DINNIGAN’S DIVERSIONS

Riding the rails with Santa

LIZZ DINNIGAN

My 4-year-old, Casey, is terrified of Santa. We have tried several ways of getting him more comfortable around “that big, red guy.”

We’ve eaten breakfast at a chain restaurant while Santa greeted diners (Casey disappeared under the table), we waited on a LONG line to gently place Casey on Santa’s lap (an anxiety attack ensued) and took a holiday train ride (Casey leaned as close to the window as possible when Santa ho-ho-ho’d down the corridor, and then proceeded to give St. Nick the stink eye). No luck. But my 7-year-old, Jack, is the opposite: he basks in the padded comfort of Santa’s lap; once I even caught him flirting withMrs. Claus.

But most children adore Santa and pounce on the opportunity to share their wish lists or give him a hug. A host of railroads in New Jersey and Pennsylvania make this interaction possible with their Santa train offerings. On all of the following excursions, Santa shuffles down the aisles of every car and visits with each child onboard.

Tickets sell out very quickly, and it’s highly recommended you book online as soon as possible to reserve space. At press time, space was still available for almost all options.

Black River Railroad Historical Trust: Their popular “North Pole Express Trains” may be sold out, but Black River also offers the hourand a-half-long “Santa Express.” Young passengers receive a free candy cane on the roundtrip New Jersey excursion onboard a dieselelectric locomotive from Flemington to Ringoes. Departures are Nov. 27, and Dec. 4, 11 and 18 at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets, $15 for those over 12 and $7.50 for ages 3 to 12, can be purchased only at the Flemington PRR station on the day of departure. Advance ticket sales are not offered. Visit www.brrht.org/eventSantaExpress.html.

Jersey Central Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society: Mrs. Claus and Santa’s helpers will join St. Nick in singalongs, photo opportunities, and candy cane and coloring book deliveries on the two-hour “Santa Train,” only offered on Dec. 10. Trains to Highbridge, N.J., and back leave from Raritan station at 8:30 a.m., as well as the eastbound platform of the Westfield station at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. There’s no wheelchair access at Raritan. Tickets are $13 for adults and $11 for kids 1 to 12. You can still book online, and any remaining tickets will be sold (cash/check only) at the Westfield Station the day of the trip, with a $1 surcharge per ticket. Westfield station is between North and South avenues at the base of SummitAvenue; Raritan is located between Thompson and Anderson streets, just south of Route 202. Visit http://www.jcrhs.org.

New Hope & Ivyland Railroad: Take your kids in their pajamas to savor hot chocolate and cookies, listen to musicians perform Christmas carols and receive gifts passed out by holiday revelers onboard the “North Pole Express,” leaving from New Hope, Pa. There are 29 departure dates through Dec. 30, with numerous departure times. You can select tickets in either coach or first class for the one-anda half-hour roundtrip train ride. Coach tickets average $37 for adults and $35 for kids 2-11; under 2 are $10. Visit www.newhoperailroad.com/upcoming-events.cfm.

Pine Creek Railroad at Allaire State Park: Santa trains have been operating at Allaire in Wall, N.J., for more than 30 years. Families can choose to spend time with Santa during the day or in the evening. “Christmas Express With Santa Claus” is available Nov. 25-27, and Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18. Trains depart every half hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Christmas Express Nights With Santa Claus” are offered Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tickets purchased are for a set date and time. The cost for all departures is $6 per person for guests 3 and up. All tickets must be purchased in person at the station on

weekends using cash or checks only. Visit http://njmt.org.

Strasburg Railroad: “Santa’s Paradise Express” travels 45 minutes through the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside Nov. 25-27, and Dec. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18. Kids 3 to 11 get a gift from Santa’s helper, and are treated to storybook readings of holiday classics. Adult prices range from $17 to $30 based on train car type selected and date. Visit www.strasburgrailroad.com/santas-paradise-express.php.

Tri-State Railway Historical Society: For the 19th year, Tri-State’s “Santa Train” will entertain kids with holiday songs, characters and toy gifts as it embarks on Dec. 10 from several New Jersey Transit stations: Hackettstown (10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.), Mount Arlington ( 2 p.m.), Netcong (9:20 a.m., noon, 1:45 p.m.) and Dover (2:15 p.m). From whichever location passengers board, they will enjoy a onehour roundtrip ride. Those with special needs are asked to call ahead so they can be accommodated. Tickets are $15; kids under 12 are $9. Visit www.tristaterail.org.

Whippany Railway Museum: The 20thannual “SantaClaus Special” takes guests on a 10-mile, 45-minute historic diesel locomotive excursion roundtrip from Whippany to Roseland in Morris County. Trains are decked out in holiday trimmings, and Santa’s helpers trail himthrough the enclosed cars, delivering gifts to each child. Dates are Dec. 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18, with departures at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on each day. Trains depart rain or shine. The museum, which costs $1 per adult and 50 cents per child, is open noon to 4 p.m. on each operating day. Train fares are $13 for adults, $8 for kids under 12, and free for infants on laps. Jersey Coast Club Car Seats are sold out, but coach seats are still available. Visit www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net.

Unfortunately, the very popular Polar Express, based on the book and developed into a movie, which departs from Lehigh Junction in Phillipsburg, N.J., is sold out for this year, butmark on your calendar that tickets go on sale in August for departures next winter. Visit www.877trainride.com.

Please email me with any events, festivals or suggestions for future columns at jjoedinn@aol.com.