Fenton & White Board The Train

We made our way to Chicago’s Union Station early on a Thursday afternoon to embark on a journey that would take us almost 2500 miles from Chicago to San Francisco on an Amtrak train route known as The Zephyr.  We had been on several short train trips in the past, but this was the first time we had been in a sleeper compartment, and the first time we had been on a train for more than 8 hours at a time. We LOVED it! There are a few things to know before you go so you can make the most of your trip, but all in all, it was a terrific experience.

Trip Pix 478

TWO POWERFUL AMTRAK LOCOMOTIVES PULLED OUR TRAIN ALMOST 2500 MILES ACROSS THE U.S.A.

*

Our train was scheduled to pull out of Chicago at 2 PM on a Thursday and pull into Emeryville on the Oakland side of San Francisco Bay on Saturday at 4 PM.  From there a bus transfer (included in our ticket) took us to a stop in San Francisco 5 minutes from our hotel.  Our booking fee included transportation across the country for two, a roomette with seats that converted into a bed, and a bunk bed (no washroom), an attendant who put down our beds at night and made them up in the morning, complimentary coffee, water and juice at a refreshment station 2 doors down from our compartment, 6 meals in the dining car (including 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts and 2 lunches) and amazing scenery.  There was a lounge car to buy drinks and snacks and the overall experience for us was truly wonderful.  So how much does this all cost?

*

cost

TRAIN TRAVEL IS ECONOMICAL

*

We booked late, and during the prime season (due to the fall colours), which meant our room including meals (but not tips on the meals) cost $1037 U.S. …  that was the total cost for both of us.  But hang onto your hat … if we had booked 6 months in advance, the cost for the room for both of us would have been $632.  So that’s transportation, 6 meals and accommodation for 2 nights.  Honestly … you can’t really beat the value.  Our room did not have its own bathroom, but there was a washroom just down the hall, and on the lower level of our car there were 3 other washrooms, plus showers (pictures to follow).  The next size room up had a toilet and sink (but no walls around the toilet) and then the largest family room has a small bathroom and shower in the room, but the costs go up, and the amount of space you gain isn’t huge.  For our purposes the superliner roomette was perfect.

*

Because the roomette wasn’t large, it was important to travel light.  We packed our main luggage with our heavier clothing, coats, dress clothing and other items that took up a lot of space.  We each had one large suitcase, which we checked with Amtrak when we got to the station.  Once you check your luggage, you can’t access it until the other end of the journey as it is in the baggage car (just like checking luggage on a plane) so it is important to take only the things you NEED in your carry-on luggage.  The roomettes have enough room under each seat to comfortably slide a small travel suitcase or small back-pack, which was more than enough room for what we took aboard.  We simply packed a few changes of socks and underwear, a few t-shirts to wear under a sweater we wore on the train, a suitable light coat (that we hung on the provided hangers in our room), light pajamas (in case we had to get up in the night),  books, our computer, snack foods, and a small night bag with medications, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and some handy wipes for freshening up. We also brought flip-flops for our feet in case we decided to use the showers, or get up in the night to go to the bathroom (much easier than wrangling shoes on and off in the middle of the night). Towels and soap are provided by the train if you choose to use the showers. If you wish to bring your own soap or shampoo, you can simply put it in small travel size bottles in your night bag.

*

USA-metropolitan-lounge

THE METROPOLITAN LOUNGE FOR FIRST CLASS PASSENGERS AT CHICAGO UNION STATION ISN’T REALLY FANCY, BUT YOU CAN GET A FREE COFFEE OR POP, AND RELAX IN A SEAT UNTIL YOUR TRAIN IS READY TO BOARD.

*

After checking our  luggage, we headed to the Metropolitan Lounge, which is where you wait to board the train. We showed our tickets at the door, and they gave us each a green card with our name on it.  This allowed us to go in and out of the first class lounge until our train left.  Keep it in your wallet, as it is useful to have during the early part of the journey when the staff in the dining car are getting used to who you are.  It also has your car number and room number which is needed when you sign off on your meals in the dining car.

*

We left the small pieces of luggage (a small back pack and a gym bag with our clothes and toiletries) with the storage room attendant and then headed back out into the station to find lunch. The first meal served on the train included in our ticket wasn’t until supper time. We got back to the lounge at about 1 PM, and at 1:15, they called our train, and we lined up to board.  Even at the outset of the journey, the conductors call out in loud voices, telling you you are about to begin a “grand adventure”.  There is a sense of playfulness and fun.   You will notice that because train travel is so economical, even the “first class” passengers are dressed pretty casually.  On the journey across the country … you will meet folks from all walks of life, and that is part of the charm and the fun of travelling by train.

*

Trip Pix 239

AT 1:15 WE MADE OUR WAY TO THE PLATFORM TO FIND OUR ROOM ON THE TRAIN.  OUR TRAIN HAD 2 LOCOMOTIVES, A BAGGAGE CAR, OUR SLEEPER CAR, THEN 4 CARS OF PASSENGERS TRAVELLING COACH (NO ROOM, JUST A SEAT), THEN A LOUNGE CAR, A DINING CAR AND 2 MORE SLEEPER CARS AT THE BACK.

