A holiday staple for 12 years, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council’s Polar Express train trip has expanded, including adding a half-dozen new trips this year.
This year the departure site for the sold-out trip has been relocated from the railroad tracks near the former Ann & Hope store in Cumberland to an actual train depot on Main Street in Woonsocket. Evening departures were added for the first time. Professional actors auditioned for roles as story presenters on the train ride. A decorator was retained to make sure the red and green garlands, swags and bows were in just the right places at the depot and on the train.
Even the cookies were upgraded, for the first time baked by students under the supervision of chef professors at Johnson & Wales University in Providence.
The Polar Express in the Blackstone Valley costs more than $200,000 to produce, according to information provided by BVTC, and brings in only about $10,000 in net revenue for the tourism agency.”
“A lot of money goes out to make it happen, but we are really in tune to make it the best Polar Express in New England and probably the United States,” said Natalie Carter, BVTC director of operations and business manager.
She cited such individual costs as more than $10,000 a day to rent the train from Providence & Worcester Railroad, $10,000 for cups to hold hot chocolate and another $1.80 per cup for cocoa. “Everybody gets a [complimentary] cup of cocoa and a cookie,” said Carter, who couldn’t say how much revenue this year’s added trips, bringing the total to 22, will generate.
Bob Billington, president and executive director of BVTC, said the beauty of the story makes the effort worthwhile. “I think the story about believing in Christmas is something that rings true to most people around the world,” he said.
The BVTC Polar Express this year – sold out as of late November – runs for 11 days until Dec. 18, with two departures a day and 380 attendees per trip for a projected total of 8,360 people who will be entertained by the holiday favorite in 2011. Many of those are young children, with 4- to 6-years-old the age of most kids on the Express.
Donna Houle, project manager at BVTC, remembers when the event began 12 years ago and was held just one or two days at Christmastime. Over the years, largely through word of mouth, popularity of the Polar Express has grown so now BVTC will start taking reservations for next year’s event in January and expects to book a large share of the seats by the end of March, Houle said.