NEW JERSEY: For families that may be a little tired of the long lines at the mall to visit the big guy in red, the Garden State and neighboring Pennsylvania have fun Santa trains that really get the holiday spirits flowing.
The Polar Express runs out of Phillipsburg, however tickets go on sale over the summer and generally sell out within 24-hours. To book a seat on this Santa train, plan on purchasing those tickets next summer for Christmas 2016.
Take heart though, there are other family-friendly Santa trains that are only a car ride away, but don't delay. Seats do fill up quickly and some popular ones are already full.
- The New Hope & Ivyland Railroad is technically in Pennsylvania, but it's right across the border from Lambertville, New Jersey. Their North Pole Express runs hourly excursions beginning Thanksgiving weekend and running through New Year's. Groupons are typically available for weekday rides. The train includes cookies, hot chocolate as well as a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. While taking a ride through scenic Bucks County, riders can join in a sing-a-long of holiday carols while waiting to chat with the big man. Pictures are available as well. Tickets can be purchased online. This is a popular one, but there are usually seats to be had.
- Allaire State Park in Wall runs the Christmas Express on the Pine Creek Railroad. It is operated by the New Jersey Museum of Transportation. Santa hops on board the 15-minute train ride. Trains leave every half an hour from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tickets are $6 and need to be purchased in person. They are cash only. However, Visa/Mastercards are accepted too. The Christmas Express runs on December 12, 13, 19 and 20. There are night rides on the 11, 12, 18 and 19 from 6:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
- The Candy Cane Limited is run by the Black and Western Railroad in Flemington. This train is another popular one, which needs to be booked ahead of time. Tickets for this year's trains are completely sold out according to their website.
- The Santa Claus Special departs from both Wayne and Whippany. However, the Whippany trains are sold out for this holiday season. The Santa Claus Special that departs from Wayne does have seats available for their December 12 train that leaves from the NJ Transit Station in Wayne. Trains will be running at 8:45 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online. The fee for adults is $17, children under 12 are $11. Babies under two years of age are free.
- Another fun holiday train is located in Strasburg, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. The Strasburg Railroad runs different holiday themed trains. Their Night Before Christmas Train is sold out for this year. However, Santa's Paradise Express does have rides available for December 12, 13, 19 and 20. Tickets can be purchased online at their website. They also offer a Christmas Tree Train where riders can head out and pick their own holiday tree from a local tree farm. This one is booked as well due to limited seating and popularity.
The Santa Train that usually leaves from Glen Rock, New Jersey is not running this holiday season due to financial issues between the Volunteer Railroad Association and the host railroad. They are hoping to be back for the 2016 holiday season.