*

Trip Pix 314

THE HALLWAY BETWEEN THE SLEEPER UNITS IS ABOUT 3 FEET WIDE ON THE UPPER LEVEL WHERE THE ROOMETTES ARE LOCATED.  ONLY PASSENGERS WITH FIRST CLASS TICKETS ARE ALLOWED IN THE SLEEPER CARS.

*

Trip Pix 317

LUCKILY … WE HAD FIRST CLASS TICKETS AND FOUND OUR ROOM … WE WERE IN ROOMETTE # 24

*
roometteA ROOMETTE ISN’T HUGE IN SIZE SO IT IS IMPORTANT TO PACK LIGHT

*

Once we had found our room, we hung up our coats, pulled out some snacks, set out our books and tucked our bags under our seat.  We were ready to go!

*Trip Pix 280

EACH ROOM HAS A TABLE WHICH IS HANDY FOR SNACKS AND BOOKS.

*

Trip Pix 315

PETE SETTLES IN FOR THE BEGINNING OF OUR TRAIN ADVENTURE

*

Looking around the room, there are steps  that are for use later in the night to get up to the bunk when it is made down (on Pete’s right in this shot). During the day they make handy shelves for books and computer.  Not in this shot is a stow-away area where you can put sweaters or softer things down beside you, a place to hang coats, and each wall has temperature and lighting controls.

*

Trip Pix 278

THIS PANEL NEAR THE WINDOW CONTROLS TEMPERATURE, HAS A READING LIGHT AND A PLUG IN FOR COMPUTERS OTHER DEVICES.

*

Trip Pix 279

THIS PANEL ON THE OTHER SIDE CONTROLS LIGHTING IN THE ROOM AND HAS AN EMERGENCY CALL BUTTON IF YOU NEED THE ROOM ATTENDANT.

*

Our room attendant introduced herself  (her name was Dee, and she was fantastic), and then the dining car attendant came around to ask what seating we wanted our dinner for.  We had decided to take the latest seating possible.  This was for two reasons. We wanted to be able to focus on the scenery, and in particular, we knew that we would be crossing the Mississippi River at around 5:30 and we wanted to take pictures. We thought it would be rude to do so while eating with other people. The other reason to have a late booking is that the room attendants often make down your beds while you are at dinner and so you either wind up reading in bed, or hanging out in the lounge car after dinner … although you can certainly request a later turn-down.

*

The train pulled out promptly at 2 PM, and we decided to take a quick tour of the train,  just to locate all of the amenities.  In our car there was the refreshment station with fresh coffee, juice and water.  There was also a small bathroom on the upper level. A set of stairs took us to the lower level with the other washrooms and shower rooms.  This was the same set of stairs we had come up to find our room in the first place, so it was good to know where the nearest exit door was on the main level of the train.

*

Trip Pix 312

THIS BATHROOM HAD A SINK TO THE SIDE OF THE TOILET AND A SMALL SHOWER STALL.  THIS WAS A SHARED BATHROOM ON THE LOWER LEVEL WITH THE OTHER PASSENGERS IN THE SLEEPER CAR.  COACH PASSENGERS DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO THE SHOWERS OR BATHROOMS IN THE SLEEPER CARS

*

Trip Pix 311

THE SHOWER STALL WAS COMPACT, BUT YOU COULD TURN AROUND IN IT.  WE NEVER TRIED IT AND WITH THE MOTION OF THE TRAIN, THE BEST TIME TO USE IT MIGHT BE AT THE STOPS ALONG THE WAY WHEN THE TRAIN IS STANDING STILL.

*

 When you cross between the cars of the train, you always do so on the upper level.  Shoes must be worn in the public areas of the train (although in your compartment, take them off and stretch out … we certainly did).  We headed out from our car, and crossed through 4 cars of passengers in seats travelling coach before we hit the lounge car.

*

Trip Pix 550

THE LOUNGE CAR HAS SEATS THAT FACE THE VIEWS THROUGH PANORAMA WINDOWS

*

The upper level of the lounge car has outward facing seats that swivel to make it easy to get in and out.  These seats are available to patrons in both coach and sleeper.

*

Trip Pix 551

ONE CAR FURTHER ALONG IS THE DINING CAR WHERE YOU WILL MEET THE MOST AMAZING PEOPLE

*

In the dining car,  you are always seated at a table with someone else due to the limited size of the dining room.  The kitchen and galley is below and the dining tables are all on the upper level. Sleeper passengers get priority for dinner as they have paid for their meals in their ticket, but folks travelling in coach can also request a time after the sleeper car passengers have been booked in. Coach passengers can purchase food from the lounge car, but the menu is much more limited.  If you are a couple, you will always be seated beside one another (a policy to ensure guests never have to sit beside a stranger).   We made our dinner bookings for 7:15 PM, since by that time the light was fading and it meant that we got back to our room at around  8:30.  After all, once it gets dark, there is very little to look out on.

*

After doing a thorough exploration of the train, we decided it was time to head to the lower part of the lounge car and get a celebratory drink to begin our journey.  Travelling by train on Amtrak isn’t fancy, but as you will see as our journey unfolds, it provides all of the necessary comforts and it is so relaxing … and then there’s the scenery … and good food … well, it’s pretty fantastic really.   On Monday, we’ll begin to share photos of the scenery, information about the route and more about our adventures.  Until then, raise a glass with …

Trip Pix 255

Fenton & White

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s