Jul 4, 2018

Taking the Train across the United States

One of the best ways to see the USA is by train.  John and I recently took the California Zephyr from Emeryville, Ca. to Syracuse.  If you are considering a cross-country train adventure here are some things to consider. 

1. Why the train?  Avoid the traffic, no need to book accommodations along the way, meals are included with some tickets, and it is faster than driving. Taking the train allows one to relax and enjoy the scenery plus some portions of the train routes travels through areas not accessible by car. 
2. Which route? There are several scenic train routes across the
United States including the California Zephyr from Emeryville (San Francisco) to Chicago and the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. From Chicago it is possible to connect to New York, Washington and other destinations.  
3. Buying the ticket: Ticket
prices vary with the season.  There are special rates for senior citizens.  Once the ticket is purchased – if bought on the Amtrak website – check back occasionally to see if the price has changed.  If it is less expensive than the ticket purchased contact them for a refund. There are multi-ride tickets and other parameters that should be investigated ahead of time. 
4. Which accommodation: If you are not up to sitting in coach for several days then check out the variety of accommodations available. The choice is yours: roomette, bedroom, bedroom suite (two adjoining bedrooms) and accessible
bedrooms.  Some come with toilet, shower, and sink while others have only a toilet and sink. 
5. Meals: If you opt for sleeping accommodations then all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) will be included in the cost. Breakfast and lunch are on a first-come, first-serve basis but dinner will be at a scheduled time.  The attendant will come to
your cabin to find out what time you’d like dinner. If meals are not part of your ticket a café car is available.
6. The views: All windows are large but the dome cars allow for a more panoramic viewing.  If you want to spend time in the dome car get there early as the seats are quickly filled.  On some portions of the trip an informational narration is provided.
7. Packing: It is possible to check your luggage or to store it on
the luggage rack of the car you are assigned to.  If you have a sleeper car pack only the items you will need in a smaller bag so that larger bags do not take up unnecessary room in the compartment. 
8. Attendants: Each car has a designated attendant who will answer questions and will take care of making and unmaking the beds.  A tip for good service is appreciated.  The wait staff in the dining cars will also appreciate tips. Red caps are available in most stations to help with boarding
the train. 
9. Package tours: Amtrak has a special department for booking train, hotels, and tours.  Popular packages include one to Glacier National Park and/or other national parks.  They offer special family packages and even rail and sail packages
10. Tips: Arrangements can be make for taking along a bike
and/or pet.  Smoking is only allowed at designated stops.  Relax, expect delays. By law, Amtrak is supposed to receive priority over freight trains but that doesn’t always happen. Some, but not all trains, have Wi-Fi. Sign up for their customer loyalty program to garner points for future trips.