WILLIAMS - For 10 years now, eager children have waited on the Grand Canyon Railway (GCR) platform, shivering in their pajamas, for their chance to finally meet the elusive Santa Claus.
This year is shaping up to be no different. The Polar Express is currently transporting both children and the young at heart to the North Pole up until Jan. 8.
According to figures published by GCR, more than 82,000 tickets have been sold so far, exceeding GCR's expectations from last year.
Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber event coordinator Sue Atkinson is happy about the way things are going so far.
"I couldn't be more pleased for Williams and for the Railway," Atkinson said. "They are bringing in fantastic business for Williams."
The Polar Express kicked off its season with the annual Charity Ride. The Railway has invited not-for-profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff and Williams Head Start to ride the train for the past 10 years. This will be the fourth year tickets have been set aside for organizations from across all of Arizona.
Organizations submitted applications during the month of September. Each group provided information about its mission, the people it serves and why it merited tickets aboard the charity train.
Closely following The Polar Express book by Chris Van Allsburg, the night time trip from the Grand Canyon Railway depot in Williams through 12 miles of wilderness to the "North Pole" features a special reading of The Polar Express while passengers enjoy hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies. After arriving at the "North Pole" - a Christmas light village featuring an "Aurora Borealis" - Santa Claus and his reindeer welcome passengers before Santa boards the Polar Express for the return trip to Williams. Santa makes his way through the historic Pullman passenger cars, greeting every child and presenting each one with a special gift - a jingle bell signifying their belief in Santa Claus. The round trip journey is a little more than an hour in length.
The Grand Canyon Railway will also offer a Christmas Eve Polar Express this year and offer the Polar Express Dec. 26, 27 and 28.
In the 10 years that the Grand Canyon Railway has offered the Polar Express trips, approximately 359,000 people have visited Williams to ride the train.
Polar Express reservations can be made by calling 1-800-THE-TRAIN or by visiting www.thetrain.com.