All aboard, folks! Santa is coming to town.
The Strasburg Rail Road's annual Santa's Paradise Express Train is set to leave the station starting the day after Thanksgiving.
The train, which has been running for nearly 40 years, gives children a chance to visit jolly old St. Nick during the 45-minute ride. Kids 3 to 11 years old will receive a train-themed gift. The train will run every Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 16, said railroad spokeswoman Tiffany Dodson.
In addition to meeting Santa, families can enjoy the songs of carolers who stroll from car-to-car belting out popular holiday tunes.
Santa's Paradise Express is just one of the holiday events awaiting Strasburg Rail Road visitors this season.
Pajama party: New this year, the railroad is inviting families to a pajama party on the Night Before Christmas Train, which departs Friday evenings at 7 p.m. from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14.
The 45-minute ride features readers dressed in Victorian nightgowns and caps who will recite the famous "The Night Before Christmas" poem written by Clement Clarke Moore. Passengers will be treated to cookies and milk, too.
"This train is supposed to re-create the excitement of Christmas Eve," Dodson said.
Kids are encouraged to come dressed in their pajamas for the full experience.
Dodson said the Night Before Christmas Train is likely to be popular with the older pint-sized crowd, especially those who enjoy the book-turned-movie "The Polar Express."
"It may be more popular with older kids that enjoy that anticipation of Christmas and the whole spirit of the holiday," she said.
The ride will also help raise money for the Water Street Ministries, which serves Lancaster County. Families are invited to bring a fresh pair of pajamas to be donated, and $5 from every ticket sold will benefit the organization.
Families that want to extend the experience can opt for dining car service for an additional price, Dodson said. The car will have a full holiday feast complete with ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, gingerbread cookies and apple pie.
Other fun: Whether families choose to visit Santa or come to hear the classic holiday tale, the station at the Strasburg Rail Road also offers some family-fun activities after the ride has ended.
Guests are invited to hop on the Tinsel Trolley, a heated, self-propelled motor car, which will take riders on a short trip up and down the tracks. The younger crowd can sit and enjoy holiday storybook readings in the caboose. Stories include such classics as "The Christmas Story" and "The Night Before Christmas" poem.
Families are encouraged to purchase tickets early, especially for those who want to meet Santa, Dodson said, because many of the train rides have a tendency to sell out quickly.
Dodson said the hope is that the Night Before Christmas Train will build upon the popularity of Santa's Paradise Express Train, which had close to 20,000 visitors during the 2011 holiday season.
"A lot of families that are local, within a one- to two-hour drive, come back year after year and make it part of their holiday tradition," she said.
-- Reach Kristen Putch at firstname.lastname@example.org.