Thursday, December 19, 2013

CTA's Holiday Train

This is a cheap holiday activity in Chicago that is sure to impress the kiddos.  For about a decade, the Chicago Transit Authority has had a special Christmas time tradition.  Every year 6 cars are decked out in festive Christmas garb and carry Santa and his elves throughout the city.  We've known about this tradition for a few years now, but it has always seemed to difficult to arrange to ride it.

This year, though, we finally did.  Because the train only runs for a limited time each day, it was proving difficult to find a time when we could all ride what with work, choir rehearsals, Sunday school retreats, etc... But after checking the schedules for weeks as they were released, I was able to pull all the family together last Friday night for a ride on the Santa Train.

DH takes the train home from work most evenings, so I arranged to pick up Humming Bird from a choir concert at 5:30 PM and meet DH at Penny's Noodles (just a couple of doors down from the Damen St. L station) for a family dinner.  We had a limited time because we had to be (back) on the platform by 6:45 to catch the Santa Train.  The staff at Penny's was great about getting us served quickly, and the food was tasty, too.  At 6:35 we walked back to the train, and Humming Bird was thrilled to be able to use her very own Ventra Pass to ride.
The train turned out to be slightly delayed, and it was super crowded because not only were families riding for fun, but rush hour commuters were also using it to get home (Saturday might be a better day to ride).  The train with its many Christmas lights could be seen approaching, and the girls were super excited.  Before jumping on, they glanced at Santa and I took a quick picture.  I got the girls on fairly easily, but DH was cut off by another passenger and almost didn't make it on.  However, I was an obnoxious customer, and stuck my arm out the doors despite the "Doors Closing" announcement.  I was not going to let my family activity get messed up... So, I grabbed DH's hand and pulled him into the train much to the chagrin of the elf standing at the door.  Deep breath... we were all on.
The girls were offered seats by another passenger and excitedly sat on the decorated seats.  Daddy and I stood, holding on to the candy cane poles.  There were Christmas carols playing and the aroma of cinnamon wafted through the car (not my favorite, but fortunately, I was coming down with a cold and couldn't really smell it).  We were in the back of the car , and a CTA conductor was standing by the back door.  He offered each of the girls a Holiday Train button, and he even gave them extras when they asked for ones to pass along to friends.  And DH talked to him about Santa Train logistics.
As people got off at various stops, they were able to make their way to a couple of elves who let them pick as many candy canes as they wanted.  I was quite pleased that they each took only two.  We rode the train all the way to its terminus at O'Hare, and we were able to get some more photos before catching a regular train back to the neighborhood.

 The ride home had its own specialness.  The train was much emptier and filled with more traditional CTA riders.  That included a homeless woman who asked for some money.  Not having any, we did offer some leftovers, and Hummingbird gave up one of her candy canes for "dessert."  It was also great to see the girls getting along so well.  Usually, they argue over who is going to sit by the window or some such nonsense, but this time they sat together smiling and talking agreeably.  
So, there may not be a whole lot to do on the train, but for $2.25 per adult (and $1.10 for kids over 7), it's an inexpensive holiday activity that brings together the whole family and everyone will enjoy it.