Reason #57892 why I love being a parent is because we get to enjoy all the fun things with our kids all over again. Although if you decide to get on a Polar Express ride without kids I won’t judge you. Because it’s awesome.

Our first experience with Polar Express near Flagstaff, AZ was in 2015. Back then my youngest was barely 9 months and my husband was deployed. There was definitely a bitter sweet feel to that trip, but seeing my older son’s amazed face made it all worth it.

This year was WAYYY different! Both kids – 8 and almost 3 now – were of perfect age and the main guy was with us!

arizona travel

We found a giant Christmas tree in Williams AZ!

Our trip was booked for a weekend before Thanksgiving which was earlier than I preferred for a meet with Santa, but we got a special deal 50% off the hotel stay –>> more money for presents! 🙂

Usually you may either buy just the train ride tickets and stay at a hotel of your choice (which is what we did the first time) or pay for an all inclusive package. That’s what we did this year, and it was SOOO much easier!

The package included the train tickets, Railroad Hotel stay across from the train depot, plus dinner and breakfast buffet for the family! You really can’t beat the convenience, especially when traveling with younger kids. I mean you get off the train and literally walk for one minute to your room instead of crawling through the darkness of the parking lot in freeeezing cold.

And by freezing I mean, it was in the 30s at night. Record numbers for desert dwellers like us. So be prepared and bring winter jackets, hats, mittens, warm socks – all the things you’ll never use again living in Tucson.

best Christmas tradition

Waiting at the hotel entrance while daddy was parking the car. Workers busy decorating for the season.

The road trip from Tucson to Williams, AZ was relatively painless. We stopped in Phoenix for lunch and made it to the Railroad Hotel by 2 PM. The lobby was uncharacteristically empty, but I knew in just a few hours it’ll fill up with kids and adults in bright Christmas pajamas.

There was a cozy rustic feel to the hotel with wood decor and a giant fireplace with flickering flames. A small restaurant with a kid-friendly menu and a full bar next to the lobby made it easy to grab a bite for both hotel guests and visitors.

Early check in was not a problem and the customer service was superb. The front desk agent greeted us with a warm smile, we exchanged a few jokes about “the quiet before the storm” and she happily honored my request for a room with a nice view.

Since we had some time to kill before dinner and a train ride, we ventured out to explore downtown Williams by foot.

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It’s a neat rural town with lovely Holiday decorations and many souvenir shops. You’ll find all kinds of Western attire and hats, pottery and fun shirts. Make sure to grab Polar Express themed ornaments and other souvenirs.

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It was nice to walk around but my desert baby girl was very suspicious of the cold wind and was not into it at all.

Dmitri on the other hand could care less, he jumped with excitement and climbed on everything he could find. We were a wild bunch 🙂

There were so many photo opportunities. This beautiful old fashion steam train on display near the hotel was probably the most popular among visitors. We were too cold and instead headed back to get ready for dinner.

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Hotel staff advised us to eat dinner early if we wanted to avoid a wait. It was close to 5 PM when we entered the restaurant, and it was wide open. There were plenty of tables and booths, lovely decorations all round the place, and the windows facing the railroad boarding area.

arizona travel flagstaff

To be honest I was NOT looking forward to buffet food, but the place pleasantly surprised me. For dinner, there was a choice of grilled salmon or rib roast, mash potatoes, grilled veggies, Italian pasta dish, and a salad bar. The quality was quite good. Our kids went crazy for the self serve ice cream station. It was a huge success.

After dinner, it was time to walk back to hotel and get ready for the train ride.  Kiddos pulled on their matching PJs and waited in anticipation for the train.

I wondered if the hotel was recently renovated. Our room was clean and well maintained considering the amount of kids that go through it each season. I asked for a second floor room with a nice view and we ended up right across the railroad station!

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On the right there you see the buffet restaurant, and the railroad depot is right behind it. As it got darker, Holiday lights illuminated the yard. It was so festive and bright!

During registration, I spotted a luxurious fireplace at the lobby and we decided to take a family pic before our ride.

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Bring your holiday PJs if you want a memorable photo!

Next, we headed to the railroad and watched the Polar Express roll in as Pastry Chefs waved at the crowd. The conductor lead a little show and we boarded our train.

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Alllllll Aboooooard! 

All the seats were assigned and we didn’t have to rush inside. The cabin was nice and toasty (we ended up taking all our winter gear and packing it in the overhead compartment), the Holiday decor was lovely, and the Pasty Chefs as cheerful as can be. They high-fived each child, performed little dances and sang carols. It was quite a performance!

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The first part of the ride lasted about 25 minutes and included hot chocolate and cookies served by the cheerful Pasty Chefs. They also passed around the Polar Express book and read page after page as we traveled further into the darkness.

There wasn’t much to look at outside, but I could tell our kids were soaking in the experience.

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At last we arrived at the North Pole!  Kids had their mouths open as the train slowly pulled next to a beautifully lit city and finally stopped. The Pasty Chefs announced that we picked up someone very important and the train started moving again.

Minutes later Santa Claus walked into our car. He stopped next to every child, whispered something quietly in their ears and handed them a bell.

Guys… it was magical! Maria was too young to fully understand what was happening but she knew it was something very special. Dmitri held on to his bell with the most astonishing expression on his face. May the bells always ring for your my children <3

On the way back all the passengers were given out little booklets and we sang the Christmas carols with the help of our lively Pastry Chefs. Everyone was in the most festive mood!

The train returned to the station about an hour later and I once again thought how much I appreciated the 2 minute walk back to the hotel.

The next day we planned to drive to Sedona for a night. After our short Sedona weekend getaway in September, I couldn’t wait to come back and bring the husband. This time we were prepared and brought a hiking backpack carrier for the Little Miss. Unfortunately, my little munchkin broke into fever right after Polar Express and we drove home the next morning.

Overall, we were happy with the experience and the hotel. My husband mentioned that the train ride exceeded his expectations, and he appreciated how closely the book was followed with small touches like cookies and hot chocolate. We would probably come back again next year when Maria is a little older, but we won’t be in Arizona net Christmas… YES!!! Big news, and I can’t wait to share them you all very soon!

So tell me, what Christmas traditions do you have with your family? 

Hope you are having a great start to your week!



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