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Dec 5, 2017 2:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Children Enjoy The New Southampton Line Of 'The Polar Express' By The North Fork Trolley

The Southampton Jitney station is decorated in the Polar Express spirit. KATE RIGA
Dec 5, 2017 3:50 PM

A booming call broke the silence on a frosty night: “All aboard!”Pajama-clad children scrambled out of the Polar Express station and crushed forward to present the conductor with magic golden tickets. They hopped into a garland-trimmed vehicle and gazed out the windows as an audio recording of the book “The Polar Express” played over the speakers.

Suddenly, the Polar Express slowed. The lights dimmed. The conductor grimly rose to his feet.

“I’ve never had to do this before,” he said. “But we can’t get to the North Pole if you don’t believe in Santa.”

He paced the aisle. “If you believe, if you really, truly believe, I need you to close your eyes and tell me as loudly as you can.”

“I believe!” yelled the children in unison, eyes squeezed shut.

The Polar Express shot around a corner and then screeched to a halt. The children opened their eyes to a glowing wonderland: Santa’s North Pole, complete with dancing elves, and Frosty and Rudolph.

Dazed, they wandered into a barn completely made over into a reindeer’s paradise. Each stall was adorned with a reindeer’s name card and Christmas decorations. And emerging from the shadows was the man of the hour: Santa Claus.

The kids dispersed, playing with the elves, sitting on Santa’s lap, sipping hot chocolate and wondering aloud why the reindeer were conspicuously absent.

All too soon, the conductor echoed his call: “All aboard!”

Dragging their feet, the children climbed back onto the Polar Express and settled into their seats.

“That was the awesomest day of my life,” one young passenger, Jasper—whose parents, like those of other children, did not want to give his last name—sighed through a mouth full of cookies.

This 90-minute spell of cinematic Christmas magic was woven from the unlikeliest of places: a bus station. More specifically, it began at the Hampton Jitney stop in Southampton, where the excited kids climbed aboard a tricked-out North Fork Trolley for a quick 20-minute ride to Nova’s Ark in Water Mill, also known as the North Pole.

Jay Mooney, general manager of North Fork Trolley and the director of the Polar Express experience for the past four years, initially bought out half of the company in 2013 solely because he was so affected by the Polar Express facsimile after playing Santa the year before.

“There’s nothing better than having a kid truly believe,” Mr. Mooney said on Tuesday.

Mr. Mooney carried on the Polar Express tradition after it was begun by a previous North Fork Trolley owner in 2012 after the owner watched the Warner Bros. movie in theaters. After the rights were secured from Warner Bros., the experience was created.

“We sold about 1,200 tickets in our first year,” Mr. Mooney said. “We can’t be totally sure since the Southampton line is new this year, but we think we’ll easily sell over 7,000.”

In the past, two Polar Express trolleys have run along one route in Riverhead. This year, five trolleys split the load between Riverhead and the new Southampton location.

“We are doing well and are almost sold out, the closer we get to Christmas,” Mr. Mooney added. The Polar Express runs Thursdays through Sundays, until December 23 and costs $53 a ticket; children must be older than 2.

He was quick to add that the costs of putting on such a production, however, are not insignificant, between the insurance, rights to the “Polar Express” content, rent of the “North Pole” sites, fuel, and, of course, the actors.

Those who play the elves and costumed animals like Rudolph and Frosty mostly come from the Riverhead High School theater department, according to Mr. Mooney. Officials from the Riverhead Faculty and Community Theater did not respond to requests for comment.

The Santas, on the other hand, are mostly Polar Express veterans specially trained by Mr. Mooney with his Clausian background.

“We’ve had one Santa for three years, one for two, and a brand new guy this year,” said Mr. Mooney. He went on to explain that his Santas don’t wear “dime store suits” or “rubber band beards”—they are fully bedecked in high-quality suits and theatrical beards, which require special glue for adhesion.

“If Santa needs a day off, I jump in,” Mr. Mooney added.

These precise Santas follow the theme of the entire Polar Express experience: attention to detail. From the decorations of the ticketing station at the Jitney stop, to the in-character chef who hands out hot chocolate, the Christmas illusion is complete.

“I’m creating an experience,” said Mr. Mooney.

For the children on board, the comprehensive theatrics were effective.

“I can’t believe I met the real Santa!” said Fiona as she examined her small jingling bell, a token of the journey she had taken.

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