Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

The Polar Express FAQ

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride will follow all local, state, and federal health orders for preventing COVID-19 spread. Following anticipated CDC and TSA directives, Rail Events Productions Inc. and THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride will require face coverings to be worn by everyone age two and older while on the train and in indoor public spaces. This requirement is due to our event operating on trains classified as transportation conveyances by the TSA.

Approved face coverings must be worn for the entirety of the train ride except when guests are actively eating or drinking. Prolonged periods of face covering removal are not permitted for eating or drinking and outside food and drink are prohibited on the train. Should guidance or regulations change, we will provide updates regarding additional directives. Please see the following FAQ for more information on approved face coverings.

Rail Events Productions employees and actors on board the train are also required to wear masks and are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

If you have already purchased tickets and cannot (or will not) wear a face covering we will issue you a rain check toward our 2022 season or a full refund at your request. These requests must be made no later than Oct. 1 to process your rain check or refund.

A very narrow subset of passengers with qualifying disabilities who cannot wear a face covering may apply for an exemption if they provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. Individuals for whom wearing a face covering may only be difficult are not eligible to request a face covering exemption. Click HERE to download the exemption request form and instructions.

We appreciate your understanding as we navigate changing requirements amid COVID-19. We are dedicated to hosting a safe event and will continue to provide updates as soon as they are available.

In order to enter our indoor spaces and board the train your face coverings must:

  • Be made of at least 2 layers of breathable material
  • Fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin
  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops and allow you to remain hands-free

 

The following are NOT approved face coverings:

  • Neck gaiters and open-chin, triangle bandanas
  • Face coverings containing valves, mesh material, or holes of any kind
  • Clear plastic face shields

After missing our beloved guests in 2020, we are thrilled to return to Chicago Union Station for another magical season on board THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride! Please see the notes below for some important updates on the 2021 season:

  • Health Measures: THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride will follow all local, state, and federal health orders for the prevention of COVID-19. Face coverings will be required for everyone age two and older due to our operation on trains classified as transportation conveyances by the CDC and TSA.
  • Updated Show Content: Our creative team spent the year off refreshing the show to keep our return riders tickled with fun new content. It’s still THE POLAR EXPRESS™ experience we all love – just with a fresh new script and surprises for 2021.
  • Amtrak Coach Seating: We have secured the same Amtrak coaches that were used at this event in 2018 and prior. These railcars feature two seats on each side of the aisle with ample legroom and tray tables. All seats face the same direction in each coach. Please see our Seating Chart for full information. 
  • Onboard Treat: Walkers Shortbread is the Official Onboard Treat of THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at Chicago Union Station. Learn more about Walkers in the FAQ below or at us.walkersshortbread.com.
  • Return to the Burlington Room: Event check-in and staging will once again take place in the historic Burlington Room located within the Great Hall at Union Station. Please follow signage to check in prior to your trip. Staff will lead passengers to the North station platform when it is time to board the train.

Walkers Shortbread

It was over one hundred twenty-three years ago that the Walker family started baking shortbread in the Speyside village of Aberlour, where they remain to this day.

Joseph Walker founded the company when he opened his village bakery in 1898; now it is his grandchildren and great-grandchildren that continue the tradition of fine baking that he started. In fact, the founder’s personal guarantee is still marked on every pack to confirm that Walkers’ products are made with only the best ingredients obtainable. Though the Walker family have added many new products to their range during the last century, each and every one holds to those original values of quality and natural goodness.

As it always has been, our shortbread is made using only four ingredients: flour, pure creamery butter, sugar, and salt. We are proud to say that our products contain no artificial flavorings, colorings, or preservatives.

In its distinctive tartan packaging, Walkers range of products is packed with Scottish character, both inside and out. The name Walkers is recognized as a mark of excellence the world over, a true Scottish classic.

Walkers Shortbread is the Official Onboard Treat of THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at Chicago Union Station. Visit the Walkers Online Shop and use Coupon Code POLARCHI to save 20% on your next order of Walkers Shortbread. Offer expires 1/31/22. Offer not valid on Sale Items.

Walkers Shortbread

Walkers Scotland

For the most efficient purchase experience, we recommend booking tickets here on our website as our phone lines are extremely busy during periods of high demand. Once tickets have been released, reservation agents can be reached using the form on our Contact Us page or by calling 312-471-2501 during the following hours:

Monday-Friday: 8:00am – 8:00pm

Saturday: 9:00am – 5:00pm

Sunday: 1:00pm – 5:00pm

All times are Central Standard Time.

