Look who’s coming to the Polar Express
WOONSOCKET – Just as snowflakes were spotted across some parts of northern Rhode Island this week, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council is poised to kick off the seasonal installment of the Polar Express train rides out of One Depot Square – with help from a special guest from television’s top talent show, “The Voice.”
Vocal artist and city native Emily Luther, a contestant on the latest installment of the NBC-TV show, will be on hand as BVTC launches this season’s Polar Express runs on Friday. Tickets go on sale for two rides at 4 and 7 p.m., but Luther is expected to arrive about 5:30 p.m., mingle with visitors, sign autographs and, hopefully, sing a holiday tune or two, according to Robert Billington, executive director of the Pawtucket-based BVTC.
Billington said BVTC was still waiting for official word from “The Voice” that Luther, a Woonsocket High School graduate, would be permitted to sing, but he said, “I think it would be very odd if she didn’t.” Luther herself may have let the cat out of the bag on Twitter,
when she asked her followers for requests for holiday songs they’d like to hear. She didn’t say why.
“It’s exciting for us,” said Billington. “We thought the community might want to come out and we’re going to have a little meet-and-greet. It’s going to be tons of fun.”
The Polar Express-themed train rides, named for the famous children’s story about a Christmastime trip to the North Pole – via rail, of course – is the BVTC’s only fundraiser of the year, said Billington.
The advocacy group for all things local in the Blackstone Valley, from bikeways to business, the tourism council wouldn’t exist without the Polar Express, he said.
“It’s the only way we’re going to operate throughout the year,” Billington said. “It brings in the money that allows us to run and hire people. Without the Polar Express, our work would be very limited. This year is particularly exciting because Emily Luther is doing so well on “The Voice.”
Warner Brothers owns the rights to author Chris Van Allsburg’s classic holiday story and all its mercantile spinoffs, but BVTC has a licensing agreement with the communications giant that allows the nonprofit agency to sell clothing and other Polar Express-themed goods from a gift shop that will run out of One Depot Square through the holiday season, beginning on Friday.
Scores of visitors have been descending on the city for many years for a chance to get in on the Polar Express revelry.
The family favorite comes to life with a three-hour event that includes a 90-minute excursion aboard a train with storytelling, sing-a-longs, games, cookies and hot chocolate served in a souvenir mug. Of course, Santa Claus arrives to personally deliver a gift to every child on board.
Riders can show up an hour early to take advantage of photo opportunities using custom Polar Express backdrops and characters from the story, a children’s area with coloring and letter-writing to Santa, and the official Polar Express gift shop. The historic train depot will be all decked out with holiday decorations for the affair.
After returning to One Depot Square from the North Pole, passengers are invited to stay for a complementary photo with Santa. The giveaways are often converted into Christmas cards that make for lasting memories, BVTC says.
This year’s trains run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting this weekend and lasting through Dec. 23. The journeys begin at the depot, One Depot Square, opposite City Hall.
A word of caution from BVTC, however: get your tickets in advance. Polar Express rides often sell out.
“The Blackstone Valley Polar Express train rides have received much national media attention and they’re noted for their unique liveperson adaptations and interactive experiences that bring the popular children’s book story alive,” says Billington.
For tickets and more information, contact 401-4951213 or go online to www.blackstonevalleypolarexpress.com.
Emily Luther, a singer and Woonsocket native who appeared this season on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ will be a special guest at this year’s kick-off event for the Blackstone Valley Polar Express, which takes place Friday.