For more than a decade, families have boarded the Holiday Express for Christmas-inspired journey through Macomb County.
This year, more than 1,000 passengers are expected to take part in the rides, offered at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. Dec. 1, 15 and 22.
Three-fourths of the available spots had been filled as of Monday, said Frank Pizzo, Clinton Township Parks and Recreation assistant director. Because Holiday Express tickets sell out each year, Pizzo urges parents to register as soon as possible.
Tickets cost $14 for Clinton Township residents and $18 for non-residents. Registration can be completed at the Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Department, 40700 Romeo Plank Road, at the department’s website or by fax.
“This is a unique event,” Pizzo said. “Parents love to see opportunities to do something different.”
The journey begins at Joy Park, located at 24001 Joy Blvd. in Clinton Township, where patrons will find hot chocolate and cookies in a train station set up by the Parks and Recreation Department.
From there, passengers will board a vintage train from the early 1900s that is owned and maintained by the Michigan Transit Museum.
“It’s a magical event for the children,” Pizzo added. “You really feel like you step back in time when you get on the train.”
Passengers on board can sing Christmas carols and dive into an electronic reading of The Polar Express, a 1985 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. In the story, a boy boards a mysterious train on its way to the North Pole.
“Then, we have visitors,” Pizzo said. “Sometimes it’s Frosty the Snowman, sometimes it’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but Santa always shows up.”
Pizzo said the train rides last about 40 minutes. The train takes passengers near Selfridge Air National Guard Base before heading back to Joy Park, where keepsakes such as wooden train whistles and conductor’s hats will be handed out.
“These are memories that last a lifetime,” he noted.
Over the years, the event has ranged from offering one train in its first year to offering 18 trains during a peak season in 2004, Pizzo said. This year’s event will include nine trains carrying 125 passengers each.
“This is a good number now because we want to be fiscally responsible with township tax dollars,” he said, noting that the department is able to cover all Holiday Express-related costs. “We found a great price point for our residents by finding vintage trains.”
Pizzo cited recreation departments across the country that are duplicating the Holiday Express event using bigger, newer trains, which can be more expensive. He said others are hosting similar events using buses and roadways.
“I think (children) like the idea of moving on the train,” he said. “They don’t know where they’re at, but they’re somewhere in Clinton Township.”
Each year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation brings families aboard one of the township’s Holiday Express trains, Pizzo added.
“It’s a very exciting train ride for us to provide for them,” he said. “It’s a very emotional ride, but it’s something we love to do.”
The Michigan Transit Museum, located at 200 Grand Ave. in Mount Clemens, was established in 1973 as a nonprofit corporation to record historical data on mass transportation systems and equipment, and to collect, preserve, display and operate such equipment, according to its website.
For more information about Clinton Township’s Holiday Express train rides, visit clintontownship-mi.gov/recreation or call Clinton Township Parks and Recreation at 586-286-9336.