In the UK, you can always tell it’s nearly Christmas when the Coca Cola adverts start appearing on TV (…The holidays are coming….the holidays are coming!). There’s a big truck and a big train covered in Christmas lights driving through the snow with Father Christmas on the back. When I discovered there was a real life train version run by Canadian Pacific (not Coca Cola!), that was going to be passing through Dubuque Iowa, I just had to go and see it!
What Is The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train?
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train first started in 1999 and has now been running for 20 years! There’s a Canadian route that passes through ALL of the Canadian provinces, and a US/Canadian route going through: Quebec (Canada), New York, Ontario (Canada), Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, Saskatchewan (Canada) and finishing up in Alberta (Canada). That’s 5 Midwestern states! The aim of the train is the raise awareness of local food banks and people are encouraged to make donations in the form of food or money. Other than that, the train is completely free to go and see.
I went to see it in 2016 when it stopped in Dubuque Iowa and this is what my experience was like!
The train stopped at a crossroads in Dubuque on an old, almost disused industrial estate. I was surprised at how close to the train line people were able to stand. There were plenty of marshals to ensure people didn’t get too close though. In hindsight, we were too close to the tracks. I wanted to be able to get pictures but I think it would have been best viewed from a little way back.
It arrived slightly later than scheduled, at 8.45pm instead of 8.30pm, blowing its horns on approach. Each of the 14 boxcars were covered in rope lights, the front 4 shining with Canadian – Pacific – Holiday – Train. The following cars had light pictures of reindeers and sleighs and presents and elves with guitars (the elves being my favourite!).
Here’s a video of the train arriving in Dubuque!
As Dubuque was one of the scheduled stops (roughly 4 each day), when it came to a halt, the sides of one of the cars folded down to reveal a stage! Most of the stops are on crossroads, with the idea being that the crowds can stand on the closed roads either side of the tracks. The musicians in 2016 were Kelly Prescott and Colin James.
They sung a mix of Christmas songs and regular songs in a blue grass/country style for around 30 minutes! (There were more regular songs than Christmas songs though, personally I’d have loved them to have all been Christmas songs, but the US doesn’t seem to have as many modern Christmas songs like we do in England!)
CP Christmas Train
The sides then folded back up and the train went off on its merry way! I loved seeing the train, it’s such a unique Christmas event and the weather was perfect for it (dry and above freezing point)!
Tips for visiting: In Dubuque there was a large parking area a short walk from the train line. The main performance side was on the opposite side of the tracks to where the parking was but BOTH sides of the train fold down. We said we probably would have been better standing on the quieter opposite side as we hadn’t gone to see the performers, more so the train.
We also left a little before the end to try and beat the rush of traffic, if this is your plan too, the performance car is closer to the back of the train, so you can simply walk towards the back and cross BEHIND it (or stand on the quiet side). FYI there was an inflatable Minion sitting at the back of the train when I saw it 😉 Plan your route to and from the event because roads do get closed, so you may have to take a different route!
Related Reading: Reflections in the Park: Drive Thru Christmas Light Display!
CP Christmas Train 2019 Midwest Stops Include:
Wisconsin Dells, WI
La Crosse, WI
Mason City, IA
Charles City, IA
Cp Christmas Train Tour 2019 Dates: Monday 25th November 2019 – Wednesday 18th December 2019
There are 80 stops on the US route altogether but this is just a handful of some of the ‘larger’ stops!
The majority of the stops are in the evening, but there are a couple during the day. The lights on the train stay on the whole time during its journey, day or night, so you don’t have the worry about missing the lights if your closest stop is a day performance! The only time they switch the lights off, is when they go through customs at the Canadian/US border in Detroit.
The full train schedule and more information can be found on the Canadian Pacific website.
Have you seen the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train before? Does your local town hold any unique Christmas events? I’d love to hear from you!