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Embark on a Magical Journey at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and Polar Express Experience 2023

Explore the Town of Williams

All aboard, travelers and dreamers! Today, I invite you to join me on a magical journey that combines the charm of yesteryear with the awe of natural wonders. I’m talking about the enchanting experience of staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and boarding the Grand Canyon Railway for an unforgettable train ride to the Grand Canyon, including the whimsical Polar Express adventure that is sure to make the kids squeal with joy.

The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel: A Gateway to Adventure

Our journey begins at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, located in the quaint town of Williams, Arizona off I-40. Downtown Williams lies on historic Route 66 and the town celebrates this theme throughout the entire city. The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, isn’t just a place to stay; it’s a portal to the past. The hotel captures the essence of the historic railroad era, offering comfortable accommodations, exceptional service, and an atmosphere brimming with old-world charm.

Tribute to Route 66
As of November 2023, gas in Williams was 3.45 per gallon compared to California’s average price of 5.95!!

Bring Your Pets!

The hotel also has a kennel on-premise as well as a large RV park. The kennel is climate controlled with AC in the hot summers and heater during the cold fall and winter nights. The only downside is that the dogs are kept in their own isolated kennels and are not allowed to play with each other and co-mingle during play time. Each pet will get 2 walks in the morning and evening. If you’re staying at the hotel, it’s a quick 5 min walk to visit your fur-baby!

Jax and Chase at the Grand Canyon Railway dog kennel
Rest assured these guys and their friends were well taken care of even behind bars

All Aboard the Grand Canyon Railway

From the hotel, we step into a world of adventure aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. This historic train, which has been taking passengers to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon since 1901, offers a 60+ mile journey through time. As the train chugs along, you’ll be treated to stunning landscapes, from pine forests to desert vistas, leading up to the breathtaking majesty of the Grand Canyon itself.

A Spectacular Train Ride to the Grand Canyon

The train ride to the Grand Canyon is an experience in itself. With various classes of service, you can choose how you want to travel. Whether it’s the luxury of the parlor car or the vintage charm of the coach class, each option offers unique views and comforts. Note that you must be 16 years or older to ride in first class. Unfortunately for us we had to had tickets for first but said in coach. First class has a second deck viewing bubble that you can look through with 360 degree views. Along the way, enjoy live entertainment, and fascinating history lessons by the PSA.

The Great Train Robbery

One of the major highlights of the trip was the entertainment provided abroad the train. Our PSA, Dennis gave us a wonderful history lesson up and down the tracks. From the speedy antelopes that can run a sustained 70 mph to the grazing cattle jokes. Best part of all was the train robbery! Bandits on horseback rode alongside the train, causing the train to come to a sudden stop. They boarded the train, ransacking all carriages for loose change, scaring off children and cracking jokes with the adults along the way.


Arriving at the Grand Canyon

After about 90 mins, you’ll arrive at the historic Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Here are some fun facts about the Grand Canyon:

  1. Formation and Geology: The Grand Canyon is a result of millions of years of geological activity and erosion by the Colorado River and its tributaries. This erosion has exposed about two billion years of Earth’s geological history in the canyon walls.
  2. Size and Scale: The Grand Canyon is immense, stretching about 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and over a mile (6,093 feet or 1,857 meters) deep. This makes it one of the most significant natural landmarks in the United States.
  3. Human History: Evidence suggests that people have been living in and around the Grand Canyon for at least 10,000 years. The canyon is home to several Native American tribes, including the Hualapai, Havasupai, Navajo, and Hopi, each with its own rich history and connection to the land.
  4. Ecological Diversity: Despite its arid environment, the Grand Canyon supports a variety of ecosystems and is home to over 1,500 plant, 355 bird, 89 mammalian, 47 reptile, 9 amphibian, and 17 fish species.
  5. Recognition and Protection: The Grand Canyon was designated a national monument in 1908 and a national park in 1919. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its exceptional natural and cultural values.
  6. Visitor Experience: The Grand Canyon welcomes approximately six million visitors each year. The South Rim is the most accessible and popular section, open all year round, while the North Rim is less crowded but is closed during the winter due to heavy snowfall.
  7. Hiking and Exploration: The park offers numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to strenuous multi-day hikes. The Bright Angel and North Kaibab trails are among the most popular for descending into the canyon.
  8. The Skywalk: The Grand Canyon Skywalk, located at Eagle Point on the West Rim, is a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon rim, offering a unique view 4,000 feet above the riverbed.
  9. Colorado River Rafting: The Colorado River offers world-class whitewater rafting experiences, ranging from short day trips to multi-week excursions, providing a different perspective of the canyon’s grandeur.
  10. Sunrise and Sunset Views: The Grand Canyon is renowned for its breathtaking sunrise and sunset views, with Mather Point on the South Rim being one of the most popular spots for these spectacular natural displays.

Bright Angel Trail to the Bottom

If you have the entire day available you might want to try the Bright Angel Trail which takes you down the canyon and back up culminating in total elevation gain of nearly 4500 ft over 15.3 miles! We did a short portion of the trail with the kids. Even then, the steep grades were challenging and I would not recommend taking smaller children. If you do chose to go pack lots of water and hiking poles are always great when trekking up and downhill.

The Polar Express Train Ride: A Festive Dream Come True

Starting in November, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express, a magical train ride inspired by the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. This heartwarming experience is perfect for families, whisking passengers away on a festive journey to the “North Pole.” Clad in your coziest pajamas, enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, and joyful caroling, as the story of the Polar Express comes to life before your eyes.

The Enchantment of the Polar Express

The Polar Express ride is a truly enchanting experience, especially for the little ones. The excitement in their eyes as they meet Santa Claus and receive a special gift – a bell from Santa’s sleigh – is priceless. It’s a journey wrapped in the warmth of holiday spirit, making it an annual tradition for many families. It was especially heart-warming to see the parents joining in on the magic of Christmas and making these special memories with their children.

The Chefs Bring all the Entertainment

While you make your way to the “North Pole”, there’s non-stop entertainment along the way. We had Chef Cherry and she was hilarious and kept us laughing and singing all the way there and back. There was never a dull moment.

Dining at the Grand Canyon Railway Fred Harvey Restaurant

We dined at the famous Fred Harvey restaurant located on the grounds of the Grand Canyon Railway hotel on Thanksgiving Day. They expected to only serve 200 people from previous year’s attendance records but they had 1000 people show up for their Thanksgiving buffet dinner. The food was mediocre, they had turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings you would expect out for Thanksgiving along with prime rib roast but it was actually tri-tip by the time we got served. There’s a fresh pasta station and the chef was charming. Dessert was probably the highlight of the night with pumpkin pie, assortment of cheesecakes, carrot cake, and apple blossom to choose from.

Conclusion: Staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and Riding the Rails

Staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and taking the train ride to the Grand Canyon, including the Polar Express adventure, is more than just a trip. It’s a journey that weaves together the comfort of modern accommodations, the thrill of historic travel, and the magic of a holiday dream. Whether you’re looking for an adventurous exploration of one of the world’s natural wonders or a whimsical escape into the spirit of the holidays, this experience is sure to leave you, your family and even your pets with memories that last a lifetime. There’s a short window when our kids still believe in the magic of Christmas but with memories like this it will surely ingrain the spirit in them forever!

If you plain on staying in the area for an extended period of time check out my article on Page, Arizona.

I hope you enjoyed this journey to the North Pole with us, please be sure to leave some questions and comments below. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates on new journeys.

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