As with so much in society this year, there are a few changes to this year’s version of The Polar Express – a holiday tradition through Alberta Prairie Railway.
Staff were all set to launch the magical Christmastime experience this coming weekend of Nov. 21st-22nd, but newly-announced pandemic restrictions from the Province have forced a delay in those plans.
”Although we are confident that the measures we have in place would keep everyone safe, (the) announcement suspending dance and performances for 14 days would mean that this important aspect of THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride would be missing and rather than disappoint we have decided it would be best to invite guests to join us on any one of the remaining 27 performance dates and times,” noted a release.
“We are devastated that this happened and will do our best to make things right for people.”
Manager Bob Willis said the added restrictions meant that the ride wouldn’t have been able to have any entertainment as well. “No singing, no dancing and no performance – and that is not what Polar Express is all about,” he explained.
Looking ahead, the added restrictions are in place until Nov. 27th so plans are to launch the Polar Express, as planned, on Nov. 28th instead.
In the meantime, Willis explained the changes that have been put into place to keep folks safe during their ride on the Polar Express.
“First of all, it involves social distancing which isn’t that difficult for us to do physically because we already reserve and assign seats,” he explained. “So if you were to book seats, there would be nobody sitting behind you, nobody sitting in front of you and no one sitting across the aisle. When you think about that, that means capacity is sliced,” he added.
But Willis emphasized that the special event is really such an important part of the holiday season.
“We are doing this for the community; we wanted some sense of normalcy – that something at least is going to be the same as it’s always been,” he said.
Willis said there will also be compulsory masking.
“We have determined that shields will work for those who, for medical reasons, couldn’t wear a mask,” he said.
“We will be masking people from the moment they step onto the property to the moment they leave. The only time they will not (wear a mask) will be when they are in their seats for the hot chocolate and whipped cream and enjoying a special cookie treat.
”That’s like being in a restaurant, so the masks can come off,” he said.
“All of the staff will also be masked at all times with one exception – Santa Claus. We just couldn’t see how we could ever have Santa Claus masked.
“We had to figure out a way to do that – and here it is. Everyone else on the train for the entire journey will be masked. Santa won’t be able to fully integrate into the audience with the children but he will be able to interact with them,” he said, adding that proximity rules will of course be followed.
“We are also going to be fogging and disinfecting the entire train before, after and in between every (excursion). So we think that on the safety side, we are in good shape.
“We have thought about everything that could possibly go wrong and we have addressed it. We also sat down with Alberta Health officials here in Stettler, worked through this, and have come up with a darn solid plan,” he explained.
“The only disappointing thing is that we had to shut down this first weekend (Nov. 21st and 22nd). We are really quite taken aback by that, and didn’t want to do that. But one has to be cognizant of what’s going on around you – we want to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem,” he said.
In the meantime, Willis said that there are lots of further Polar Express dates in December as well.
“All of the trips are listed on the web site and the times – we still have 27 individual trips scheduled.”
Check out www.absteamtrain.com for more information or about booking a date, or call 403-742-2811. You can also call 1-800-282-3994.