Please leave a callback number as instructed if prompted by our phone system. An agent will return your call as soon as possible and the return call may come from an unfamiliar number or area code. Please only leave a callback number once. Leaving the same callback number again bumps you to the end of the queue.

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride departs from and returns to Chicago Union Station located at 500 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60606. Guests must check-in at the historic Burlington Room located within the Great Hall at Union Station. Please follow signage to check in prior to your trip. Staff will lead passengers to the North station platform when it is time to board the train.

Guests are responsible for finding their own parking in one of the many lots or garages near Union Station. Information about parking near Union Station can be found via Amtrak at https://chicagounionstation.com/travel/parking

We recommend booking convenient and affordable parking in advance through SpotHero. To reserve your parking spot, visit our SpotHero Affiliate Parking Page and book a spot with rates up to 50% off drive-up.

A check-in desk is located at the Burlington Room in the Great Hall and passengers are required to check in prior to boarding. It is required that guests arrive approximately one hour prior to their departure time. Guests receive THE POLAR EXPRESS™ souvenir golden tickets at check-in. Boarding will begin 30-minutes prior to departure.

The box office and boarding platform close 10 minutes prior to departure. No passengers will be allowed to board after the platform has been closed. This includes parties who may have other group members that boarded separately.

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a magical re-creation of the classic children’s story led by a cast of talented actors on board a real train. Have your golden tickets ready for the Conductor! Passengers are served hot chocolate and Walkers Shortbread by dancing chefs, enjoy a reading of the classic book by Chris Van Allsburg, and receive the First Gift of Christmas after Santa boards the train to greet families. Performers engage passengers in caroling and fun holiday activities on the heartwarming trip back to the station.

The entire experience at Chicago Union Station and on the train is roughly two hours in length. It is required that guests arrive approximately one hour prior to their departure time. This allows time to navigate the station and check in at the Burlington Room in the Great Hall. Boarding will begin 30 minutes prior to listed departure times. The train ride itself is one hour in length.

The box office and boarding platform close 10 minutes prior to departure. No passengers will be allowed to board after the platform has been closed. This includes parties who may have other group members that boarded separately.

A full range of exclusive THE POLAR EXPRESS™ gifts and keepsakes will be available for purchase at the event. The gift shop is located inside of the Great Hall, just steps away from the box office. Built in 1925, the beautifully restored station epitomizes a classic railroad structure of yesteryear and is the perfect place to do your holiday shopping before or after your ride.

The Polar Express Gifts

Is your family ready to arrive in style wearing matching pajamas this holiday season? Would you like to bring your own copy of the book to read along with during the trip? Exclusive, officially licensed THE POLAR EXPRESS™ pajamas, books, and DVDs are now available to order online prior to your visit! Whether you are attending our event or enjoying a fun THE POLAR EXPRESS™ party at home, hop on board with our new and unique products. Quantities on popular items are limited so order now and complete your holiday shopping before supplies run out.

We offer adorable matching family pajamas with iconic THE POLAR EXPRESS™ images that adorn both youth and adult sizes. Soft and cozy fleece styles will keep you warm on your train ride and throughout the season at home. Be sure to add the classic hardcover book and DVD to your order! Confirmed orders ship within 7-10 days.

Visit raileventsretail.com to shop now!

Yes. In order to offer the best experience for all guests, seating is assigned on board THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride. You will select your own seats during the online checkout process as you would on an airline. Please review our Seating Chart carefully and note that all seats face the same direction towards the performers in the car.

Please click the image below for a full-size version of our detailed Seating Chart. All cars feature the same class of service and offer identical accommodations. 

Seating Chart

The only differences between Value, Standard, and Premium departures are the dates and/or times of the rides. Lower demand departures are priced lower to offer those on a budget options and higher demand departures are priced accordingly. The event functions exactly the same on all departures and passengers enjoy the same experience.

It is recommended that reservations are made as soon as your group knows which date and time you would like to attend. Tickets are expected to sell out quickly for this popular event.

Groups of 20+ are eligible for an early reservation period when tickets must be booked over the phone at 312-471-2501. Please note that the name of each member of your party is required to complete the check-out process, so please have these prepared prior to speaking with a reservation agent.

To qualify for early access, group tickets must be booked in a single transaction and passengers must ride on the same departure with seats that are located together. Third party vendors are not permitted to purchase group tickets for resale or to provide access to early booking. Group discounts are not being offered in 2021 and onward.

