“The thing about trains is,” the costumed Polar Express conductor tells us as we step on to the platform at the Miami Brightline station, “it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”
Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m not totally convinced. Still, it’s the holidays and my kids and I are here in our matching tartan outfits. I decide to suspend my disbelief for an evening of some much-needed Christmas cheer.
We step aboard to find a train car bedecked with frosted garlands, twinkling lights, and perfectly wrapped packages. As we take our seats, crimson-vested stewards ask us to present our golden tickets. They enthusiastically punch each one in swirling patterns. Children and adults alike hold their tickets high as the light streams through the newly made holes. Soon, the train is under way and those stewards and their cohorts bring the story of The Polar Express to life via script and song.
All the beloved characters are here, stalking the aisles: the aforementioned conductor, the hobo, the hero child. When hot chocolate is served by singing waiters (“Here we only got one rule: Never, ever let it cool!”) squeals of excitement ripple throughout the car. And then it’s the big man himself’s turn. Santa Claus presents each passenger with the first gift of Christmas: an embossed silver sleigh bell that you’d swear came straight from a reindeer harness.
As The Polar Express story goes, time and experience can make it increasingly hard to hear the tones of that special bell. Last year’s COVID Christmas silenced the sound completely for many of us. But somehow this hour-long train ride restores it all. I’ll admit that I struggled to hear the bell myself when I boarded. But watching my children (even at 15, 12, and 7) soak in these moments of fully leaded Christmas magic—well, suffice it to say that after my trip on Brightline’s Polar Express, the bell rings for me again.
When the show draws to a close and we return to the station, I realize the train hasn’t actually gone much of anywhere—only rolling slowly back and forth along the Magic City tracks. But Brightline’s Polar Express takes passengers to a magical place that you can’t reach on any other train. Do yourself a solid: buy a golden ticket and decide to get on. It turns out, the conductor was right: That’s all that matters.