My son absolutely loves trains, but he wasn’t that familiar with the story behind the trip. It was never a story that really connected with our family, but trains was a whole other matter! We decided to stay overnight on Saturday so we could experience the night time ride and see the lights. We were a little concerned that there might be snow, but thankfully for us there wasn’t. I know my son wanted snow, but my husband and I have never driven in it, so that was a major concern for us.
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a charming hotel that is not so impressive on the outside, but once you step through the doors you feel like you are being transported back to the early 1900s. It was cozy with the fireplace and Christmas tree in the lobby. Although the lobby was crowded at check in time, I was very impressed with how efficient and pleasant the check in process actually was for us. Our past experiences with some hotels had left a bad taste in our mouth for check in times, but we were pleasantly surprised! Our son fell in love with the room. Maybe because he’s 5 years old, but it was kind of like a fairytale for him. It’s a basic, but clean room and was sufficient for one night. Be prepared to bring winter clothing and bundle up! It is worth it to stay the night since the train is across the parking lot, you can often see the train from your room, and you won’t have to drive back the same day so your drive is spread out.
If you decide to do the Polar Express, come a little early to walk through the shops, visit with Mrs. Claus and an elf, write a letter to Santa, or get your picture taken with Santa. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for the picture with Santa. We opted to only do the free picture with Mrs. Claus and the elf only because we knew we could get cheaper or free pictures with Santa later in the season. The night train is perfect so that you can do all of that before your last train of the day. That way, you can take your little ones right to bed after the ride. We walked around the property and looked at all of the light displays. It wasn’t too cold and there wasn’t any snow, but we still enjoyed it.
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There were a lot of people from out of state doing the Polar Express. I think I saw mostly California cars, but there were quite a few cars from across the US and Canada. Be prepared for the train to be full. They tend to sell out fast, so book your reservations as soon as possible. If you can’t drive in snow, try to go early in the season to avoid the snow. We went on the second weekend and this year there wasn’t any snow. But we heard several people comment that last year there was quite a lot around the same time.
If you do the package like we did, be prepared for long lines for dinner and breakfast. They are able to accommodate food allergies quite wonderfully. Everything is pretty much labeled and you can have the chef walk you through the food lines to point out appropriate foods for your allergies. It’s rare to see a buffet be able to do that so well. They rival Disney in their preparation methods and placement. I am gluten free and it was wonderful to be able to have cheesecake and spaghetti with chicken and alfredo sauce. Dessert was a major plus for me! My son’s favorite part was being able to eat dinner and breakfast while watching the trains load passengers and leave. At mealtime, you can see all of the kids poking their heads over the booths to watch the trains.
The train experience was a little hectic at times because they had only so much time to give people the cookies, hot chocolate or water, sing, do the book, and have Santa visit before returning to the station. There isn’t a lot to look at out the windows until you reach the North Pole and even then it isn’t as much as we had hoped. But the kids love seeing Santa and love the fact that he gets on the train to speak to each one of them. Be prepared for the kids to lose the bells right away. My son dropped his and then it rolled down to the other end of the train car. However, he loved the whole experience and didn’t want to leave the next day.
It is a little pricey for the overnight package, but if you can swing it as a one time treat it is definitely worth it! I recommend staying around to visit some of the other sites before heading back to the valley. Bearizona is nearby and it’s a drive through bear park where you can experience the bears from your own vehicle. The Grand Canyon Deer Farm is unique and was there when I was a child, but young children might be frightened by how aggressive the deer are when there is food present. They have other animals there like camels, llamas, reindeer, and more. If you have more time than a weekend, then of course you must visit the Grand Canyon!