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Springtime is always a fabulous time for families to visit the Grand Canyon, thanks to the winning combination of fewer crowds, comfortable weather, and affordable rates. This year, take your pick of package deals that bundle accommodations with sightseeing at a terrific savings.

Grand Canyon Railway Packages

The Grand Canyon Railway (www.thetrain.com/grand-canyon-train-5677.html) is offering a variety of spring hotel packages that go well beyond a mule ride. You get a train trip, hotel stay, and meals if you want them, with a promise of up to 50% off regular rates.

The packages focus on stays at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (www.thetrain.com/grand-canyon-railway-hotel-williams-az-5686.html) in Williams, Arizona, just east of Flagstaff. The 287-room hotel is next to the train depot and is a short walk from downtown Williams and Route 266; it also has an indoor pool, hot tub, and playground. The round-trip train ride -- using restored railroad cars, some dating back to the 1920s -- takes about two hours each way, and gives you about four hours to explore at the Grand Canyon's South Rim before heading back. The Railway Express Plus packages are available for one or two nights, with or without meals. They include:

  • One or two nights at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (usually $109/night this time of year)
  • Round-trip for four on the Grand Canyon Railway ($70/adult x 2 + $40/child under 12 x 2 = $220)
  • Optional: Breakfast and dinner buffets at the Grand Depot CafĂ© ($92/day)
  • Entry to the Grand Canyon (usually $16 for four people)

When we test-booked the two-night package with the meals included, the total for four came to $512 for the "coach class" version of the package (meaning more old-style seating on the train). That's $126 cheaper than the $638 you'd pay if booking the components separately -- for a 20% savings. Comparatively, the package for the two-night stay without meals came to $328, which is $116 cheaper than the $444 price tag for the elements on their own. That takes you up to a 28% savings. It's even better when you consider that after the deal ends, the rate for the two-night, no-buffets package goes up to $514.

The best deal of all, though is the one-night, no-meals version of this package, which comes to $219 for four. You're basically getting the hotel for free and a dollar shaved off the train tickets to boot -- for a true 50% off your total. Note that if you add in the meals, you're paying exactly $92 more -- what you'd pay anyway for meals, so there's no savings.

Deal or no deal? No matter which deal you choose, you're guaranteed at least 20% savings. If you want to ramp up to 50% savings, skip the buffets. The meal add-on is not discounted, so opting for the no-buffet version is the way to go. Bonus: You won't be tied to a single eatery, so you can eat where you like.

All versions of this package are good for travel through March 14. You can book online or by calling 800/843-8724 and asking for the Railway Express packages. Note: There is a strict payment and cancellation policy. You pay in full when you book and can modify your reservation up until the day before you travel, though you may have to pay more if you change to a more expensive date. There is no refund if you cancel within 72 hours.

Xanterra's Spring Breakaway Package

But what if you have your heart set on staying inside Grand Canyon National Park? As luck would have it, Xanterra (www.grandcanyonlodges.com), the company that operates lodges and dining facilities inside so many of our national parks (and it happens to run the Grand Canyon Railway) is offering a Spring Breakaway to the Grand Canyon package that includes lodging at either Maswik Lodge ($165 a night) or Yavapai Lodge East ($150 a night), free sightseeing tours, and other perks. This package includes:

  • Accommodations at either Yavapai Lodge East or Maswik Lodge North (end-of-March rates are $153 and $170 a night, respectively)
  • Sunset or Hermits Rest motorcoach tour of South Rim ($20/adult for Sunset tour; $25/adult for Hermits Rest tour; always free for one child 16 and under per paying adult. Value of $40-$50/day)
  • Breakfast for two adults at lodge cafeteria (estimated value of $12 x 2 adults = $24/day)
  • Discount of 10% to 20% on gift shop purchases

Both lodges enjoy stellar locations within a short walk of the canyon's rim, but Yavapai Lodge East is an especially convenient choice for families. Each room features a mini refrigerator and the lodge sits adjacent to a handy market plaza with a general store, bank, and post office. Let's suppose a family of four wanted to book a two-night stay at Yavapai Lodge East and take the two-hour Hermits Rest sightseeing tour of the West Rim one day and the 90-minute Sunset tour of the South Rim on the second day. If booked independently, these elements would cost $306 for lodging ($153 x 2 nights) plus $90 for the tours ($25 x 2 adults + $20 x 2 adults), for a total of $396. Breakfast for four people will cost about $40 each morning, or $80 over two days -- bringing the total for these components to $476.

Meanwhile, if the same family booked their two-day getaway with the Spring Breakaway package, they would spend $300 ($150 x 2 nights) for lodging and sightseeing tours. On top of that, we figure they'd also spend $32 on breakfast ($8/kid x 2 kids x 2 days). Comparing apples to apples, the package spend comes to $332.

Deal or no deal? This offer turns out to be a surprisingly good value. While there's virtually no savings on the hotel portion, the free sightseeing tours and adult breakfasts add up to a respectable 30% in savings for the overall getaway -- but only if you take a sightseeing tour each day.

The Spring Breakaway is available from March 5 to 25. Book by phone by calling tel. 888/297-2757 (tel. 303/297-2757 from outside U.S.) or book online using promo code SPRING. Travelers should book their choice of motorcoach tour at the same time they book the package.

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