A popular holiday book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express tells the story of a magical train ride on Christmas Eve, taking a young boy to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa himself. The book comes to life at the Bryson City Depot, where families can board The Polar Express for a journey over the river and through the woods to the North Pole (or…through the Great Smoky Mountains). The 1.25-hour round-trip excursion is set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack; guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while reading along with the magical story.

Upon arrival at the “North Pole” (ahem), the good little boys and girls will be beside themselves when the man himself—the one, the only, Santa Claus—boards the train, greeting each and every child and presenting them with their own special gifts: a silver sleigh bell. If all of that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, then singing Christmas carols all the way back to Bryson City should do the trick. (And if it doesn’t, you should probably get that three-sizes-too-small heart checked out.)

Up the ante by purchasing matching family Polar Express PJs for the journey – you can add them to your reservation when you book online or by phone. The Polar Express begins November 10 and operates through December 31. On most days, trips begin at 5:00, 6:30, and 8:15pm, with additional daytime trips most weekends.

Make it a weekend by renting one of the many cabins for a true Smoky Mountain winter retreat feel! Named one of the “20 Best Small Towns to Visit” by the Smithsonian, Bryson City is located about 70 miles southwest of Asheville. Much of the county is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it an outdoor and nature lover’s dream.

Downtown Bryson City is true small-town America, with a variety of local artisans who create one-of-a-kind musical instruments, handcrafted jewelry, hand-turned wood and pottery. Take time for a visit with the old Appalachian Toymaker, located in the Storytelling Center across the parking lot from the train depot. Children and parents alike will be delighted as the toymaker creates handcrafted wooden toys and tells a holiday tale or two.