PARRISH -- The annual train ride to the North Pole at the popular Florida Railroad Museum has had one of its most successful seasons yet, with record attendance.
For years, children have enjoyed the 6 1/2-mile train ride to the North Pole, where they get hot chocolate and cookies -- along with the highlight, a visit with Santa.
For the Railroad Museum, the North Pole Express allows it to keep trains rolling year round.
"If it wasn't for the North Pole train we would probably have closed in 2004," Florida Railroad Museum Events Director Glenn Miley said. "About 80 percent of our spendable money outside of fuel, insurance and track maintenance comes from the Christmas train."
Scheduled to make its final jour
ney to the North Pole on Sunday, the North Pole Express tickets are sold out. More than 8,000 riders will have had the experience of riding a historic train out of Parrish with carolers singing all the way until they arrive at Santa's workshop.
Driving this year's success is the joining of forces between the museum and other nonprofits or educational organizations to keep up with the increased demand. Volunteers from the Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Southeast High School, Relay for Life and Manatee School for the Arts have donated their time to work at the North Pole Express. In return, the organizations will get a percentage of the profits.
"Rather than just hiring people, we would rather spread the wealth with some of the other nonprofits," Miley said.
"They are very eager to be there and to help their cause."
With the increase of volunteers, they made two trips nightly to the North Pole this year, rather than just the one trip in years past.
"It's becoming more and more popular, which means we would like to look at doing more trains in the future," attorney and volunteer Mark Barnebey said. "It's a great show of how Manatee County has come together to put on a great event for children."
Tickets went on sale on Labor Day this year, and within 12 hours the museum had sold 5,000 tickets.
"It's important to get your tickets in advance," Barnebey encourages for future events, which include the Murder Mystery Dinner Train and a visit from Thomas the Tank Engine.
The Florida Railroad Museum's mission is to preserve Florida Railroad history, by giving visitors an actual ride for their experience.
"If you missed it, we have many other spring events coming up," Miley said.
Those still hoping to catch a ride on the North Pole Express train can try calling the Box Office at 941-776-0906 to check for cancellations. Visit frrm.org for more info and upcoming events.
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.