This holiday season pack your bags, grab the kids and head along the famous Route 66 for a magical road trip to the North Pole. Santa has allowed a couple of portals to open, allowing those who believe to pass through and visit his home.
There is a growing holiday tradition among families in Southern California. It’s a road trip that is so sugary sweet and wholesome, parents will probably be the ones who get a bellyache. Santa Claus is allowing families to enter his secret portals that lead to the North Pole at The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express in Williams, Ariz. and at the North Pole Experience in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Part of the fun leading to these AAA-recommended events is the road trip itself, which follows the famous Route 66. Parents can pack Christmas stockings filled with snacks for everyone to munch on along the way, but a must-stop meal and restroom break should be at the Cracker Barrel in Kingman, Ariz. The Cracker Barrel is decked out for the holidays, offering down home Southern food and a popular holiday gift shop. Children can sit on big rocking chairs near a fireplace and play checkers while waiting for their meals.
Once everyone has stretched and their bellies are full, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and the Polar Express train ride are right around the corner. The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel offers guests comfortable lodging in a picturesque Western setting. Designed to resemble the century-old train depot that housed the original Fray Marcos Hotel, opened by the Santa Fe Railroad as a Harvey House, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel sets the stage for the train ride. Holiday music wafts gently through the hallways, creating a holiday relaxing retreat.
The first portal on this trip to the North Pole is the Polar Express Train Ride. Everyone wears their pajamas to they experience the magic of The Polar Express, based on the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express comes to life when the train departs the Depot in Williams and journeys through the dark and quiet wilderness for a special visit to the “North Pole.” Children enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while listening to the magical story. The train takes its passengers to the “North Pole,” where Santa Claus gets on board and meets all the good girls and boys. Like the book, those who believe will be handed a ringing bell for their Christmas tree.
When the train returns back to the depot, guests can visit the local gift shop, including the 90-year old, American-owned store candy store by Hammonds or have dinner at the Grand Depot Cafe. If you want to visit a real wild West town, venture into downtown Williams and have breakfast, dinner or lunch at the Wild West Junction Branding Iron Restaurant where the locals eat and the cowboys meet. Don’t be surprised if the owner and former police chief John Moore greets you at the door in his 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots.
This year, a new portal to the North Pole opened for children and adults who believe to visit Santa’s 8,500-square-foot workshop.
Trolleys like the Candy Cane Express transport guests and Christmas carol-singing elves to Santa’s workshop. The North Pole Experience is Santa’s interactive 8,500-square-foot workshop, where families can build toys with the elves. Workshop tickets include a ride on the magic trolley, a tour of Santa’s Toy Hall of Fame, toy building with the elves, access to Santa’s large toy factory where all the real magic happens, cookies inside Santa’s Bakery, a lesson at Elf University, “Area 47″, Santa’s secret sleigh hanger, and one-on-one family time with Santa himself.
The Radisson Woodlands Hotel makes a great place to spend the night after visiting the North Pole. Children who are already in their pajamas can snuggle near a fire in the hotel lobby and drink hot cocoa or read a Christmas book before falling asleep to dreams of sugarplums and dancing candy canes.
The snow has arrived adding to the holiday wonder so hurry and check out The Polar Express and North Pole Experience’s website for special holiday deals and ticket price specials. Santa wants to let parents know that midweek visits are also encouraged.
The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express
233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd. Williams, AZ 86046
The North Pole Experience
US I-H 17, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011
Michelle Mears-Gerst is a writer in Southern California who has made this trip a holiday tradition for her family for the last four years. She highly recommends doing both the Polar Express and the North Pole Experience. @Sunnynsocal and Sunnynsocal.com.