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Gary Guttebo hangs off the holiday train before departing the Boardwalk Saturdeay evening.

SANTA CRUZ -- Ho, ho ho -- holiday light train tickets are selling like hot cakes, operators said Saturday, as they ushered visitors into seven brightly decorated train cars lined up beside the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Saturday was the first trip of the holiday season for the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train and Santa's Kingdom, a train ride and arcade partnership between Felton-based Roaring Camp Railroad's Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway Co. and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Holiday operation include the second year of a holiday season train ride in Felton featuring decorated trees and hot cider.

The diesel-electric train does a loop from the Main Beach amusement park to Pogonip and back, rumbling along at about five mph and spanning a little more than an hour, said John Bush, manager of the Roaring Camp trains operations. The ride comes with Christmas carols, cider and lots of scenery and cheer.

"The train is absolutely beautiful," said Lyn Henry of Capitola, who was picking up tickets inside the park's Neptune's Kingdom, which has been transformed into "Santa's Kingdom" for a few weeks.

"I wanted to try this because I want to sing Christmas carols," she added, smiling.

Henry was with her good friend John Wendt and his son, Nicholas, age 6, who was wide-eyed with excitement, though maybe a tad more keen for a game of laser tag that came along with the train tickets.


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Business is so good that it is the first year in the train ride's 10-year history that they have offered three trips on the first evening, Business Development Director Paul Nakamoto said. Groups from as far away as Taiwan have bought tickets this year, he said.

Ticket sales are up 40 percent over last year and they needed to add an extra train this year in Felton, for the second year of the Holiday Tree Walk which takes visitors through decorated trees surrounding Roaring Camp.

But it was the Holiday Lights Train which drew Kelly Austin of Aptos and her 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and her friend, 10-year-old Matthew Koda of La Selva Beach.

"I'm a local and I've never been on it so it's very exciting," Austin said. "It's a Santa Cruz tradition and we're finally doing it."

Several people came up as the train was getting ready to roll, and were told, sorry, the 350 seats were sold out.

The early-evening rides sell out first, operators said, and it was nice Saturday, with the lights set against the glow of the sunset and the Boardwalk rides.

Bush, the train manager, said the first day is always a scramble, but that he hopes that their need to add an extra train for the Christmas walk "bodes well for everyone."

Tickets cost $22 for adults and $17 for children ages 3 to 12, and include a round of miniature golf and arcade tokens or laser tag. Trains will run at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Dec. 5 to 6, Dec. 11 to 13 and Dec. 18 to 21.

For information, call 335-4484 or visit www.roaringcamp.com.