Traveling by train is not quick. You will not get to where you want to go fast. Train travel can be expensive but for some of these routes, it is much less than airfare for these remote locations. Train travel is a lazy, relaxing way to sit back, and watch the scenery go by while you are going to your destination and enjoying the ride. That’s something that most people don’t say about airplane travel. You have the opportunity to meet people, share travel stories, get recommendations if you are stopping in their hometown. Train travel is almost a luxurious way to travel because you are not rushing. It’s a throwback to other times for most of us. Rooms are small, even the large bedroom that we got very very small.
We began the second leg of our Train Trek across America in Seattle when we went to Seattle’s King Street AMTRAK station to board the Coast Starlight. We had heard so much about this leg of our trip that I wondered if it lived up to the hype. After reading this, you be the judge. If you missed our first leg, you can read about it here.
At the King Street Station, there is no lounge. Like airports, there is a dedicated line waiting to board for first class passengers. You need to look at your ticket for it to tell you which car you are on and which room. Our ticket said 1130 D which translates into train #11, car 30, room D. You need to remember this information because you will use it in the dining room to charge your meal to your room (remember, your meals are included if you are a first class passenger).
We settled in and went exploring. We had heard that this train was different and we wanted to find out how it was different. One car behind us was the Parlor Car which I don’t believe any other long haul train has. This is exclusively for first class passengers and it has padded, swivel chairs so you can look our the windows. This is similar to an observation car with the windows at chair level and on top as well. There are 12 of these chairs as well as about 8 tables.
You can make meal reservations in the parlor car and they have a different menu that what we had on the Empire Builder or what we would have on the SouthWest Chief. Excited that we would have something different, I quickly signed us up for lunch. BIG MISTAKE. Nothing is prepared fresh, or at least as fresh as it could be on the train. I ordered a salad which was mainly arugula and sliced red cabbage with a salad dressing that was not to my liking – and I like most salad dressings. Blogger Hubby had the chicken salad sandwich and he said it was a “nothing kind of sandwich”, pre-made who knows when. There was another choice and it too was a sandwich. Lesson learned – eat meals in the dining room.
The parlor car is also where they have wine tastings for $7.50 for three tastings and an offer to buy a cheese platter for $10. The first day it was 2 wines from Washington and one imported wine from Argentina. The second day it was 2 wines from California and the same imported wine from Argentina. Although it was nice to do this, it could have been presented and run better. After we were served our wine, the parlor stewart disappeared. Sometimes there were long waits before pours. You decide whether you want to do this or not.
We left Seattle about an hour and more late. They had to put sand on the train for us to spray in the tracks where we would potentially have problems climbing elevation and possibly slippery tracks.
Once we started moving we were glad that we were in the comfortable parlor car seats as we admired the beautiful scenery that was unfolding before our eyes. We crossed smaller rivers, traveled along the Columbia River, climbed mountains, saw Mt. Shasta and just took in the sights. We certainly understood why Oregon is called the Evergreen State as we traveled southbound. What surprised both of us was that there was still snow on the ground.
On all of the trains, there are some longer stops where you can get off the train, go in the station or just stretch your legs on firm ground. Here we are in Eugene, Oregon where the waffle sole was invented and Nike was begun. The longer stops are called “smoke stops” as there is no smoking on the train.
As we traveled through California we stopped at Salinas which is nicknames “America’s Salad Bowl” and marveled at all the rows and rows of crops that were growing and being harvested. We could quickly spot the red strawberries that were growing on the plants and wished we could have reached out the train window to grab some.
Further down the coast, south of San Luis Obispo, came the sheer beauty of this coast. There was nothing between us and the shore. With colors ranging from deep green to tans and browns, it was breathtaking and made us glad that we were seeing this from the train – we could have never done it by automobile as there were no visible roads to our eye. Mountains in the background, sand and ocean in front of us as we were zipping along on this stretch of track that this train route is noted for.
There is one point in this section that you go around a curve and can see both the front of the train as well as the back of the train at the same time. Of course, I wasn’t able to photograph it but here is the front of the train.
Every train has a different personality with different crew. Also, each of the trains we rode had the same menu yet with different cooks, the same food was different on the trains. Blogger Hubby loved the seafood cakes which were a combination of shrimp and crab meat. He thought that was the best on the menu. I had the signature steak on al three trains and the Coast Starlight had the best steak by far. Salisbury Steak, the special on all the trains, was hit or miss. We didn’t try the pasta with the overcooked veggies. The herb chicken was also good.
We arrived in Los Angeles around 9:00 PM and took a cab to our hotel with an attitude from our cabdriver since our hotel, the Hilton DoubleTree was only a few blocks away.
As a reminder, everything on this trip with the exception one hotel night was booked using points. Your meals on the train are included in your first class fare/miles.
Leg two of our epic train trek was now in the books. Next up, what to do near the train station during the day.