The Polar Express in Williams, Arizona
This is the best 3 hour road trip I have taken, especially at Christmas time, from Las Vegas to Williams, Arizona to ride on the Polar Express. I have to admit, I had not yet read the book or seen the movie prior to bundling up my kids and piling everyone in the car. On the way there, I caught up by watching the movie on DVD. Although it was nice to know the story behind the attraction, I was just excited to take my family on a Christmas-y adventure, where it actually snowed.
The road trip is also worth mentioning, especially if you are coming by ways of highway US-93, which will lead you straight through the Hoover Dam. If you have never been to the dam, driving across it is quite majestic. It is just enormous, for lack of better words, which makes it breathtaking and hard to believe that American’s built it over 70 years ago without any of the modern construction technology we have to day. You may also catch a glimpse of the Hoover Dam Skywalk that is suspended 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.
Moving through the dam area, will lead you eventaually onto Route 66, which drives you into Williams, Arizona. My kids loved it because they thought they were literally walking through Radiator Springs from the Disney Cars movie. It did seem a little like that with the road side diners, comfort food cafes and gift shops full of tchotchkes we felt we just had to have. The few streets that make up the town are lined with old fashioned light poles wrapped in tinsel and completed with wreaths. It’s a very sweet, friendly town. We have two favorite spots when we go- Crusiers Cafe 66 and Pine Country Restaurant.
Cruisers Cafe 66 offers a family friendly menu and atmosphere. If your kids are into the Disney Cars movie as much as mine are, then they will love this place. Burgers and Bar-B-Que, and is pretty decent for both food selection and price. For adults, there is a full service bar and always some kind of sports on the TV. Crusiers Cafe 66 can accomodate large parties, just call ahead before you get there so they know how many to expect.
Pine Country Restaurant is a great breakfast spot, but we go there for the pie. That’s right, the biggest pies you’ve ever seen, home-made in the kitchen. Pop in after dining at Cruisers 66, grab a pie and bring it back to your hotel room for a late night dessert with the family. Or just head over after you get back from your trip to the North Pole.
The Polar Express Train Ride happens on the Grand Canyon Railway. The historic trains are available to ride throughout the year, but starting in November, it becomes a magical journey to the North Pole. Hop on the train, sing Christmas carols, drink hot cocoa, and listen to the story of The Polar Express. There is a fun surprise for the kids, and they are given a little bell to remind them of the Christmas spirit. If you are looking for a Holiday moment you will cherish forever, The Polar Express Train at the Grand Canyon Railway has done an excellent job to help create those memories. We have done it twice now, and both times it was a spectacular, not to miss event for my family. Though I found the train ride just long enough to keep my kids engaged, I have heard others say they needed to bring things to entertain their kids. You know your kids best. The train ride is about 30 minutes each way- to and from the North Pole- if you don’t think the story, singing, hot choc, cookies and Santa will be enough, then you might want to bring their favorite toy or book. I have to tell you, eventhough the destination is the train ride, the road trip and stay in Williams, Arizona really lends to entire experience.
- As soon as you can, book your trip on The Polar Express. It’s a very popular holiday destination in the West, and certain dates and times tend to sell out sooner.
- Yes! Wear your jammies! Even the adults. Each year we bought matching, or at least similar. The more Christmas-y the better!
- If you have really little ones, try to book the earlier of two trains that leave the station. Don’t be fooled by it being located in Arizona- it gets very cold, can be windy or possibly snowing while you are there.
- Speaking of, be sure to bring proper outdoor gear, as you will have to walk a bit to the train, wait at the station, and also ride in a train with no heat. It’s actually not that cold inside the train, but you never know, especially with the little ones.
- Plan your time accordingly so there is time to walk around the Williams Depot and visit Santa. Some of our best Christmas cards have come from the Williams Depot waiting to get on the train. They take beautiful photos of the kids, or your whole family, with Santa.
Where to Stay:
- The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a AAA Three Diamond property, and offers packages for those who want to purchase room, lodge and tickets. They are also now offering a package which includes an extended stay and visit to the Grand Canyon at Maswik Lodge. The nice thing about staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is the proximity to the Williams Depot where you will board The Polar Express. Especially if it is snowing or bad weather, there is little fuss in getting in and out of the hotel and over to the train.
- Being in a small town off Route 66 also means plenty of locally owned and chain motels like the Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, Rodeway Inn, and The Lodge on Route 66. Many of them offer complimentary continental breakfasts and coffee, and for a one-night stay, why not? Adds some color to your roadtrip!
If time permits in your travel plans, consider taking a slight detour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Again, if you have never seen the Grand Canyon, do not miss this opportunity. You will stand there in awe of the greatness that it is. A little down the road is the historic El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905. A gorgeous, European-style hunting lodge made from Oregon pine logs and native stones. There is an open space where the kids can have a walk-about and run off an extra energy before the car trip home. The hotel itself sits right on the edge of the canyon, and the views are breathtaking. There is also a perfectly situated outdoor lounge to relax and enjoy the moment.
Enjoy your trip!