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Candy Cane Express: Insider Tips for an Afternoon of Christmas Joy

My 7th grade Nevada history instructor from Clayton Middle School, Mr. Gandolfo, would likely do somersaults in his grave if he could hear the following admission: I’ve never ridden the V&T Railroad.

So very sorry, Mr. G.

But I made it up to him today (and seriously thought about so many of the things he taught me about historic Nevada) when I took one 5-year-old and one 73-year-old up scenic, twisty-turny Geiger Grade to experience the V&T Candy Cane Express. This is a limited edition hourlong train ride that happens at 12 noon and 2 p.m. on the following dates only: November 24 and December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16.

If you’re looking to get in the holiday spirit (and see Santa — or rather, SANTAS — stay tuned for that explanation), this is an enchanting experience. And to provide some insights, here are my takeaways from today:

  • Just pay for parking. Seriously, $10 for daylong parking is a deal to anyone who has ever traveled outside of — well, anywhere — so I suggest parking in the pay lot on C Street and hiking down. It’s a beautiful walk right past historic Saint Mary’s Cathedral (which is open and has a gift shop selling wine right across the aisle from the holy water, which makes it to the coolest Catholic church ever), so build in some extra time to take in the sights and the surroundings.
$19.95 seems like a reasonable price for a Mad Monk.
  • Expect them to sell out: Granted, we rode on the inaugural day, but they were indeed sold out. However, there is a stand-by list, so if you’re in Virginia City and haven’t purchased tickets early, there’s still a chance you can climb aboard. But don’t delay. Go online and reserve your tickets, then arrive about 30 minutes early because that’s when the line will likely form. Some of the seats face each other, so if you’re in a group of 4, climbing aboard earlier will help you get these coveted facing seats.
The facing seats are perfect for families of 4. Be prepared for close quarters though, so you’d better like the people sitting across from you.
  • Speaking of lines: While you’re in line, take advantage of the restrooms that are located next to the train. The hourlong ride happens on trains with no bathrooms, and we all know children are the literal worst when it comes to realizing they have to go pee exactly one minute into any 60-minute trip. So save yourself the struggle of wondering if they can actually hold it. Just go.
This is the look you don’t want to see after you’ve left the depot.
  • Might I suggest an apple on the way up the hill? Because once you’re on the train, it’s sugar, then some more, and still more. Today kinda destroyed my “everything in moderation” mantra, as my child now believes I’m a big fat liar about all that considering Santa and his elves clearly think sugar is the best. But alas, it’s a special occasion. They serve hot cider or cocoa first (pro tip: the cider tastes like liquid apple pie and IMHO was the best choice after my blind taste test, which was only blind because I was holding both cups and totally forgot which one was which), then cookies, then a giant candy cane at the end of the trip. So pre-gaming with a healthy snack is totally advisable. Trust me, you’re not getting anything healthy into your kids for hours after, because there’s no way they’ll be hungry after all the treats.
She, however, definitely preferred the cocoa.
  • Santa does not ride the train, presumably because he has more important things to do than ride 30 minutes down the Comstock, stop then reverse and ride 30 minutes home. However, he’s there when you get there, taking pictures with onlookers and children randomly flinging themselves at him, then he waves goodbye to you as you depart. Then he makes a surprise appearance about 8 minutes later along the route. This time, however, his beard had grown like Rip-Van-Winkle-big, and he had donned a cowboy hat, which inspired my whip-smart 5 year old to question how Santa got there so fast, and what’s the deal with his snow-white and bushy beard as opposed to the train depot Santa’s considerably tamer and darker beard. A quick game of “Look, a coyote!” (followed by never finding the alleged coyote) later, and all was good.
Here’s Train Depot Santa, who looks nothing like the Santa from 8 minutes down the track. Come armed with a cover story and/or a distraction.
  • But there are legit wildlife sightings — you just have to look carefully. And I would recommend sitting on the far side of the train for better views. While we were on the side of the train closer to the restrooms, I do think the people on the other side had a slightly better view of expansive canyons and gorgeous mountainsides. There was a group of wild horses on a grassy knoll during our trip, but my 5-year-old never really saw them. Though she pretended to see them like a champ.
She’s not even looking the right direction.
  • You won’t be bored. The ride includes sing-a-long carols (they even take requests, though Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer will always be on the playlist because they hand out foam noses that stick remarkably better on fully formed adult noses than tiny kid button noses). Once you hit the half-way point, the conductor does a wonderful reading of the 1823 classic “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” They also pass out postcards and candy-cane pens, allowing riders to write their list and drop it in the mailbox at the end of the journey.
The things we do for our kids…
  • Save time for some shopping: Virginia City tends to close up relatively early, so if you take a 2 p.m. train, plan to get the shopping done before your trip. We were there on arguably the busiest Saturday of the year (Small Business Saturday, after all), yet most shops were closing up at 4, which only gave us about 30 minutes after the ride and the pictures and the walking.
I personally think “Things & Things & Things” is the best store name ever.

All in all, it was a magical trip full of Christmas spirit, singing, sipping, Santa(s) and so much sugar.

Train Depot Santa really was the best Santa.
Train Depot Santa really was the best Santa.

About Mikalee Byerman

Mikalee Byerman
Voted "Best Creative Writer" in 2018 by readers of the Reno News & Review, Mikalee Byerman will henceforth be talking about this distinction ad nauseam because it's the first and only popularity contest this former buck-toothed nerd has ever won in her life. She is a humor essayist whose highly controversial blog, Me 2.0, has been featured on the Huffington Post and TIME Magazine's websites. Her writing also has appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Southwest Spirit Magazine and Alaska Airlines Magazine. Her debut book — 100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die — was published last year by Reedy Press. During the day, she is VP of Strategy for the Estipona Group. Oh, and her name rhymes with "prickly fireman," though FYI, she's neither prickly nor a fireman.

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