All Aboard! Tips for Visiting the Magical Polar Express in Arizona

There are a few quintessential stereotypes associated with Christmas: ice skating, wool sweaters covered in gaudy bobbles, crunchy sugar cookies, Santa Clause, and of course, The Polar Express. Conversely, there are some concepts and places distinctly not associated with Christmas. Surfing, barbecues, and flip flops certainly do not conjure up images of sugar plums. Neither does the word “Arizona.” Therefore, you might be surprised to hear of Polar Express Arizona

 It might seem odd to hear that one of the West’s greatest Christmastime traditions happens along a snowy passage of the notorious Route 66. Each year, the town of Williams, Arizona, better known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, finds itself home to the Polar Express.

polar express arizona

About the Polar Express Experience

 The Polar Express in Arizona is a holiday family attraction for all those who love the story, Christmastime, and embracing the holiday spirit.

Based on the story written by Chris Van Allsburg, this Williams event attracts families from all over the country, eager to embark on their own real-life adventure. Everyone boards the train, donning warm pajamas and mittens to combat the chilliness of the evening.          


Outside the icy windows are twinkling Christmas lights studded against the snowy ground. The train compartment develops a homey warmth as pastry chefs come around to serve the passengers chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate. Before long, the Polar Express arrives at its destination, the North Pole, to pick up a very special guest. Santa Claus boards the train and delights every family with a reading of this timeless tale.

 Then, Santa Clause roams around the compartment, where he delivers a special gift to each boy and girl aboard, a gift that has a special significance in the story as well.

Aside from the festivities aboard the Polar Express itself, there are many other Arizona attractions around the Grand Canyon Railway to explore either before or after your departure. These activities include storytime with Mrs. Clause, the Light-O-Rama light show, the Naughty or Nice Meter, and in-person visits with the Christmas elves and the Polar Express Hobo.

Riding the Polar Express is a holiday tradition for many, and for others, a special once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The entire train ride lasts roughly 90 minutes, with a departure at 5:30 and another at 7:30. The Christmas Train, which takes place on the Grand Canyon Railway, is open from November through January. It is recommended to book tickets in advance due to the growing popularity of the event.

What’s Included & How Much Does it Cost?

Tickets for the train vary depending on the day of the week and time of year. For an adult ticket (16+), tickets are $45 Sunday through Thursday, $58 Fridays and Saturdays, and $82 on Christmas Eve. As for children, tickets are $33 Sunday through Thursday, $45 Fridays and Saturdays, and $59 on Christmas Eve.

For families traveling a long way to Arizona, there is also an option of purchasing the Polar Express Package. This package includes accommodation at the Railway Hotel, dinner and breakfast at the Railway’s Grand Depot Cafe, and train tickets. Prices vary depending on the date, hotel room, and a number of people. However, to provide a general estimate, the cost for a family of four in late December, staying in a standard room, would be $457.

The logistical elements of arriving in Williams and preparing for the train ride itself are quite simple. Williams is roughly three and a half hours north of Phoenix. To get there, follow the 1-17 North to eventually meet the 1-40. The 1-40 West goes straight into the heart of Williams. Once in town, there is free parking for the event at both the Williams Depot and the Railway’s Grand Depot Cafe. Once you arrive, you can proceed to the Williams Depot to pick up your tickets and park a stroller if you have one.

You can look into all the ticket options here!

About the Town of Williams, Arizona

The town of Williams itself is a quaint and historic Old Western town. You will find with unique restaurants, antique shops, and cowboy gear. Try extending your visit to Arizona a day or two past your Polar Express experience to explore the Old West charm of the Route 66 town. In addition, Williams is the gateway to the Grand Canyon, which is an amazing sight to see in the snow. Nearby is Bearizona, a fantastic family activity.

Bearizona is a drive-through wildlife refuge, where different animals roam in large, separated habitats. Witness black bears, wolves, bison, mountain goats, and various other creatures in a protected natural habitat. And of course, a short drive southeast from Williams is the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff is home to endless hiking trails, climbing routes, breweries, art galleries, and restaurants. It is also home to Snowbowl, one of Arizona’s best ski resorts.

Tips for taking the Polar Express

polar express arizona

Below are some important tips and tricks to keep in mind before booking your tickets for the Polar Express.

  1. It’s Cold

Don’t let the name Arizona deceive you, this is the Polar Express after all. During the winter, there is likely to be snow and temperatures in the 20’s. Bring mittens, a hat, and dress in layers, since the interior of the train is rather warm.

  1. Bring a Copy of the Book With You

Although Santa does read the story aloud, it is nice to have your own version for kids to follow along with or to read on their own before and afterward.

  1. Book in Advance

Though this was mentioned earlier, it is best to book as far in advance as possible, especially for Christmas Eve and weekends. The train can become quite busy. This means it is not a safe bet to assume you can arrive the day of to purchase tickets on-site.

  1. Don’t Miss Out on the Other Activities

There is a lot going on near the North Pole, so go experience it! This is a great way to build excitement within your kids. There are plenty of fun opportunities planned, and they help bring the characters to life even more.

Riding the Polar Express in Arizona is a delight for both children and adults alike. This beloved story comes to life amidst the charm of an Old Western town, and provides memories and laughs to last a lifetime.


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