Sugar Cane Train is back with Holiday Express rides
KAANAPALI – “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? On the beach, sand is glistening. A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, ridin’ on the Sugar Cane Train!” – “Winter Wonderland” lyrics as customized for the Holiday Express
Picture this: the once-familiar sounds of the Sugar Cane Train chugging along the tracks, but as it comes into view, you’re dazzled by a vast array of Christmas lights. The red locomotive is fitted out as a “train deer” with a big nose, followed by a giant green sleigh and the passenger cars dressed in bright colors inside and out.
All are welcome aboard the Holiday Express! Lahaina’s Sugar Cane Train has been revived for this year’s holiday season.
What started as a weekend offering has been extended due to popular demand. Now through Dec. 25, you can ride the Holiday Express train on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rides are available at 6:30 and again at 8 p.m. and last for about one hour.
Craig Hill, co-owner of the Sugar Cane Train, remarked, “The positive response has been overwhelming. Parents are telling us that they rode the train as kids and are now bringing their kids. Based on strong sales over the past two weeks, we realized the train can be successful again.”
Hill and his partner, Todd Domeck, bought the train in 2014 to save it for the community. The previous owner was a Mainland corporation that finally closed the train attraction and started to break it down.
When Hill and Domeck heard the company had hired people to remove the tracks, they knew they had to act quickly. They felt it was important to save the train since many of West Maui’s scenic icons were gone, such as sugar, pineapple and the Brig Carthaginian.
“We knew it was going to need a lot of TLC. We had to completely restore the passenger cars and engines,” said Hill. “A month ago, we sat down and decided we could do it. So we’ve been working 24/7 to get it back into shape. We wanted to make it about as ‘Christmassy’ as can be.”
The new version of the Sugar Cane Train exudes the holiday spirit. The nostalgic journey begins at the Pu’ukoli’i Station north of Kaanapali Resort. Elves from Santa’s workshop greet passengers and help them board the train. Family groups can have the seatbacks changed so they’re facing each other to watch the smiles of delight on their children’s faces.
Grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and groups of friends have all been enjoying the experience.
As the train rolls south along the tracks, Christmas songs play from a newly installed, state-of-the-art sound system and colorful lights reflect from the darkness. When the train pulls into Kaanapali Station, you realize you’re entering a virtual winter wonderland replete with snowmen, dripping icicles and snowflakes. Santa makes a special appearance to join the ride, and a wild cheer rises from the crowd. (Shhh, don’t let on, but Santa is heartily portrayed by Maui stage actor Bill Hensley.)
Once the train is moving again, each child gets an opportunity to sit with Santa and tell him what’s on the wish list for this year. Parents are encouraged to take photos, and kids walk away with a souvenir toy.
On the return trip, Santa leads Christmas carols with new lyrics that fit the island vibe. His helpers pass out large, freshly baked cookies to the guests along with cartons of organic milk and bottled water. There’s a surprise on the way back to round out the holiday atmosphere.
It took hundreds of hours and hands to revitalize the train attraction. Employees and volunteers rebuilt engines, cleared and repaired tracks, and hung lights and decorations. The Sugar Cane Train owners are grateful to their engineer, Iolani Kaniho, and staff: Katie Zablan, Mariah Rozell, Mary Britton, Stan Sosna, Bill Hensley, Sione Taufa, Charlie Kahunanul Jr., Ruben Carranza, Jesus Miranda, Justin Wood, Shanon Peters, Alexandria Johnson, Liana Pagan and Abby Clarke.
Tickets for the Holiday Express are available online at SugarCaneTrain.com or by calling the office at (808) 667-6851.
Reminiscing the Sugar Cane Train
LAHAINA – The late A.W. “Mac” McKelvey conceived the idea of the Sugar Cane Train in 1968 and got together with the Makai Corporation on Oahu to create the Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad attraction.
Lahaina matriarch Joan McKelvey shared her memories of the opening of the Sugar Cane Train in May 1970: “The ceremony for the Golden Spike was a super day. The audience was on a platform below the trestle, which looked down into the golf course. We could hear Anaka (the first locomotive, named after Joan and Mac’s eldest son, Angus) puffing in the distance. I swear Anaka danced over that trestle – toot, toot – and came down in all its glory draped in maile. It was a sight to behold.”
Joan also recalled an amusing story from that time: When the railroad was being built and tracks needed to be laid, Mac hired 25 independent guys as gandy dancers. Mac realized that he had every nationality on the planet working on them. The comment came out in the Sunday paper. Then on Monday morning when Mac went into work, there were only five gandy dancers – the rest had flown the coop!