When the Schneeweis family moved from Bartlett to Geneva, they traded an early December "Polar Express" event on a train for the Geneva Park District's Polar Express event at Peck Farm Park.
Although they rode a bus instead of a train to their destination, they still found Santa and Mrs. Claus, got a chance to make a toy and even saw live reindeer.
Agnes Schneeweis' 6-year-old daughter, Jessica, wasn't convinced about the reindeer.
"She seems to think it's a fake reindeer dressed up," Schneeweis said.
But the three reindeer wearing bells and plaid cloths really were real. And when they're not at the North Pole, they live at Summerfield Zoo in Belvidere, zoo employee Rick Anderson said.
Jessica's skeptical reaction to Santa's favorite animal wasn't typical.
"Kids are pretty enthralled by them," Anderson said. "They think (reindeer are) only in Santa's story book. So when they see them in real life, they're thrilled."
Some shy children even have more fun petting reindeer and posing for pictures with the animals than they do sitting on Santa's lap, Anderson said.
But Ella and Molly Howard of Geneva are not the shy type who fear old St. Nick. Ella, 3, said she asked Santa for "a lot of stuff," including a yo-yo and a new type of doll that comes with toy horses. Molly, 7, said she asked for another American Girl doll as a pal for her first doll, also named Molly.
After seeing Santa, the Howard girls and their parents, Kim and Josh, stopped inside a small barn decorated as "Santa's Workshop," where they got to personalize stuffed animals by dressing them in Santa suits and making a wish on a star to tuck inside their bellies. The Schneeweis family also visited the workshop area where Jessica and her siblings made stuffed animals and colored pictures.
The workshop and other Polar Express event attractions allowed families a spot to step inside from a rainy morning.
"It's too bad it's raining," Schneeweis said, "but it's cute."