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Hotel Check: Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel

Williams, AZ

WHERE IS IT? In downtown Williams, this small town is a quintessential Route 66 road trip stop with landmark neon signs, wild west-themed shops and old-fashioned diners. The hotel sits by the Williams Depot and is designed around both visiting the town and taking the train to see the Grand Canyon.

In the late 19th century, the Santa Fe Railway had a series of hotels for its passengers known as Harvey Houses. The original Fray Marcus Hotel that was part of the Williams Depot is part of the National Register of Historic Places, but this new property was modeled after the original hotel. Fans of national parks will appreciate this option to take the train instead of driving into the park, which can become unsustainable if too many cars enter the park.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? The hotel is operated by Xanterra, which is known for its lodging accommodations in many national parks around the country as well as upscale Windstar Cruises. The main lodge features a soaring ceiling with beautiful paintings of Grand Canyon, leather seating and stone-lined hearth. With COVID-19 precautions in place, some services were operating at reduced capacity including plastic barriers at reception, social distancing in dining rooms and on the train, and reduced housekeeping services. Guests were readily complying with mask requirements and enjoying the experience. Photos of trains and real locomotives are placed all around the hotel grounds, and kids will love hearing from staff how the trains are maintained and operated.

ROOM FACILITIES Guest rooms are impressive with flat-screen TVs, full-length mirrors and refrigerators. The work desk has easy-access power outlets. During my visit, Keurig coffeemakers were not in the rooms, but normally they are. The railroad theme continues in the rooms with framed photographs and even Grand Canyon Railway metal studs on the cushioned headboards.

Deluxe rooms are more recently renovated and add bathroom scales and microwaves. Ten suites had kitchenettes, separate living rooms with sofa beds and bathrooms with robes. The largest suite is the Rail Baron Suite, which stretches for 1,000 square feet with a luxurious living room. Several rooms here are pet-friendly.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS Guests can reserve a room-only visit or a package that includes meals and their train ticket. Spenser’s Pub off the lobby serves drinks each evening as well as a light menu of pizza and sandwiches. Its handcrafted mahogany bar was custom-made in Europe in the 19th century. The Fred Harvey restaurant serves breakfast and dinner from a buffet. Servers plate meals for guests, and chefs prepare omelets and pasta to order. A carving station is available each evening.

LEISURE FACILITIES The hotel’s indoor swimming pool and whirlpool were requiring reservations for safety and cleaning during my visit; the fitness center was temporarily closed. There’s also a playground, basketball and volleyball courts, and even a horseshoe pit. The main focus here, however, is the train ride to the Grand Canyon. The experience begins with a Wild West shootout-style show before passengers board the train at 9 AM (there is often more than one train departure and return scheduled).

Onboard, guides share information on one of America’s most famous natural landmarks, and musicians and actors entertain guests on the 2-and-a-half-hour journey in each direction. One of the cars has a glass ceiling permitting even more glorious views along the way.

Refreshments and souvenirs are available for sale on the train. Once at the Grand Canyon, guests have three hours to enjoy the South Rim before boarding the train and returning to the hotel before 6 PM. During the winter months, there is also a Polar Express Christmas experience. 

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES A business center is available for guests, and wireless Internet is free throughout the hotel. There are three meeting rooms for small groups. Parking here is complimentary, and electric car charging stations are available.

VERDICT This is a fantastic way to explore the Grand Canyon in a family-friendly way with the added fun of a train ride. While many may prefer to stay closer to the Grand Canyon (perhaps at El Tavor, which is also part of Xanterra,  so that they can spend more time hiking and exploring), this is a wonderful alternative for those with less time or who want an entertaining introduction to the region’s history without committing to a full overnight in the park.

HOW MANY ROOMS? 298 rooms and suites

PROPERTY HIGHLIGHTS A great family “throwback” experience geared around the Wild West, rail travel and the majestic Grand Canyon

PRICE Internet room-only rates for a traditional room start at $120.

CONTACT 233 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams, AZ 86046, Phone 928-635-4010.