Tickets cannot be added to or removed from a group order once placed. Upon arrival, a single member of the group is responsible for picking up all of the boarding passes and Golden Tickets from the Box Office. That person will then disperse those items to the rest of the group.

Passengers who require special ADA accommodations such as a wheelchair space may also book during this early access period. 

Active-duty military members and first responders with the appropriate ID card are eligible for a $5 discount on each ticket (up to 10 tickets). To check out, please enter promo code HERO5 and select the applicable discount ticket product. Please note, the active-duty individual or first responder must be a member of the attending party and must present their valid service ID card for verification when checking in at the event. If the appropriate identification cannot be presented by this individual, you will be charged the difference in ticket price before being allowed on board the train.

Chicago Union Station and the train are wheelchair accessible, however, wheelchair seating is limited. Access to the train is provided by a mobile lift on the platform and space for wheelchairs is located in select coaches.

If a member of your party requires wheelchair access, please select the designated wheelchair space and companion seats online or contact a reservation agent at 312-471-2501. 

Additional information on accessibility can be found at www.amtrak.com/wheeled-mobility-device-services

If a member of your party has a disability and requires a wheelchair space, please select the designated space/companion seats online or contact a reservation agent to assist with additional needs. These seats are comprised of a designated wheelchair space (no seat) and companion seats located across the aisle. For additional information on wheelchair access, please see the previous FAQ or contact a reservation agent at 312-471-2501.

If you would like to request a sign language interpreter please book your tickets via phone and notify the agent of your request. A Rail Events Productions team member will reach out directly to coordinate this service with you.

Rail Events Productions does not guarantee an allergen-free environment. Walkers Shortbread and Nestle Hot Chocolate are served on the train. A complete list of ingredients is available below and at the Box Office for your review.

Walkers Shortbread

Ingredients: Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Butter (Milk) (32%), Sugar, Salt.

Allergens: Wheat, Milk. May contain tree nuts.

Suitable for vegetarians and Certified Kosher OUD.

Nestle Hot Chocolate

Ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Dairy Product Solids, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Coconut and/or Palm Kernel and/or Soybean), Coacoa Processed with Alkali, and Less than 2% of Salt, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Caseinate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminosilicate, Mono-and Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Artifical Flavor.

Allergens: Contains Dairy; May Contain Soy and/or Wheat.

Amtrak and METRA both offer a number of options to ride regional or commuter trains to Chicago Union Station. Visit www.amtrak.com and www.metrarail.com to view train schedules and stations. Please be sure to plan ahead and allow sufficient connecting time in case of train delays.

If you plan to take mass transit to the event, please allow ample time in case of delays and study schedules/maps carefully. THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is not responsible for the on-time performance of trains or mass transit. Departures will not be held for late arrivals and tickets are non-refundable.

Each coach has accessible onboard restrooms that are available to passengers. In addition, Chicago Union Station has a number of wheelchair-accessible restrooms.

Children under two may ride for free provided they are not occupying a seat and ride on an adult’s lap. A free infant ticket must be selected at checkout and the name of the child must be provided on the reservation. This is to ensure every passenger can be accounted for in case of an emergency. 

Children under two receive a silver sleigh bell from Santa but do not receive a treat or hot chocolate.

Families are encouraged to wear warm pajamas just like passengers from THE POLAR EXPRESS™ book and film. Passengers will spend time on an unheated platform as they board and disembark from the train, so appropriate winter attire is also recommended.

Want to arrive at the event in style? Officially licensed THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride pajamas and the original book by Chris Van Allsburg are available for order at raileventsretail.com. Orders ship 7-10 days from the time of purchase.

The train follows a point-to-point route through the tunnels, rail yards, and neighborhoods along the Chicago River just west of the Chicago Loop and South Loop. This route includes several changes in direction that are incorporated into the presentation on board. It is important to note that this is not a scenic sightseeing trip. The emphasis of the event is on the live, immersive onboard entertainment.

Like sporting events, concerts, and other live events, tickets for THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride are not refundable. However, passenger names can be changed prior to the event by clicking the Customer Support Form in your confirmation email or using the Contact Us form on our site.

If event departures are canceled and trains do not travel from the station for reasons including (but not limited to) weather, mechanical issues, or COVID-19 restrictions, all passengers on affected departures will receive an option to ride a departure on a later date in 2021 (based on space availability) or a full refund.

