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.
The Grand Canyon Railway 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 percent off regular rates.
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The packages focus on stays at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, Ariz., 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 roundtrip train ride -- on 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. 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 per night this time of year).
Round trip for four on the Grand Canyon Railway ($70 for adults and $40 per child, for a total of $220 for a couple with two children).
Optional: Breakfast and dinner buffets at the Grand Depot Café ($92 per 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 -- a 20 percent savings.
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 percent 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 -- 50 percent 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 percent savings. If you want to ramp up to 50 percent 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 less than 72 hours before your scheduled arrival.)