The Grand Canyon Railway brings the sights of the Grand Canyon and the Old West in a fun and interactive way. Families can travel for the day or stay the night. There are historic depots, re-enactments, a play park, and fun activities for kids of all ages. The GCR also offers Polar Express events during the holiday season!
Polar Express during the holiday days.
This was by far the best way to travel to and form the canyon! Not only do you save the environment (and your sanity) by leaving your car behind, but you get to relax and enjoy your trip in style.
The railway offers 3 classes of service. We splurged for first class which gave us assigned individual seats (as opposed to open bench seating) as well as beverages & snacks both ways. This saved us on breakfast! There is another class above first which offers a dome glass ceiling & a champagne toast. We found that our car had ample views & the extra money didn't justify the champagne toast.
There is live entertainment on the train - cowboy singers - and a dedicated server per car. The employees were courteous & attentive. The seats were comfortable with ample leg room (a plus for my family of 6' members). On the return trip you look out the window to see some bandits ride along the train on horses, ultimately stopping & boarding the train to stage a holdup. Super cute & if you give the kiddos enough warning, not scary at all. The bandits are very good at what they do - keying off the kids' reactions & adjusting their at accordingly. They also happily pose for photos.
Your server will pass out maps & park guides, as well as answer any questions you might have about the park.
You can do the train as a standalone or as part of a vacation package with lodging. We did the package deal. We arrived in the lobby with our luggage in the morning. We put our "canyon suitcase" in the designated pile & stored the rest of our luggage in the car. Prior to boarding, we enjoyed a free wild west show on the hotel grounds. When we arrived at the park, our luggage was delivered directly to our hotel room. When we checked out, we simply left our luggage in our room & it was delivered back to our room in Williams, AZ. You cannot beat the convenience!
The depot is a few flights of steps down from the El Tovar Hotel. When you ascend the steps, your breath is literally taken away by the canyon view!
Overall, this is definitely the way to go when visiting the Grand Canyon. Leave the car behind, don't worry about finding parking in a crowded National Park, relax on your 2 hour ride & enjoy the scenery!
We took our kids to the Polar Express here last year. It was kind of cute, but I'm not sure it was worth the drive from Southern California. If you buy train tickets and a night in the hotel it includes dinner and breakfast the next morning. Buffet was good and was peanut safe(minus the desserts). Their chef was great in walking me through how food is handled, etc. The cookies on the train ride itself are NOT safe, but we were able to bring our own.
The hotel is clean and the trains are neat old passenger cars. The whole area around the train station is decorated for Christmas and the employees were all very nice.
The ride is cute enough, but it sort of felt like it started to drag, my 7 year old son was underwhelmed. My 3 year old toddler was also sort of antsy to get off the train. My 2 year old was mostly ambivilent. I'd pass on this experience and maybe find different way to experience Santa.
We went to an amazing place this past weekend…no, it wasn’t Disneyland…or Hawaii…we went to the North Pole! We just got back from a wonderful weekend in Flagstaff & Williams, Arizona! The main reason we took the trip was to ride on the Polar Express train, run by the Grand Canyon Railway. It was, in a word, ‘magical’! They’ve been running the Polar Express train here for the past ten years, and they have the experience down great!
The Railway began taking passengers to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1901, helping make the canyon the popular destination that it is today. The popularity of the train declined as automobiles became more popular, and the railway made its last run to the Grand Canyon in 1968. Fortunately it was revived in 1989, and now brings over 225,000 passengers to the Grand Canyon each year. In 2001 the railway began running the ‘Polar Express’ train to the “North Pole”, one of the first companies to provide the train experience based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allburg. The story is about a boy, doubtful of Santa’s existence, who boards a train with other children and is taken on an adventurous ride to the North Pole and back.
I was hesitant to book the train ride, mainly because the price was high for an hour-long experience. I wasn’t sure it was going to be worth it, and wasn’t super happy about having to pay full price for our 2-year-old. Adults were $30, and kids (age 2-10) were $20. They have a ‘matinee’ ride at 3:30 which is $5 cheaper, but it seemed like the ambiance wouldn’t be as realistic, since it wouldn’t be as dark by then. We opted for the 5:30 ride but there is also a 7:30 departure. This trip books up quick! We bought our tickets the first week of October, and dates were already starting to sell out. The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express train runs November 1st through January 31st (for the 2011-12 season).
Inside the depot the atmosphere could best be described as “excited chaos” as kids waited to talk to Mrs. Claus or take pictures with Santa. Others colored at big picnic tables or looked at the Christmas-themed model train. There was a large gift shop to check out before or after the trip, with mementos galore to buy as keepsakes. Be sure to bring your ID and pick up your tickets at least an hour before the train leaves. Waiting for the train was a bit magical…I felt like we were going to see Harry Potter sitting next to us on the way to Hogwarts! Kids of all ages were running around in their pajamas (parents, too), and lots of people had on Santa hats, or some other festive wear. It was neat to see so many people getting involved in the experience.
Everyone was assigned to a train car, and when it was announced that it was time to board, an attendant dressed as a ‘chef’ came down the stairs of each car to check everyone’s tickets. As we found our seats, a second chef came over and asked if we wanted our seats to face each other- since we had four people, and she was able to flip the direction of the front seat, so that we could all face each other! Pretty cool. There was also a luggage rack up above the seats, for coats and bags, but strollers had to be left at the depot or in your car.
