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Train out of Hood River takes riders on magical journey.

COURTESY: LOU HAMMOND GROUP - Santa Claus greets riders of Oregon's The Polar Express.The North Pole is officially open for business — well, Oregon’s North Pole, as in the unknown destination about 30 minutes outside of Hood River by way of the railroad.

The Polar Express started taking visitors to see Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the elves last weekend. The hourlong, round-trip rides continue through Dec. 23. It’s patterned after “The Polar Express” movie starring Tom Hanks and the book by Chris Van Allsburg.

The story: When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

COURTESY: LOU HAMMOND GROUP - Children display their 'golden ticket' aboard The Polar Express.Kids and parents — and, really, adults can enjoy as well — get to sip hot chocolate, be served by dancing chefs, and meet Santa, who gives them a silver bell, the first gift of Christmas. The bell chimes, and if you hear it, you believe.

It’s a nice little story, and it’s a fun hour of holiday festivities from Hood River to the North Pole.

“Santa and Mrs. Claus are extremely happy they have a new North Pole,” says Angela Lane, vice president of marketing and sales for Premier Rail Collection, which operates Mt. Hood Railroad.

Indeed, there have been many improvements, such as clean rail cars, better rail car windows, a larger and brighter Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, enhanced decorations at the train depot, a new clock tower, and big and comfortable tented waiting areas.

Snow? Well, “if there’s real snow on Mount Hood, there’ll be real snow at the North Pole,” Lane says. “We don’t bring in artificial snow.”

Lane says the joy for kids and families is palpable during the train ride and North Pole visit, as they suspend disbelief.

COURTESY: LOU HAMMOND GROUP - Santa gives a child a silver bell that symbolizes belief aboard The Polar Express.“Many kids have been dressed in their pajamas, just like the kids in the movie,” she says. “They get into the spirit of it.

“Many who ride early use it for Christmas cards and Facebook pages.”

Music from the movie plays throughout the ride, and “The Polar Express” story is told. There is caroling, led by elves.

“It reinforces the spirit of giving and importance of believing,” Lane says.

The Polar Express, which also takes place in other states, leaves from the Mt. Hood Railroad depot in downtown Hood River. Each train can hold more than 500 guests. There are overnight visit packages available in Hood River. The rides depart at 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. select days through Dec. 23. Tickets range from $31-$71.

For more: www.mthoodrr.com/the-polar-express-train-ride.