My kids have never visited Santa at the mall.

My kids have never visited Santa at the mall. We prefer to connect with the jolly old elf when he's doing something a bit more interesting than sitting in a chair. When we heard that St. Nick takes time from his busy schedule to take a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, the whole family was on board - or, should I say, "all aboard." We piled in the minivan and headed toward the train depot in Nelsonville - a drive that's much quicker and easier thanks to the Route 33 Bypass that opened several years ago. When we arrived at the station, the boys were awed by the big diesel engine sitting on the track. They also were curious to check out the coaches, which date from the 1920s and 1930s. The traveling cars were decked out in lights and greenery and had a festive feel. The boys excitedly boarded the train and each chose a window seat. They sang along to the Christmas carols that were playing on the sound system. When the train got moving, they initially had fun looking out the windows at the houses and businesses that we were rolling past. As the two-hour train ride wore on, they got a little restless and I wished I had brought crayons or other car-type activities to occupy them. We also could have used more snacks. The volunteer-run railway company allows families to bring food onto the vintage coaches. The highlight of the ride was, of course, Santa. He visits each car and spends ample time visiting with each child. He eagerly poses for photos and doesn't flinch at crying babies or timid toddlers. After the kids chat with Santa, his elf gives them a candy cane - so be sure and pack a few wet wipes to clean up after that treat. Don't be surprised if Santa asks for a little something in return. He usually asks kids and grown-ups to join him in an impromptu sing-a-long. His song of choice? "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," of course!