The events involve a train, which consist of the local railroad's passenger cars and one of their locomotives, often a steam-powered one, representing the Polar Express. The train might be decorated in Christmas decorations and the words "The Polar Express" might be painted on the sides of the coaches or the locomotive's tender specifically for the event.
The train takes passengers on a journey, usually an hour long, from one part of the railroad to another which represents the North Pole. During the journey, passengers can listen to songs and music from the film, be served snacks, mainly including hot chocolate and cookies. They can also find cast members playing as some of the characters from the film, including the Conductor, the Dancing Chefs, Smokey and Steamer, the Hobo and Hero Boy. The cast members mostly do dance performances and read The Polar Express book to the passengers.
Soon, the train arrives at the North Pole where passengers can meet Santa Claus and the children each receive their own silver bell. Sometimes, however, Santa is riding the train with the passengers. After that, the passengers get back on board and the train makes its return journey.
- Visitors are often encouraged to come in their pajamas.
- The tickets for the trip might resemble the tickets seen in the film. The Conductor sometimes actually punches words and letters out of them.