Why Riding in the Railway Dome Car is Worth It
Spectacular vistas, plush seating, and deluxe amenities
As the Grand Canyon Railway train makes its way north over the high desert plateau, passenger Stu Elliott sits back and drinks in the 360-degree view from a plush seat in an elevated glass-domed observation car.
He and his wife, Rita, will soon get their first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and they’ve decided to make the trip in high style.
“For the extra money, why not? We’ve come all this way,” says the retired farmer from Bozeman, Mont. “Besides, you feel kind of important up here.”
Indeed. Of all the ways to experience the Grand Canyon Railway, there’s none finer than in a Luxury Dome Car. The refurbished 1955 car, christened the Fred Harvey in 2011, seats 66. Its glass-domed ceiling and panoramic side windows bring the outside in. Sage-dappled desert stretches west to the horizon. The majestic 12,633-foot San Francisco Peaks rise to the east. And the view is crowned by an endless blue sky. Seating options include plush forward-facing seats and sofa-style seats on either side. Passengers also have access to an open-seating lounge downstairs.
Passengers in the Luxury Dome Class cars help themselves to complimentary snacks, including fruit and pastries, plus coffee, tea, juices, and soft drinks, as the train makes the 65-mile, two-hour journey to the canyon’s South Rim from the quaint town of Williams, Ariz. There’s also a private cash bar.
On the return trip, hors d’oeuvres and sweets are set out, and an attendant passes flutes of sparkling wine to toast the sunset.
Among other perks in Luxury Dome Class:
- The dome cars’ elevated position increases the odds of spotting wildlife such as prong-horned antelope, elk, wild horses, and maybe even a rare California condor soaring overhead.
- Passengers in the Luxury Dome Cars have access to all classes of service on the train, including a Luxury Parlor Car outfitted with cushy banquettes and rich wood paneling. An open-air platform lets passengers step outside and feel the breeze.
- Ridership in these cars is limited to ages 16 and older, ensuring a more tranquil atmosphere.
- Passengers can also enjoy the comfortable lower level lounge, the only area on the train that does not have assigned seating.
That noted, the other five classes of service on the Grand Canyon Railway, including Pullman, Coach, First Class, Observation Dome and Luxury Parlor Car, offer the same lively entertainment from cowboy musicians and storytellers, along with attentive service from the line’s passenger-service attendants.
A tip: Consider trying different classes of service for the outbound and return trips. A dome car view is particularly spectacular on the return trip, since it’s timed to take in the sunset. Animals are more active at that time of day, too.
The Grand Canyon Railway debuted in 1901 as a new means of delivering tourists to the Grand Canyon. It was originally created to haul ore from Buckey O’Neill’s Anita mines, many miles south of the canyon. Notable early passengers include Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John Muir.
In time, the automobile overtook the train as the preferred means of getting to the canyon. When the last train pulled out of the Williams station in 1968, it carried only three passengers.
Twenty-one years later on Sept. 17, 1989 — 88 years to the day after its inaugural trip — the service was restored, reinvigorating an important piece of Grand Canyon history.
The railway is now owned and operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the largest purveyor of national parks lodgings and services.
For more information and reservations, visit thetrain.com or call 800-THE-TRAIN (843-8724).
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Written by Jayne Clark