I don’t know who was more excited, me or my five-year-old daughter. We were off to the “North Pole” (a.k.a. Williams, Arizona) to ride The Grand Canyon Railway's Polar Express™ and see Santa Claus!  As someone who sincerely enjoys The Polar Express, the classic children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, along with the movie, I was thrilled that we had golden tickets to board the storybook train. Truth be told, I love the holidays and couldn’t wait to spend it in a destination dedicated to celebrating the season…and I wanted one of those silver bells Santa hands out. 

With daddy and grandparents in tow, my daughter and I led the crew up to Northern Arizona from Phoenix. After two and a half hours in the car, and surprisingly still in the holiday spirit, we pulled off for a quick bite to eat at Buster’s Restaurant and Bar in Flagstaff. Then it was back on the road for a short 40 minutes to the Historic Route 66 town of Williams.

Williams to the Canyon

Williams is often referred to as “The Gateway to the Grand Canyon” with daily train rides to the Grand Canyon National Park. During the holiday season, Williams dedicates a portion of the train’s schedule for Polar Express™ rides. 

Polar Express with frames.jpgOnce we settled into our rooms at the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel, we set off to board the train.  Soon after our tickets were punched, we began to move across the Northern Arizona countryside to see the “North Pole.” Along the way, Santa’s helpers led us in a reading of The Polar Express book. We also sang holiday carols, drank hot chocolate, sang more carols and ate cookies.

Excitement at Santa’s Village

Our first stop — Santa’s village. It was reported by his helpers that Santa had boarded the train and was making his way to visit all the families. Excitement filled the air with applause and cheers - mostly from kids, some from parents, a lot from me!

Santa made his way through the train being sure to meet each family along the way. He greeted my daughter, gave her a big hug and a silver bell. Then he saw me. And with a wink and a smile said: “I thought I spotted a believer,” as he placed a silver bell in my hand.

“Yes, I am!” I stated, proudly and a little misty-eyed.  The gigantic, bejeweled reindeer antler headband I was wearing might have given me away, but I like to think Santa saw something else in me worthy of receiving the coveted silver bell.

As Santa moved on to the other families, my daughter and I sat back, the only two in our family to receive the special gift, and rang the bells asking each other: “Do the bells ring for you?”

Holiday Spirit in Williams

We headed back into Williams where the town was adorned with Christmas lights, trees and decorations. We stopped for dinner at the Grand Canyon Depot, and enjoyed a buffet-style meal. We enjoyed a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown with Bubba and Raz (driver and horse) to see the holiday lights and get a brief history of Williams. Everywhere you looked you could see the town’s history and connection to Route 66, which adds to its charm. After the carriage ride, we headed back to the Depot to see Mrs. Claus and wrote our letters to Santa.

The day was filled with holiday fun and what a better place to celebrate than Williams. When the day was done, we settled down for the night, with our silver bells placed next to us on the night table.

If you go, be sure to book early. You will not regret making this a family holiday memory. 

Kiva Couchon is the Director of Communications and Public Information Officer for the Arizona Office of Tourism. In addition to handling the internal communications for the office, Kiva promotes the agency’s program of work to media representatives, industry partners and consumers. Born and raised in the Grand Canyon State, Kiva is a dedicated Arizona traveler.