This was our first experience on the Hill Country Flyer departing from Whitestone Blvd Station in Austin Tx on a round robin to Bertram with no debarkation. We rode on a Sunday morning at 0830. We arrived at 8am and picked up our tickets from the office, then stood in line for nearly 30 minutes with the rest of the passengers waiting to board the train. At about 0825 the train finally pulled up into the yard, it was very loud and fun to see! My husband and I have traveled by train throughout Europe, so we were curious how this would compare. We decided to book last minute so the only tickets remaining were in the coach Buckeye Trail car, we paid $50 for ourselves and two lap children which were free under age three. $100 for a 2 hour trip with a 2 yr old and 7 mo old.
The North Pole Flyer excursion advertised the following attractions; Santa, Mrs.Clause, hot cocoa, a cookie, and an elf reading a story. I read another review that claimed to lack the themed attractions however I’m very pleased to say we had a great experience and loved all the entertainment! The coach was also decorated with a simple garland, strung above the luggage rack and a few wrapped gifts stowed above. I noticed upon entering the coach that some seats had little candy canes set upon them, ours did not, we didn’t ask for any however.
The coach seats were comfortable, when you hear coach one usually doesn’t envision comfort, however there was plenty of leg room, and a place to store belongings underneath the seat. The seats had arm rests and seamed to recline. No tray tables or cup holders, which would have been nice, ask me how one holds a lap child and a hot cocoa :/
The little things made this experience so fun, Climbing up the train from the platform, the natural sway along the tracks, hearing the whistle blow as we passed vehicle crossings, waving at stopped cars, going over the little stream, and when the conductor came by to punch our tickets. I love that the tickets were actually printed and traditional, with the way the world is going virtual it’s nice to hold onto a few mementos.
The Christmas theme was adorable, all the advertised attractions played the part ;) I was very impressed by the Santa and mrs clause, they were authentic looking and friendly, we even had time to take pictures with Santa. He handed out large wooden train whistles to the children, so fun! There was also an elf who led a sing along and a balloon animal artist, he told jokes and interacted with the passengers, he made an animal for every kid, wow! They came through with crayons and a coloring sheet next.
The bathroom was in working order and had a regular throne and ample toilet paper, there was also a sink with soap and paper towels. I would say it’s better than a coach airplane ride by a landslide.
From a security stand point, I was very surprised that they didn’t check anyone’s bags, these days I think that’s becoming the norm and I felt a little paranoid since they didn’t have any security personnel present.
Other reviews have mentioned the dismal scenery, I don’t have much to add....but we didn’t expect any sprawling vistas, this isn’t the Black Forest after all.
We found the trip relaxing and fun for the kids, it was the perfect length, any longer with two kids would have been challenging. We noticed many passengers showed up in pajamas, adults too. The Christmas spirit was definitely present! We liked this more than other Christmas themed family events we’ve tried like the children’s theatre or sea worlds Christmas, a great family activity!
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