The excitement is almost unbearable. At the station, hundreds of young people―Christmas wishes in their minds, belief in their hearts―chatter enthusiastically while they await their turn to board the train with their families. At the other end of the track: none other than Santa himself.
While they wait, they sip on complimentary hot chocolate and nibble on cookies served up by volunteers, maybe singing along to the Christmas carols playing from speakers overhead. And then they hear it―the clang of the bell, the blast of the horn―and chugging around the bend comes the Portage Flyer, twinkling with more than 1,000 lights. They clamber aboard the historical, open-air passenger cars and nestle in for a leisurely trip along the Muskoka River.
The ride only takes about 10 minutes, but when you’re a child with a wish, it can feel like an eternity. And then, there it is: the Purser’s Cabin, and inside, Santa! With their wish safely in the big guy’s hands, and a picture or two taken by mom or dad or grandma or grandpa for proof, they check out the train engine and chat with the friendly engineer before boarding again for the return trip.
It’s a magical experience for both young and old, one that has become an annual tradition for many families.
Like Christmas Day, a Portage Flyer Christmas only happens once a year, always on the Saturday evening before Christmas Eve. This year, you can visit the jolly old elf on Saturday, December 21 from 5-8 p.m. The last train leaves the Rotary Village Station (100 Forbes Hill Drive) at 7:30 p.m. Arrive early if you’re able—it’s a popular event and there is no reserved seating or advance ticket sales. Plenty of free parking is available across the road on Forbes Hill Drive, at the Active Living Centre, at the Canada Summit Centre, or across from the main entrance to Muskoka Heritage Place.
Tickets are just five dollars per person (Santa pays the tax) and you can ride as many times as you’d like. Remember to dress warmly! And although Santa loves animals, he asks that you leave your pooches and other pets at home (service animals excepted).
For more information, visit muskokaheritageplace.org.
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