When you hear the word – railway – what do you think?
Are songs from The Polar Express brought to mind?
Or images of John Henry?
This holiday season we traveled to the Grand Canyon via the railway, staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and on the Southern Rim. It may be one of the oldest forms of travel of the world, but it is very much a lively experience!
As a family, most of our travel is by car. It is cheaper. And while it takes more time to get there, it can be less stressful, especially at the holidays. Riding the railway gave us all a chance to relax and unwind together. Per the tickets fineprint, they cannot guarantee that parties sit together but thankfully the four of us were able to sit together.
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel
The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel resides in Williams, Arizona. This hotel abuts to the train depot that the Grand Canyon Railway departs from and returns to. The town of Williams itself was the last town to be bypassed by the highway when it replaced Route 66, and the hotel is easy to find. Inside, the large fireplace and welcoming lobby will warm you up out of the cold!
The lobby is the hub of the hotel and to the right and left there are wings of rooms on two floors. A heated pool and exercise room is in the first floor wing to the right.
Fred Harvey Restaurant
After experiencing the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we have tried our best to pursue sustainable and economical food wherever we travel. The Fred Harvey Restaurant, the dining hall at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, has a 3-Star Green Restaurant Certification for sustainable dining. The dinner and breakfast buffet were included with our package. It provided varied foods allowing for different meals each visit and appealed to both adults and children.
The restaurant is next to the depot, a short walk from the hotel rooms. A variety of food was on offer for breakfast and dinner allowing for different meals each time we visited. It is busy but it clear that the staff are prepared and food is quickly restocked and tables cleared.
The Grand Canyon Railway
Packing tip: In the fine print, it states one standard bag and one carry on item is allowed per person with a maximum no more than 40 pounds per person. They give one tag per person for checked bag luggage. But if you are bringing littles, do not worry too much about only one carry on – if you have a purse and a diaper bag, it will be allowed on.
There are different car levels, and package levels. We went with the coach class. If you are looking for an adult only experience, the Luxury Dome and Luxury Parlor Class are available and include bar service with snacks. There is a snack car if you are looking for snacks, but we brought snacks along so we could enjoy the entertainment and hear the history of the Railway and the Canyon.
Musical entertainment for the ride to and from the Grand Canyon was in keeping with the heyday of the rail with cowboy songs with guitar, harmonica and an accordion! Ask Red to play a little harmonica music, you will not regret it!
On the train ride on the way back to Williams, some “bandits” will board the train! If you arrange it, you can have them “rob” you. There are no loud noises but if you have a child that scares easily, I suggest you sit with them or have them sit in your lap.
Grand Canyon Lodging
The Maswik Lodge is one of several hotels within the Grand Canyon itself. The rustic nature of the lodge fits in with the surroundings. There is a main lodge where check-in, a pizza pub, cafeteria and store are located. The cafeteria is set up like a cafe at college with multiple food stations – a grill, homestyle food, sandwich bar, as well as to-go salads and drinks.
If you are looking for luxurious setting right on the South Rim – check out the Bright Angel Lodge cabins or El Tovar Hotel. While we didn’t stay there, we did walk through the hotel lobby at El Tovar (which was dressed to the nines for the holidays) and ate at the Bright Angel Lodge. The location on the rim allows for views of the Canyon from your window or the deck at El Tovar.
Sticking to the Budget
Fully recognizing that we would be traveling to the Canyon where there would be hotel stores and cafeterias, we packed food to bring with us. Snacks and items that did not need to be refrigerated while we were traveling. In addition, there is a General Store at the Grand Canyon. This is a huge grocery store in addition to a place to find souvenirs for a good price. There is a dorm-size fridge/freezer in the rooms at Maswik so we were able to get juice, salad, fruit, cheese and bread at decent prices for lunch and dinner without having to go to the cafeteria. There are buses, and convenient bus stops outside Maswik and just across from The General Store allowing for ease to get to and from.
What’s the cost?
We did a package for 4 nights, 5 days – two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, AZ and two nights at the Maswik Lodge at the South Rim at the Grand Canyon with a bus tour at the South Rim and included rail travel up and back. The overall cost for meals, 4 nights stay, railway travel up and back to the Grand Canyon and a bus tour of the South Rim for 4 was less than $2000. It isn’t a cheap trip, but when you consider travel at the holidays it is definitely in line with what families spend to travel to see family. Exploring a National Treasure, and spending time together as a family are rare and remarkable, and worth the investment.
Discounts for Armed Forces and First Responders
Looking at the discount section of the Grand Canyon Railway website show that using the code “STRONG” when checking out will give 15% off trips for Armed Forces and First Responders. This was not on the website when we booked our trip in February of 2019. Year round there are discounts for AAA and AARP members (with black out dates like the holidays). As with most travel packages, there are black out dates and they are not listed online, but the staff at the customer service line (1.800.843.8724) are kind and helpful and would probably share what those dates are.
Blue Star Parks
Check out the app Blue Star Parks. It is a fun way to complete badges as a family and explore National Parks in your local area. Above is a screenshot from our app. The girls enjoy asking to see what we can do at each park and explore the map.
Spending time together in a place of beauty and awe was worth the trip. Bonus that there is limited wi-fi so we were literally disconnected from the world and connecting with each other. Maybe the Grand Canyon is a drive for you, or just not in the budget but I fully encourage you to schedule time together with whoever your family is – it is worth the investment.