It was a cheerful train that chugged away from the Anchorage Historic Depot last Saturday afternoon. Two locomotives, four cars, and nearly a hundred volunteers spread out among them, all decked out for Christmas.
The Alaska Railroad Holiday Trains are a longtime favorite of Anchorage families, and the experience has grown more popular every year. More cars are added, a second train, even, not to mention hours of preparation for everything from music to snacks to door prizes. AK Fam has (gasp) not been fortunate enough to secure tickets in previous years, as the Alaska Railroad only sells a set amount and they go faster than one can say “Santa Claus”. This year, however, we planned far enough ahead to secure a seat, front and center, for Holiday Train fun.
The Holiday Train makes two runs per day over the course of two weekends, this year December 6 and 13. One train departs at 10 a.m., the other at 3 p.m., making a 90-minute trek south to Indian, then reversing direction for the return trip back to Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad crew and volunteers do an outstanding job of keeping excited kids occupied during the 2.5 hour journey, but there are still steps parents can take to ensure a smooth ride for their children, and fellow passengers. Below are a few tips if you’ll be hopping aboard the Holiday Train sleigh next weekend:
Santa: Santa Claus is a pro at this; he walks the entire train with Mrs. Claus and a musical entourage of elves who provide lively music everyone knows. Santa will stop at every single seat during his journey, offering a high-five or a hug, and taking photos. To expedite this process, have your camera or phone ready. Oh yes, of course Santa loves to hear what kids want for Christmas, too! Even AK Kid got into the spirit of things, and at age 10, that’s not easy to do.
Crafts: Alaska Railroad Crew have a pack of fun awaiting kids, including a simple craft. We constructed a paper ornament, did a word jumble, and played some Alaska Railroad BINGO while chugging along. A coloring contest was pretty exciting, using the holiday-themed pages provided. Great prizes, too. Parents would do well, however, to bring a small bag with kid-friendly amusements; quiet toys, card games, and books are good options. Plus, passengers must arrive at the depot an hour before departure, so having some activities during the wait is well worth the extra gear.
Food: The Holiday Train keeps the Cafe open, but selections are limited to coffee, hot cocoa, chips, and candy. Alaska Railroad crew helpers hand out a small snack near the end of the ride, and by then, most everyone is pretty hungry for lunch or dinner. A great way to mitigate the ‘hangries’ is to add some protein and fruit/veggies in your little pack; cheese sticks, crackers, lunch meat, carrots and celery, and the like. AK Kid was starving before we arrived back at 5:30, and more snacks would have helped.
Dress: Have fun. Wear the hats, elf ears, or frilly dresses. This is Christmas, after all. Make it a special occasion! We saw grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads and kids all decked out in their holiday finery, and oh, what wonderful photos the Holiday Train makes!Post-train: As you’ll be arriving back in Anchorage during the lunch or dinner hour, why not take advantage of the holiday scene and take the kids out for a family meal? The Glacier Brewhouse was excited to hear AK Kid’s story of the train, and seated us quite close to the fireplace to ward off the chill from our walk up the hill. The festive atmosphere was delightful, with families enjoying their kid-friendly selections of pizza, noodles, and french fries.