did a good job leading the passengers in carols.
At the halfway point of the ride, the train reaches the North Pole, where kids and parents — about 400 people were on our train from Buzzards Bay — spend a few minutes waving at Santa and his clique of reindeer in front of their mini-city of Christmas-tree-light-framed homes.
Before the train headed back, Santa climbed aboard and went through every car, handing out small silver bells — tiny replicas of the bell Santa gave the doubtful boy in “The Polar Express.”
I’d like to say the best part of the ride for Max was meeting Santa, but he seemed terrified of the old guy in spite of the admirable beard and accurate laugh. His first cup of cocoa was Max’s high point.
For his part, Chris Podgurski, president and chief operating officer of the Cape Cod Central Railroad, has been thrilled with the train.
“It has allowed us to create local, seasonal jobs and pump several hundred thousand dollars into the local economy,” he says. “And it’s just a great story. Beyond business, it’s fun for us and for anyone with children to be able to take part in an interactive way in this classic Christmas story. We’re looking forward to making this ride a tradition each year.”
Hyannis Depot, 252 Main St., Hyannis, and Buzzards Bay Depot, 70 Main St., Buzzards Bay.
Dec. 8, 9, 11-16, 18-23, and 26-30. The Hyannis trains depart at 3:45, 6, and 8:15 p.m. Buzzards Bay trains depart at 4:10 and 7 p.m. Rides last about one hour and 15 minutes, round trip. Parking is available at both locations for $5 per car. And tickets can be purchased online at www.CapeCodPolarExpressRide.com or by phone at 888-797-7245. Coach is $29 for adults, $24 for children (ages 2-12), and free for children under 2 if riding on an adult’s lap. First class is $59 for adults, $49 for children, and $10 for children under 2 riding on an adult’s lap. The first- class ticket includes a keepsake Polar Express mug.