Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go By Train.

My husband and I had this crazy idea to take the train home from Vancouver. Ever since I was little I had this romanticized view of traveling by train. There is just something about cruising down the coastline with the scenes passing by the window without worrying about traffic or trying to find somewhere to stop and eat. While living in Washington, DC I took a few train rides with Amtrack – mostly just the high speed Acela train to NYC for a long weekend – but it didn’t have the same allure as the “Coast Starlight.” The Acela spends most of its time speeding through small towns on its way from big city to big city – not at all the pacific coastline the Coast Starlight follows on its way to LA. So when we had a few days to get from Vancouver back to LA – we booked the tickets and a sleeper car.

So here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Everyone should take the train – even if you only do it once. It is reminiscent of an earlier days where getting to and from the location was part of the journey.

The Coastal Starlight is not a fast train. The train’s top speed is close to 80mph, but you spend most of the journey putting around 40mph. The slow ride makes for gorgeous views but a slow journey down the coast. If you are in a hurry get on a plane.

You should also be aware that the train does not go down the coast per se. It parallels the coast but you won’t see much water till you hit Santa Barbara. While there are not “stunning coastal views” for the entire trip, we rolled through some beautiful parts of the Northwest.

Book a sleeper car. If you are going to do the entire route it is well worth the money to book a sleeper car. We booked the smallest option “the roomette” and it provided enough space for us to store our book bags (large luggage is left on a rack downstairs), sit and even sleep. I am not claiming that this was a lot of space – its about 1/3 of the with of a train car – but it was shockingly comfortable. A door and curtain provide some privacy from the other passengers. We used some of our 36 hours to return phone calls and talk with friends from the East Coast – the roomette kept our conversations private and prevented us from disturbing other passengers.

The sleeping quarters are tight – but surprisingly comfortable (I had the bottom bunk).

The sleeper car not only gives you a space to call your own, but it also opens up the “Parlor Lounge Car’ for your use and includes all your meals.

The meals are fine. Not good, not bad – just fine. If you need any sort of specialty meal you will need to call well in advance to make sure they have it on the train for you. We had the same choices for lunch and dinner both days – I ate the salmon for dinner both days – Jeff had the steak. Its one notch above airline food – but it is included in the cost of the Sleeper Car.

The other people on the train were an interesting bunch. Those who had sleeper cars seemed to be riding the train for the experience – those who didn’t have sleeper cars seemed to be riding the train because they couldn’t fly. If you plan to take the train for more then just a few hours you may also feel more comfortable in a sleeper car.

The National Park Service does their “Rails and Trails” program aboard the Coastal Starlight. You are able to get two unique train NPS passport cancellations from them and also hear their narration. We found these programs to be very hit or miss. The Ranger that was on board from Seattle to Portland was great. The ranger that joined us in San Luis Obispo left something to be desired.

While I am not sure we will be taking the train up the coast again any time soon, we did enjoy the experience. There was something romantic about sharing a small sleeper car with your spouse and playing “Yahtzee” with new found friends in the Parlor Car. I can’t lie – it was a LONG ride – but I am glad to have knocked it off my list of things to

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