Santa Steam Express review: A festive journey on the rails

The rhythmic chug of the steam train and the distinctive aroma of coal-fired steam signal the arrival of the Santa Steam Express, an enchanting experience promising festive delights and a magical encounter with Santa himself. As part of a growing trend of Santa steam train rides across the country, this review details our delightful journey aboard the iconic Sherwood Forester, exploring everything from the rich history of the locomotive to the personalised experience with Santa.

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History and heritage

The Sherwood Forester, a vintage locomotive built in 1936, serves as the proud engine for the Steam Dreams Santa Steam Express. With a rich history of traversing the UK’s railways, this iconic engine has become a favourite on heritage railways in England and Scotland. Steam Dreams, the company behind this festive journey, was established over 20 years ago and has since grown to operate more than 50 trips annually, carrying over 20,000 passengers on express services and extended holidays.

 

Boarding and festive decor

Welcomed by a team of cheerful elves, we made our way to the first-class carriage adorned with baubles, pine cones, and other seasonal decorations. The nostalgic charm of the 1970s-era carriages, transformed into a festive haven, set a joyful tone. First treats awaited us upon seating, including gingerbread men, apple juice, and a festive activity sheet for kids. The additional surprise gift bag, comprising more goodies, heightened the festive spirit. The distribution of thoughtful gifts by accompanying elves, tailored by age, added a personal touch. The interaction felt magical and unrushed, creating lasting memories in children.

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Encounter with Mrs Claus and Santa

As the journey commenced, Mrs Claus made an appearance, encouraging everyone to savour their gingerbread treats. The excitement reached a peak with the arrival of Santa, who engaged patiently with each child along the carriages, checking wish lists and posing for photos. He’s the best looking and most charming Father Christmas I have ever met. He made my day by putting me on his NICE list. (giggle) He stopped a bit longer in our all-adult cabin to take a short break and to taste our delicious Panettone al limoncello by Il Chiostro, that was delivered especially from Italy for our friend Antonella who also celebrated her birthday. Contrary to recent statement by The Times that English pudding is much better than Italian Panettone, Santa said that there’s nothing better than the festive Italian dessert. We filmed him and shared the video with The Times.

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Scenic views and entertainment

While the urban route through London suburbs limited scenic landscapes, there were charming moments, especially when crossing the Thames. I loved the crossing at Battersea and Barnes Bridge, in particular. A brief singalong with elves singing ‘Jingle Bells’ added a festive touch to the journey. The entertainment was well-paced, ensuring an engaging experience.

 

Thoughts on the journey

The age range on board varied, from infants to 10-year-olds, with the younger ones captivated by Santa’s visit. The nearly two-hour duration might challenge the patience of younger children, but the provided activity sheets and treats help keep them engaged. The First-Class option, with private compartments, offers enhanced comfort and privacy, albeit at an additional cost.

 

Verdict and recommendations

The Santa Steam Express by Steam Dreams offers a nostalgic and laid-back Christmas experience. Beautifully decorated carriages, friendly staff, and the visit from Santa create cherished memories. The addition of private First-Class compartments adds a touch of luxury. While it may not justify travelling to London solely for this experience, it serves as a wonderful addition to a festive day out in the city, complementing other Christmas activities. But be prepared to dig deep in your pocket as this luxury comes with a price tag of £550 for a six people first-class compartment.

My 17-year-old son would have loved the Santa Steam Express, only if he could have been in the driving seat alongside the ‘Fat Controller,’ reminiscing about his time as a toddler watching the Thomas the Tank series on TV. Perhaps, as a recommendation to the organisation, they could consider creating special packages for teenagers where they can experience some engineering at work in the future.

Additional details and booking

The Santa Steam Express operates for a limited period in December, departing from London Victoria. Ticket prices vary based on class. They can be booked in advance through the Steam Dreams website www.steamdreams.co.uk or by calling the reservations team on 01483 209888.

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