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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Luxury aboard the Grand Canyon Railway

Helen drinking coffee in the luxury train carriage on the Grand Canyon railway

A train trip to the Grand Canyon and back from Williams Arizona had been such an enjoyable experience in the coach carriage, I definitely wanted to experience the trip again, this time in the luxury carriage. It was an even more fabulous journey. Click here to read more about my first trip.

The fun filled day of entertainment starts even before you board the train, with a wild west gun show re-enactment near the depot. Staged in an open-air arena with a backdrop of old western buildings, the actors are dressed in period costumes and have plenty of audience interaction and participation.

gun fight in the snow to entertain the train passengers before embarkation

Inside the depot are a variety of train souvenirs and even clothing. This come in handy as I needed a warm hat, and they had plenty to choose from. A coffee shop on the premises fuels the insides and a comforting fire warms the outside. Back in the late 1800s/early 1900s when Fred Harvey ran the hotels, there was accommodation in the depot, as well as a bar and dining room.

An old engine stands in the yard and is a perfect backdrop for photos, even on a cold snowy day. When the railway uses the steam engines for the trips, they are powered by reused cooking oils.

a black steam train engine is covered in snow during winter

As soon as the All Aboard shout was heard from the conductor, our friendly PSA (Personal Service Assistant) helped us onboard.

For first class passengers, our first taste of the train delights was climbing up onto the platform at the back of the train and walking through the luxury parlour carriage.

luxury couch seating on the Grand Canyon Railway in a restored carriage

Plush and comfortable cushioned couches graced the open space. The cream and green carpet perfectly complimented the wood toned décor and tempted you to sit down immediately. This is a reminder of the glorious train travel of days gone by. These carriages have been lovingly restored with attention to historic accuracies. Parts for these trains are no longer available. As you pass through the rail yards, you can see unused carriages that are used for parts, as well as the workshops where required items are manufactured as necessary.

The carriage was double decker and cloth seating with tables was just the ticket. The curved glass windows allowed guests an amazing view outside, even in wet weather.

domed glass windows allow train passengers to see a curved view of the outside of the train while plush cloth seating allow them to relax inside

A small refreshment area was in the middle of our carriage with hot coffee, tea and chocolate as well as cold drinks and snacks, all included in the ticket price. What a great way to begin the journey. There is also a full bar in each carriage where alcoholic drinks can be purchased.

donuts and coffee on a counter are available to luxury guests on the Grand Canyon Railway, with a view of the snow and mountains right outside the domed window
donuts, orange juice and fruit are also snacks available to the luxury passengers on the Grand Canyon Railway. A full bar where drinks can be purchased is displayed in the background

Further down the train is a club car where other snacks can be bought if required. One of the great advantages of train travel is the ability to get up and walk around, stretching the legs and getting to admire all the different classes of restored carriages.

As the train went along the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Williams to the South rim, it passed through several changes of scenery. From the ponderosa pines near Williams, to the more open spaces when we got further out, to the densely packed pine forest as we neared the National Park. You can only see one small glimpse of the Canyon once you enter the park, the rest of the trip you will see the forests and the prairie.

All the guests were chatting and getting to know each other. It was a very pleasant social gathering. Some people had been to the Canyon before, and for others it was their first time. Most chose to travel by train for the experience itself, and also to visit without having to drive. They could relax as well as see more than if they had driven.

The entertainment onboard also made the journey special. Our PSA told interesting facts about the area as we chugged along. Musicians came through each of the carriages, strumming guitars and singing songs, encouraging guests to join in.

Arriving at the log cabin Grand Canyon depot was exciting and it has been greeting visitors since 1910. Everyone was anxious to see the magnificent natural phenomenon before us. One mile deep, the Canyon was formed by the Colorado River over millennia. At some points, it is around 18 miles wide. The glorious colours of the rocks change during the day as the sun moves across the sky. There is beauty in each moment you see the colour transformations, from peaches to reds to browns to oranges and all shades in between.

the magnificent and magestic Grand Canyon as seen from the south rim with snow capped peaks, its rough ridges and valleys are all colours that change as the sun moves across the sky

A short walk up some stairs brings you to the El Tovar hotel, Hopi House and Verkamps Visitor Centre, all perched just near the edge of the Canyon. There are no barriers to block the view, which also means you have to be very careful not to stand too close. Too many unsuspecting people have fallen off the edges.

There are many places to eat in the Canyon, either sitting in a restaurant or grabbing something to go. All hotels and shops sell souvenirs and are stocked with lovely things to look at. But the real beauty is the natural wonder outside. Each spot you catch the view is beautiful.

At three pm it was time to board the train for the return journey back to Williams. Again, it was delightful to spend time with the other passengers. We all chatted about places we had visited, as well as our individual impressions of the Canyon. It was a great atmosphere as everyone was happy and enjoying themselves. Of course, there were more delicious snacks to enjoy. Fruit and cheese, finger foods and sweet pastries as well as tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cold drinks were provided. (That is the railway depot at the Grand Canyon that you can see through the window below).

afternoon snacks of carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, dressing, olives, nuts, juice, biscuits with the Grand Canyon Railway depot visible through the glass windows. The depot is covered in snow and looks like a Christmas card picture.
a variety of cheese, crackers, juice and fruit all laid out make a nice afternoon snack for the luxury passengers on the Grand Canyon railway

The bar was doing a roaring trade as everyone settled back to enjoy the train trip. Again, we could look out the dome windows onto the winter landscape outside. Inside, our carriage was blissfully warm. Yet, it seemed that everyone was keen to step outside onto the rear balcony and enjoy the silence of the forest, only broken by the clickety clack of the train wheels as we passed through this serene landscape. It was a living Christmas card scene at every turn.

As there had been a snowstorm that day, the “train robbers” that normally come through the carriages were not able to board and hold us up. I had experienced this when taking the train on an earlier day, and it was a lot of fun to watch the children join in the excitement. However, we were perfectly entertained by another guitar playing singer. He had everyone in the carriage singing along to country favourites. It was even two of the passengers’ birthdays, so we all joined in a chorus of happy birthday to them.

A guitar playing singer wearing a western hat entertains guests as they sit on couches aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, looking out onto snow covered fields through the domed glass windows

Our PSA handed out glasses and champagne to all the passengers and we had a toast to new friends and a fantastic train journey.

The friendly personal service attendant aboard the Grand Canyon railway handed out glasses of champagne to luxury travellers as they returned to Williams. The snow crusted trees outside the window gave a Christmas atmosphere to the celebrations

All too soon the train approached the town of Williams and our final destination for the day. As dusk started to settle over the town, we all disembarked and headed for our evening's accommodations. I stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel for another night, which was perfect as it was a short walk across the depot and the driveway. Meals can be eaten at the next-door Fred Harvey restaurant, or in the bar inside the hotel. Alternatively, the main street of Williams has many eateries that are only a block or two away.

There are so many wonderful aspects to taking the Grand Canyon train rather than driving, no matter which carriage you travel in. The staff were passionate about their jobs and their enjoyment made the travellers experience even better. The light entertainment added to the pleasure and felt joyful. Being able to watch the ever-changing scenery outside brought a peace and serenity that was heartwarming. The trip will long be remembered fondly with hopes of coming back and doing it once more.

More information on the Grand Canyon railway train is available on their website

Happy Travels!

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