Like all rational people I do not acknowledge the existence of Christmas until after Thanksgiving. So I wasn’t too excited when I got the invitation to a press event promoting the new Polar Express Train Ride at Union Station.
And then somebody said “free food.”
And I said “it really is the most wonderful time of the year.”
And so it was that Thursday night I took the train down to Union Station, in part because it seemed appropriate, in part because I didn’t want to have to drive or park downtown and in part because I was meeting The Wife there so we already had one vehicle downtown.
Oh, Union Station. Once you were a major transportation hub of this great nation. Then you went into disrepair. Then you became a shopping mall/hotel. Now, well, you’re still a shopping mall/hotel but you’ve seen better days.
I remember when they reopened Union Station as a shopping mall/hotel. It was impressive. You would walk in and a big crowd would be gathered around the Fudgery where the workers would be slapping large slabs of fudge around on a marble table and singing songs. I bought my 30th anniversary Avengers poster at a shop in Union Station. We spent our wedding night in the Omni Hotel therein.
It was a big deal. It lasted, I dunno, five or six years? Now it’s a dimly-lit shell with a few shops and a half-empty food court. One lone person was slapping fudge around and he wasn’t singing. Why is it dimly lit? How many shopping malls do you walk in wondering if someone is hiding in the shadows about to grab you? I realize it’s big and hard to light but I don’t like the feeling that I’m the Wayne family walking home from the theater as I’m walking INSIDE the mall.
On the plus side, I will say I went into one store — Fat Sassy’s — that I thought was pretty cool. If you’re looking for an Elvis Presley Christmas ornament, check it out.
We quickly walked through the mall to the hotel area where we discovered you can no longer walk the length of Union Station anymore because the hotel area is off-limits to those without key-cards. What the hey? Our options were to wait for someone inside the hotel area to have mercy and open a door for us or go back outside and walk around the building to the hotel front door in downtown St. Louis in the dark. We waited. Someone let us in.
St. Louis Union Station Hotel (no longer the Omni) is very nice. Clean, well-lit, classy. We made our way upstairs to the Grand Hall where the event was taking place. The Grand Hall is very grand — barrel-vaulted ceiling; big, comfy chairs; nice bar.
As a new event this holiday season — ’cause you can only sit through “The Nutcracker” so many times — Union Station is offering The Polar Express Train Ride. Excursions begin Nov. 22 and run through Dec. 30. Apparently they sold out their initials runs and recently added new dates — Dec. 15-17.
The event consists of a round-trip ride to the North Pole (use your imagination) with people dressed up to resemble characters from the beloved children’s story/movie.
We didn’t get to experience the train ride but we did enjoy the Panoramic Light Show that takes place in the Grand Hall. Images are projected into the ceiling that offer a history lesson on the station as well as images from the Polar Express film. It’s pretty cool.
The main event — at least for hungry people, I suppose the train ride would be the main event for everyone else — is the buffets. There is the children’s buffet, the adult buffet and the Grand Dessert Buffet. They served the children’s buffet at the media event which was fine by me because I’d rather eat chicken tenders and mini corndogs over chicken breast with autumn rice and chef’s vegetables any day. The buffet was delicious — I highly recommend the chicken tenders with honey mustard sauce.
Which brings us to the Grand Dessert Buffet. Holy Christmas miracle, was that a lot of sweets. I tried my best to try as much as I could but alas, too many chicken tenders. I highly recommend the gingerbread mousse — it was light and not too filling. Everything was good and the display was impressive. Oh, the apple tart thing was really good too.
So if you’re looking for something to do this holiday season that doesn’t involve watching The Grinch for the 1,345th time, catch the train to Union Station. And if you’re in charge of the mall there — invest in some light bulbs.
For more information on The Polar Express Train Ride visit http://www.stlpolarexpressride.com/