Finding Christmas Magic on the Polar Express Stettler Train

Do you believe in Christmas magic? The Polar Express, one of the world’s most beloved children’s Christmas books, is all about magic. It’s about a golden ticket and a train that takes children to the North Pole to see Santa Claus and receive the first gift of Christmas. Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Alberta Prairie Railway reenacts the story on the Polar Express Stettler train journey. I’ve watched the movie and read the book, but until we took our four-year-old and two-year-old granddaughters on the Polar Express train in Stettler, I didn’t fully feel the magic that is found in this classic Christmas story.

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Gearing Up for the Polar Express Stettler Train

If you’re going to reenact the Polar Express story properly, you should wear pajamas. The story begins with a young boy who is listening for the bells of Santa’s sleigh while lying in bed. Though a friend told him the bells weren’t real, the boy still believes and hopes to hear them. Later that night, he hears another sound, looks out of his window and sees a steam engine parked in front of his house. He goes outside in his pajamas and his robe and the conductor invites him to board. On the Polar Express Stettler train, some families were wearing matching Christmas pajamas. We were not, but the next time we go, we’ll all be dressed in pajamas.

An image of two girls and a grandfather at the Polar Express Stettler train platform in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
Be sure to get to the train station early to pick up your tickets and listen to the festive music.

How to Prepare Young Children for the Polar Express Stettler

To ensure our granddaughters were ready for the Polar Express Stettler train ride, we began talking about it a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to go. We were most concerned about the two-year-old. When I reminded her that we would be going on a train ride to see Santa, she said, “Do you think Santa is scared?” I told her that I didn’t think he was scared and I asked her if she was scared. She said, “Yes” and we talked about facing fears. We also talked about how much fun it was going to be. Besides talking about it, you can also read the Polar Express storybook and watch the Polar Express movie. This gets children excited and prepares them for what happens on the Polar Express train.

An image of people passing their tickets to the conductor t the Polar Express Stettler train in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
When it’s time to board, you give your ticket to the conductor and climb aboard the Polar Express train!

What Happens on the Polar Express Train Journey

You should arrive early at the Alberta Prairie Railway train station, so you can watch the Polar Express Stettler train come in. You’ll pick up your tickets inside the station and then you’ll hand the conductor your ticket, board the train, and find your seat. From that moment on the characters on the train will guide you along as you reenact the magical journey to the North Pole. I don’t want to give away all the secrets of the Polar Express Stettler, but there’s hot chocolate, treats, a reading of the storybook, music, and adventure along the way. Guests get to take their golden tickets, collectable mugs and the first gift of Christmas home to help them remember the magical experience of the Polar Express.

An image of the conductor passing a young girl a golden ticket on the Polar Express Stettler train in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
Once you are onboard, you get a golden ticket to make the journey to the North Pole.

Getting to the North Pole

Getting to the North Pole in under an hour takes a little magic and once you pass through the magic portal you’ll be able to see Santa and the elves hard at work preparing for Christmas. The magic happens right outside the train windows.

An image of a girl looking out the train window to see Christmas Town on the Polar Express in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
After you pass through a magical portal, you reach the North Pole where you can see Santa and the elves at work.
An image of young girl watching Santa in his sleigh and holding a golden ticket aboard the Polar Express Stettler train in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
Hold onto your golden ticket and watch for Santa riding in his sleigh!

Seeing Santa Claus

Seeing Santa in person is one of the magical moments of this journey. He gives every person on the train, regardless of age, the first gift of Christmas. If you want to know what the gift is, you’ll have to read the book or watch the movie. It’s a special gift that you get to keep and it reminds you of the magical moments of the Polar Express Stettler.

An image of a grandma receiving the first gift of Christmas on the Polar Express Stettler train in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
Every guest on the Polar Express receives the first gift of Christmas – including Grandmas.

Other Alberta Prairie Railway Train Excursions

The Polar Express is just one of the magical train journeys offered by Alberta Prairie Railway in Stettler. Throughout the year, there are a variety of different train excursions each of which let you step back in time to experience turn-of-the-century train travel. A steam or diesel-powered train with vintage railway coaches takes you on a unique adventure. There are entertainers onboard the train, country dinners, hay rides and many other adventures. Sometimes there are even train robberies with collected money going to children’s charities. Every Alberta Prairie Railway excursion is an adventure.  

An image of people getting off the Polar Express Stettler.
Watch your step when you’re getting off the Polar Express!

How to Reserve a Seat on the Polar Express Stettler Train

Book early to get the best selection of dates and seats on the Polar Express Stettler train. You can either book online or you can call to get a more personalized reservation experience. Call 1-800-282-3994 (in Canada) or (403) 742-2811 (outside Canada).

Related: Looking for More Winter Fun in Alberta? Take a winter hike. Read our post about how winter hiking can help you beat the blues.

An image of two girls in front of the Stettler community Christmas tree in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
If you visit Stettler on the right day, you might be able to watch the town light its community Christmas tree as we did.

Where is Stettler and What Can You Do There?

The Town of Stettler has a population of about 6,000 people. It’s about a two hour drive southeast of Edmonton and a little more than two hours northeast of Calgary. Those planning an excursion on the Alberta Prairie Railway might want to consider an overnight stay, so they can stay a little longer. There are a lot of things to do and see in Stettler and the surrounding area. Visit Destination Stettler to learn more about the many things to do there. Besides the Alberta Prairie Railway, the town is known for its boutique shopping, museums, stocked ponds, parks and many other attractions. If you’re traveling in summer, Rochan Sands Provincial Park and Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area have nice nearby beaches. There are also two excellent golf courses – Pheasantback Golf Club and Stettler Golf and Country Club.  

An image of a cream John from Blokes Bakery in Stettler.
You have to eat a cream john from Blokes Bakery when you visit Stettler. It’s a rule.

Where to Eat in Stettler

A cream john from Bloke’s Bakery must be eaten when you visit Stettler. It’s a rule. And it’s one that you won’t mind following – trust me. You can enjoy a delectable cream john with specialty tea or coffee from The Coffee Tree. For a delicious home-style meal, Brenda’s Cozy Café is a must. It’s one of the most popular restaurants in town and the food and service are fantastic.

An image of a piece of cheesecake at Brenda's Cozy Cafe in Stettler, Alberta, Canada.
Brenda’s Cozy Cafe is another must-do in Stettler. The menu is constantly changing, but everything taste like your mom would have made – if she was a really good cook.

Finding Accommodations in Stettler

There are quite a few accommodations options in Stettler. There are B&Bs as well as good hotels. The Ramada Wyndham Stettler has an included hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi, free parking and comfortable rooms. Stettler Canalta also offers clean and comfortable rooms, free parking, free Wi-Fi, and a complimentary breakfast. Super 8 By Wyndham Stettler also offers free parking, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast and it has an onsite restaurant. If you are traveling in summer, you might also consider camping at Ol’ MacDonald’s Resort at Buffalo Lake. Besides having an excellent beach, the resort has a ton of amenities for families including playgrounds, train rides, mini golf, farm animals, bike and cart rentals, a movie theatre and shop where you can buy ice cream, candy, coffee, cinnamon buns and mini-donuts.

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