For parents, Christmas is a crazy, hectic and an expensive time of year. For children, it is the season of excitement, cheer and magic. The best present I could receive as a mom is seeing the look of absolute joy on my sweet babies’ faces as they experience the wonder and whimsy of the happiest season of all. In my family Christmas is not just one day of opening a million presents, it is a month long celebration of getting together with family and partaking in seasonal festivities. Don’t get me wrong, presents are fun and my kids get their fair share of goodies thanks to grandparents and Santa, but it is not the main focus of the holiday. Toys, they will eventually lose interest in, but memorable experiences will give them stories they can share for a life time.
We wanted to give the kids an ultimate Christmas experience and decided to go big with the holiday magic by taking the kids on the real Polar Express experience in Williams, Arizona. For about a week before we had the movie on repeat to get the kids psyched for their impending Christmas adventure. Now, my husband was a bit of a Negative Nancy about this trip in the beginning. “I hope I don’t have to drive in the snow.” “An eight-hour road-trip with the kids doesn’t sound fun.” Blah. Blah. Blah. Thankfully, I am a professional memory-maker. We did it. We loved it. We’re doing it again!!
At a Glance...
Keep the cost in check
This activity is very popular and books up fast. In fact, my sister and I booked our package about six months prior to our trip. I recommend booking well in advance, not only to ensure your spot on this magical train, but who wants to spend that kind of money right before Christmas? Book early so the monetary burden isn’t so intense.
Don’t try to save money by trying to find cheaper accommodations. I recommend The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, because it not only enhances The Polar Express experience, it makes life a whole lot easier for families. Everything is easily accessible from the hotel, including dining, shops and railway. There is even an area to let the kids play in the snow. They offer a package deal that includes a night stay at the resort, dinner voucher and tickets aboard The Polar Express. Sometimes with bigger groups it is more cost effective to book the room and train separately, because the resort might upgrade the room to accommodate more people. When you factor convenience into the equation The Railway Hotel is the best value.
Drop your bags
Charming. Cozy. Convenient. Festive. Lovely. Yep, that pretty much sums up The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Like I said before, this is an extremely popular activity, but don’t let the mile long registration line scare you. The resort is very efficient and the line moves rather quickly. I hadn’t seen a lobby that bustling since my visit to Las Vegas. I’m all about the experience so staying at The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is a major part of The Polar Express adventure. The resort is a quaint two-story hotel with a welcoming homey atmosphere, bursting with holiday décor. Families pose in their Christmas jammies for photo opportunities in front of the towering Christmas tree and grand fire place. Hello Christmas card!
Perks of Grand Canyon Railway Hotel
It may have been a journey to get here, but once you arrive it is time to relax and have some fun. Everything you need is at your fingertips. We didn’t need our car for our entire stay, because everything we wanted to do was on the premises. Not having to load and unload my kids into car seats was a nice change of pace.
Parents can take time to enjoy a refreshing libation at the pub or have fun shopping for mementos at the gift shop. I’m writing this blog as I sip hot coffee from my souvenir Polar Express hot coco mug which is fashioned after the mugs the children are served in movie. Hot-Hot-Hot. I got it!
The kids can run and play in the snow or unwind by a Christmas tree to watch The Polar Express movie in the television room.
Get your Grub On and Chug-A-Lug
The onsite pub, Spenser’s, is intimate, warm and perfect for grabbing a refreshing beer or two or three. After checking into our rooms we definitely needed to decompress from the long drive so naturally Spenser’s was the scene of choice. Sipping on nice nutty brown ale and munching on blue cheese chips, while surround by gorgeous Christmas décor, dark woods and cozy lighting. Yes, I think we will make ourselves comfortable. How about another round?
As much as we adults would have loved to hang out at the pub all day, it was time to let the children burn off some energy before dinner. The snow yard was just outside the doors of the resort, which was great. The kids could play safely, throw snowballs and make snow angels and grandma could observe everything from the comfort of Spenser’s. A win-win for everyone.
Pre-Polar Express Fun
Before long it was time to change the kids into their Christmas jammies and head to The Grand Depot Café. Just a short walk across the yard a delicious buffet dinner awaits. You pay up front, including the meal, beverage and tip, leaving you free to leave in a hurry if you need to catch the train or if your child is having a meltdown. My son was in fact, having a meltdown and the only thing that could distract him was the little train that went around the entire café. Chuga. Chuga. Thank you!
Although Spenser’s offers quick and easy breakfast options in the mornings, the entertainment factor such as the moving train set, the fireplace framed by presents and jumbo stockings and even the little wooden train crayon holders on the tables made The Grand Depot Café or pick for breakfast in the morning.
After the kids were satisfied and their tummies full it was time to get on The Polar Express, a vintage 1923 locomotive that has been converted into a magical mode of transport to the North Pole. The depot is connected to the café, making this extremely convenient and stress free for families. Besides the cold night air, boarding is a breeze with everything being very organized and efficient.
Once comfortable in your seat and tickets are punched just like in the movie, the adventure begins as the chefs immediately hand out hot chocolate and sugar cookies. If you have seen the movie, you’ll know the song “Hot Chocolate” as the train car is filled with music. On the journey to the North Pole the narrative of The Polar Express is told as pictures from the book are displayed for the children to see.
When you reach the North Pole the kids leap to the window with excitement. The lights shine through the frosted windows as the Santa waves to them from his sleigh. Santa then comes aboard to greet each and every passenger and handing them their special Christmas bell.
On the expedition back to the depot the train is full of cheer!
Kids are encouraged to dance in the aisle with the chefs, sing Christmas carols and ring those little magic bells. It was my kids’ favorite part of the trip. My son never stopped dancing and my daughter sung every word to every song. The train is altogether an hour long. Families leave the train with a Christmas song book, souvenir Polar Express tickets and their beautiful Christmas bell. The true spirit of Christmas is seen, felt and experienced in such a unique and memorable way. My cheeks actually hurt from smiling so much.
Once the train is back at the depot the kids have an opportunity partake in more fun. Arts, crafts and various activities are available at the depot. In addition, there are meet-n-greets with favorite characters from the movie. Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves and even the ghost from the movie are all there for pictures opportunities.
It’s a Wrap!
We heard The Polar Express at the Grand Canyon Railway was amazing. Now we know it is amazing. What started as a single event might have turned into a Christmas family tradition. See you there next year!
If you are driving to Williams, Arizona be sure to leave a day early. Break up the trip with a fun pit-stop. The last thing we wanted to do was drive eight hours to then put the kids on a train for another hour. We made a big effort to give our kids a wonderful Christmas memory. We want them to be happy and enjoy the experience. No cranky babies! So, we broke our trip up with a night stay at the Aquarius in Laughlin. This left us refreshed for the next day’s adventure.
Have you ever been on a Polar Express experience?
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