We all boarded and took off right as the sun was setting. The chefs went over some things about the trip and the train, then started passing out HUGE cookies (snickerdoodles) and tasty, “hot, hot, hot chocolate”. And no, they did not do any flips or acrobatic maneuvers, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did! :) We went though a “magic tunnel” to make the trip to the North Pole in such a short time. The Polar Express book was read over the loudspeaker and some people had even brought their own books! For the rest of us, the chefs walked up & down the car with the book, to show the pictures as the story was read.
After about 40 minutes we reached the ‘North Pole’ and all the kids were glued to the windows to see what was going on. We saw Santa and an elf out the window and then an announcement came on that Santa had boarded the train! It was awesome to see how excited everyone was! Santa made his way through the car, not spending too much time with each kid, but enough to snap a quick picture. Each child was given a GIGANTIC bell as a keepsake.
When Santa left, the chefs led the car in singing some Christmas carols, out of the booklet of carols that we had received at the beginning of the ride. We went back through the magic tunnel and made our way back to the depot in Williams. We were back early enough to look at a few more light displays around the railway depot before heading back to our home near Phoenix. Note: the website stated that the train ride would be an hour, but it actually more like 80 minutes. Bonus!
I would highly recommend the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express train in Williams, AZ for anyone willing and able to spend the money. It was a great night, and hopefully one that will stick with the kids for a long, long time!
I was really impressed with the Grand Canyon Railway. The price tag is a bit hefty, so I was skeptical if it was worth what you had to pay; I definitely feel it was a valuable experience for my family that truly added much more to our day at the Grand Canyon than we could have had on our own.
I have three girls age 1-6 and was a bit afraid they might be (gasp) BORED on the trip which is 2 1/2 hours one way. We packed a bunch of activities for them to do (you can leave your belongings on the train & not lug them around the canyon), but they hardly cracked open our brought distractions. The staff kept them busy with walk-throughs from the conductor, a "town marshall", an acted out train robbery, entertainment there & back, coloring and activity books, lolipops and more. I was truly impressed by the amount of things they kept the kids busy with. Between that, the scenery, looking for wildlife and one trip to the snack car, the total 5 hour trip flew by without a hitch- even for the one year old!
There are many packages to choose from, and due to budget, we chose the least expensive.
The scenery is beautiful, and he kids and you will have toe-tapping fun!
The staff helped us plan our walking tour, find a good restaurant before, during and after our trip, answered one on one questions with the ENTIRE train, and gave us plenty of reading material to keep us busy as well.
It was an awesome trip and I recommend it for any family.
At first, I was not at all excited about riding a train to the Grand Canyon. The kids didn't seem to be too thrilled, either. But we decided to just go through with it and see how it went. As it turned out, the kids loved it! We road the train to and from the Grand Canyon and on the way back they had a set up train robbery with a guy riding a horse alongside the train. It was rather enjoyable for the kids and myself. They obviously found it more entertaining than I did, but overall, I would do it again.
Riding a train was not my first thought of how to get to the Grand Canyon, but after many days of persuading from family I caved in. It turned out it was quite the adventure. We began our journey with a wonderful buffet breakfast, which had top of the line everything. This is not your ordinary buffet and definitely worth the time and dollar. From there we headed to the station (right next door) and settled in for the train to arrive. Just as we were beginning to run out of things to look at in the station store, we were directed outside to a good old fashion western gun fight. Little did we know these "cowboys" would be part of the show all day long. Just as the show was finishing up the train arrived and we hopped on to a warm and comfy car.
We opted for the basic train car, however there are first class, viewing and adult only cars too, so take your pick for the ride up to the canyon. They offered entertainment, a refreshment car and a personal narrator for each car. When we reached the Grand Canyon we were allowed to leave our things on the train (we brought a pillow and blanket) where it was safe a secure for the day. Upon returning to the train, we got the same guide back to Williams, but the entertainment was a little different for the ride back. About 30 minutes from town, the train stopped and apparently we had a good old fashion train robbery - hence the cowboys were back. It was a great adventure for the entire family and well worth doing it again. Save your gas money, let your husband enjoy the view and take in all the great family time you will have on a great adventure to the Grand Canyon.
We rode the Grand Canyon Railway during their Polar Express event. It was wonderful and priceless. My little boys adored being able to ride on a train to the North Pole to see Santa. Everything from the hot cocoa to the live Santa was authentic to the story. The train ride was comfortable and roomy. The price was reasonable also. You do have to book many months in advance especially if you have a particular date in mind. We booked 9 months ahead of time. It is cold in the winter, so pack accordingly. It is definately a trip worth making!!
I have taken this trip with various grandchildren several times now, and keep going back. It is a wonderful way for children to experience a train ride in a time when many don't get the opportunity. Every employee was so courteous and helpful. Refreshments are included in the fare. The scenery is gorgeous and, of course, one ends up at the fabulous Grand Canyon. The time on the train is just right for younger children; but, very small ones can get scared when the "outlaws hold up" the passengers.