Changes to the date and time of a reservation can be requested but are subject to availability and pricing differences. If seats are available on another date/train, our reservation agents will do their best to accommodate your request. However, no guarantees can be made that your reservation can be changed. Please use the form on our Contact Us page or call 312-471-2501 to initiate a date or time change request.

The purchaser must change the entire order to a single date and departure. The purchaser may not split off a portion of the order for a different date or time.

Name changes on tickets are allowed. Passenger names can be changed at any time prior to the event by clicking the Customer Support Form in your confirmation email or using the Contact Us form on our site.

Trains will continue to run in snow and other weather conditions. However, trains may be canceled or postponed at Amtrak’s discretion due to weather or operational considerations. The event may also be canceled or postponed if major roads and freeways are closed near the event due to snow or natural disasters. Full refunds will be offered in these cancelation scenarios.

If event departures are canceled and trains do not travel from the station for reasons including (but not limited to) weather, mechanical issues, or COVID-19 restrictions, all passengers on affected departures will receive an option to ride a departure on a later date in 2021 (based on space availability) or a full refund.

No. For the comfort and safety of all guests, pets and emotional support animals are not permitted on THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride. Only trained service animals with identification cards are permitted in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Illinois law.

THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a family-friendly event and no alcohol is sold or allowed in the Burlington Room or on board the train. Intoxicated passengers or those found in possession of alcohol will be removed from the event without a refund. This is a zero-tolerance policy. 

1. The Will Call Box Office CLOSES ten (10) minutes prior to schedule departure time, all boarding passes must be picked up prior to this time.

2. The Boarding Platform CLOSES 5 MINUTES PRIOR TO DEPARTURE, no passengers will be allowed to board the train after that time.

3. Tickets are nonrefundable and nonexchangeable.

4. Tickets are valid only for the date, time, car & seat shown on the ticket. Purchaser acknowledges that they have individually selected their seats. Rail Events Productions Inc. (“REP”) is not responsible for errors in seating.

5. REP and its agents reserve the right to refuse service or de-board passengers for disruptive or offensive behavior.

6. REP does not guarantee an allergen free environment.

7. Passengers are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages or weapons onto the event grounds.

8. Smoking is not allowed on THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride event grounds or on board the train. (this includes e-cigarettes and other similar devices).

9. REP does not accept liability for loss or damage suffered by the ticket user. For more information please review the Release of Liability and Indemnity.

10. Your ticket purchase and/or participation in any train related departure/event grants REP permission to use your image in its promotional materials.

11. RELEASE OF LIABILITY, COVENANT NOT TO SUE, AND INDEMNIT a. As lawful consideration for ticketed admission on to the premise for this event, I, on behalf of myself and on behalf of my heirs, successors, personal representatives, and assigns hereby shall indemnify and hold harmless Rail Events Productions Inc. (REP), American Heritage Railways, its officers, directors, employees and owners from and against any and all third-party costs, expenses (including reasonable outside counsel’s fees), liabilities, judgments, losses, damages, suits, actions, fines, penalties, claims and demands of any kind and asserted by or on behalf of any person, independent contractor or governmental authority arising out of the ticket holder’s participation, entrance, or presence on the premises, except for gross negligence or willful misconduct by REP. REP shall not be liable to ticket holder on account of:

i) any failure by Ticket Holder to perform any of the agreements, terms, or covenants or conditions of this Agreement,
ii) any failure by Ticket Holder to comply with the statutes, ordinances, regulations, or orders of any governmental authority unless caused by the failure of REP to perform under this Agreement or
iii) any accident, death, or personal injury or property damage which shall occur on or as a result of the ticket holder’s participation, entrance, or presence at the event venue except as the same may be caused by the sole misconduct or omissions to act or negligence of REP, its employees or agents.


b. Guests and Ticket Holder waives all rights against REP and its agents, officers, directors, and employees for recovery of damages to the extent these damages are covered by the commercial general liability or commercial umbrella liability insurance maintained pursuant to this agreement.

c. If any term or provision of the Agreement is found to be unenforceable or invalid such shall not affect the other terms and provision which shall remain binding and enforceable.

CREDITS

Executive ProducerAllen Harper
Executive ProducerJohn Harper
ProducerMichael May
Artistic DirectorScott Calcagno
Production Stage ManagerMichael George
Lighting DesignerGuy Rhodes
Sound DesignerJoe Palermo
Costume DesignerJesus Perez
General ManagerJarrette Ireland
Production ManagerKevin Broomell
Company ManagerAnne Drysdale
Marketing ManagerJamie Ryan