Hang onto your candy canes. The Santa Train is on the roll again and this year the new owners of the Wine Train decided to kick it up a notch with more rides and an upgraded experience.
Since Nov. 19, Santa Train riders can take off on an all-new 90 minute journey to Yountville and back, featuring a professionally choreographed and produced show, interactive music, new costumes and activities and a stop at a newly designed “North Pole” station in Yountville.
“This show is going to blow people away,” said Scott Goldie, owner of Brooks Street, a California-based real estate development and investment company. The company co-owns the train along with Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Ltd.
“It will be entertaining from the moment you get to the station to the time you get back,” Goldie said.
In past years, the train’s staff had pitched in to fill Santa Train roles, entertaining the guests as they traversed up and down the valley. It had offered about 16 such Santa Trains with about 5,000 riders coming aboard each season.
Goldie said he knew the Wine Train could do better.
Other such Santa trains, such as the Polar Express Train Ride in Sacramento, are extremely popular, he said.
The Sacramento train presented “a much more entertaining show,” than what Napa’s Santa Train previously offered.
Another example — the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express — hosts about 80,000 riders a year, Goldie said. “They sell out immediately.”
Riding such Santa trains “becomes a family tradition, and that’s our goal.”
This year, the Wine Train will offer 60 Santa Train trips — from Nov. 19 to Dec. 29.
“We’re hoping to have at least 15,000 riders,” said Goldie.
To upgrade Napa’s Santa Train, professional actors have been hired to entertain riders. Santa makes an appearance at the depot in Yountville and during the ride a conductor and teddy bear character entertain visitors. “They are dynamite,” said Goldie.
“Magical wristbands” featuring LED lights flash in time to the music. The “North Pole” has been expertly decorated by Napa High School students.
“It’s a first-class production,” Goldie said.
Besides celebrating the holidays, a Santa Train makes a lot of sense financially, he said. “This is usually a slow time of year,” and extra trains during the holidays “stabilizes the business cycle.”
“We make a lot less than on our normal business but it’s something cool to offer to do at Christmas time.”
Santa Train tickets range from $35 for locals on up to $75 for a weekend ride. Current prices for a Wine Train ride and meal start at $141.
According to Goldie, as of mid-November, the Wine Train had already sold 6,000 tickets and counting. That’s more than all of last holiday season.
Each train can accommodate a total of 350 riders, and the Santa Train runs at 5 and 8 p.m. daily.
The newly revamped Santa Train is one improvement that Brooks Street and Noble House have implemented since they bought the train in September 2015.
This year, the ownership group also added a Quattro Vino train that stops at four wineries in the valley.
“It’s been very, very well received. It’s typically sold out,” said Goldie. “We’ll be adding another one or two of those next year.”
With a coordinated schedule, the Santa Train and the other Wine Trains are able to share the tracks, he said.
On Nov. 19, the Wine Train partnered with Sleep Train’s Ticket to Dream Foundation to provide the opportunity for foster children from around the area to experience the all-new Santa Train free of charge.
Additionally, the community is encouraged to donate an unwrapped toy at any Bay Area Sleep Train location. In turn, everyone who donates a toy at designated store locations, will receive a discount voucher for tickets to ride the Santa Train.
The ride on Nov. 19 also included children from All Stars Helping Kids, Sonoma Mentor Alliance, Northern Lights School, Ricky Watter Kids, Cope Family Center, Boys & Girls Club of Napa, Aim High, United Playaz and Family Service of Napa Valley.
“This year’s Santa Train is a whole new experience, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Sleep Train’s Ticket to Dream Foundations as well as the Bay Area’s most deserving children’s charitable organizations,” said Pat Colee, chairman and founder of Noble House Hotels & Resorts.
The Wine Train began gourmet-dining service September 1989. The railroad line was built and operated by Samuel Brannan in 1864 as a tourist railroad to take visiting San Franciscans as they arrived by ferry in south Napa to Calistoga.
The year 2014 marked the 25th anniversary for the Wine Train and the 150th anniversary for the rail corridor.
The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a 36-mile round-trip journey from Napa to St. Helena, including fine dining and wine. The business owns the tracks, which run along an easement. More than 100,000 people ride the train each year. As many as 370 people can ride the train during each 3-hour-long journey.