This historic train ride is a beautiful way to visit the Grand Canyon. The trip starts at the historic Williams Depot next to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. Built in 1908, this concrete building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It survived only because the railroad realized in the 1970s that demolishing it would cost more than letting it be. It now houses a gift shop and cafe, and the two steam engines once used to pull the train have been retired and are now on display in front. Today's stainless steel diesel train pulls a maximum of 15 cars accommodating up to 1,000 people, and the 100-year-old railroad carries more than 180,000 passengers annually.
At 9:30am every morning, after local cowboys stage a Wild West gunfight outside the depot, conductors help passengers board the train. For $70 round-trip, Coach Class passengers sit in 1950s Budd streamliner coach cars with bench seating and air-conditioning. For twice the amount of coach fare, passengers can enjoy First Class treatment -- probably not worth the extra money, but it does come with continental breakfast in the morning and appetizers with a cash bar on the trip home -- all the while sitting in comfortable recliner chairs. If you really want to savor the views of the high desert, however, I recommend purchasing a seat in the Deluxe Observation Class, whose seats are in a glass dome atop the car. Spots here cost $170 round-trip. I even prefer the Deluxe Observation Class to the most expensive ($190 round-trip) service, the Luxury Parlor Car, which boasts an open-air rear platform. If you like, you can take one class of seating on the way to the Grand Canyon, and a different class back, allowing you to sample different train experiences. Each car offers a personal service attendant, and while the train chugs across the high desert, musicians wander through the compartments, playing folk and country standards and dishing up some cowboy humor. I'd recommend sitting in a dome car on the way back to Williams, where you can watch a dazzling sunset with a glass of sparkling wine accompanied by live cowboy music.
The trip to the canyon ends at the historic Grand Canyon Depot in Grand Canyon Village. From here, passengers can lunch at any of the park lodges and then take a motor coach rim tour as part of a package, or they can just go explore on their own. Passengers have just under 4 hours to enjoy the South Rim unless they stay overnight, and rail getaway packages are available. Sign up for lunch and bus tour packages while reserving train tickets.