By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Medina Journal-Register — MEDINA — Several hundred people left Medina Sunday night with their first gift of Christmas, given by Santa Claus himself on the Polar Express.
The annual ride, sponsored by the Medina Railroad Museum, was packed with families, many of whom were smiling while sipping hot chocolate in their pajamas.
Riders came from all over Western New York, and a number were on board for the first time.
“The kids were excited because they knew they were going on a train,” said Jennifer Ertel of Tonwanda, on the ride for the first time. “We have friends who’ve done it every year and I figured this year the kids were old enough to enjoy it.”
Ertel said the experience was a thrill, and she said it was enjoyable to share it with both her children and her mother. “I love it, I think it’s just great,” she said.
Shannon Pryce of Webster, seated in First Class with her 6-year-old daughter Bailey, said the ride was unique.
“I don’t know of anything else quite like this,” Pryce stated. “There’s extreme detail here; they really stay true to the story. They do a fantastic job to keep the magic of the story alive.”
Elma’s Eva Subjeck appeared to be the most excited in her crew. Joined by her mom, her husband, and her grandchildren, she joked about her enthusiasm.
“This is just magical, and the children love the show,” she said.
One Lockport-based family brought along a visiting couple from Arkansas. Bill and Megan Williams were joined by her parents, Tim and Christina Dombrowski, and his folks, Bill and Ann Williams, whose southern accent gave them away. Bill and Megan brought along their children, Liam and Carter, and Bill said the ride was incredible in that it managed to “keep the children engaged the whole time.”
Added Megan, “I’ve read The Polar Express every year since I was little.”
Two families traveling together for the train excursion were the Lochers and the Whites. Chad Locher said his family had tried a similar ride in Utica before being recommended the Medina excursion.
“I love it,” he said. “This reignites the imagination and brings it back to like being a kid. It’s a great Christmas atmosphere.”
An Orchard Park family was marking its fourth consecutive year on the Polar Express. “The kids actually watched the movie on the way out here tonight,” chuckled Wende Paas. She said the trip is one her and her family look forward to annually.
Shauna Smith, who came from the opposite direction (Hilton, outside of Greece), repeated what was essentially the mantra of the evening: magic.
“It’s magical,” she said. “This is kids in their jammies seeing Santa Claus; it’s what they dream about and it’s coming to life.”
Charlotte Gilmer, on board with her cousin, mother, and children, was pleasantly surprised by the ride.
“I thought it was going to be a quick ride and that would be it,” she said. “But it’s really been wonderful with the helpers, and the music…”
Her mother, Karen Baker, added, “This whole ride is making me feel their age (hugs grandson) and I’m Grandma!”
Karen House, Gilmer’s cousin, said the Polar Express and its organizers deserve praise for creating something so simple in such grand fashion.
“I think, in a technology-driven world, this shows the magic of Christmas alive, and that imagination and fun and magic still exist in the lives of children and adults, if only for one night.,” she said.