WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Polar Express begins running to the "North Pole" this Friday, with departures from the Grand Canyon Railway Depot in Williams.
The Grand Canyon Railway (GCR) has expanded the number of matinees it is offering this year and is accepting reservations for its popular Polar Express runs.
Grand Canyon Railway will offer runs this year starting Friday and going through Jan. 5, with matinees on Nov. 23 and 24 and Dec. 1, 8, 15, 16, 22 and 23. For those dates with two runs, departures are at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Matinees depart at 3:30 p.m.
New for this year's holiday season, "The Hobo," a character from the book, will be available at the Railway's Williams Depot for photos with passengers. The Railway has also increased the number of Christmas lights - many of them energy-saving LED lights - at both the depot and at the "North Pole," a Christmas light village.
Some weekend dates are already sold out, so Grand Canyon Railway officials recommend booking early for the best selection.
Closely following "The Polar Express" book by Chris Van Allsburg, this nighttime trip from the Grand Canyon Railway Depot in Williams travels through the starlit wilderness to the North Pole and features a special reading of "The Polar Express" while passengers enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. The North Pole was extensively renovated recently with enhanced lighting and the addition storefronts, mailboxes and other structures give the village a more permanent and three-dimensional look and feel.
Upon arrival at the North Pole, Santa Claus and Elf Bernard welcome passengers before Santa boards the Polar Express for the return trip to Williams. Santa makes his way through the passenger cars, greeting every child and presenting each one with a special gift - a jingle bell signifying their belief in Santa Claus. The roundtrip journey takes a little more than an hour.
Most evenings the Grand Canyon Railway offers two trains. The "Christmas Eve Limited," departing at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 24, includes special gifts from Santa that are not included during other excursions.
Individual tickets for the train rides, other than the Christmas Eve Limited, are $32 for adults and $20 for children ages 2-15. Tickets for the special Christmas Eve Limited are $64 for adults and $40 for children ages 2-15. Matinee rates are $27 for adults and $15 for children ages 2-15.
The Grand Canyon Railway also offers a Polar Express Package including the roundtrip train excursion, a one-night stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, and breakfast and dinner at the Grand Depot Café. The package price for two adults and two children starts at $350 and does not include taxes. Polar Express passengers also receive a 50 percent discount on a future train trip to the Grand Canyon through the end of February, 2013.
Polar Express reservations can be made by calling (888) 848-3511 or by visiting www.thetrain.com/polar-express-5679.html. More information about the Grand Canyon Railway is available at www.thetrain.com or at (800) the-train (800-843-8724).
Grand Canyon Railway is an authorized concessionary of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Xanterra Parks and Resorts operates the Grand Canyon Railway.