We received an email asking if our taking Amtrak's California Zephyr was a good choice? It was a great choice! This was a totally unique experience for us. The Zephyr route is considered to be the most picturesque. It did not disappoint! One could hear many "oohs" and "ahhs" from fellow passengers. The most common statement we heard throughout the trip was "Wow! Isn't that beautiful!".
Our train consisted of two engines pulling a baggage car, five coach cars, an observation/lounge car, a dining car, and two sleeper cars. Each morning, after getting dressed, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. The table is set for four people. If your party is less than four, then others would be seated at the same table with you. This is called community seating. The reason for this is it allows the dining car staff to serve more people in a short span of time; and it adds a social community experience for the passengers. Each table is set with a real table cloth, cloth napkins, and a vase of flowers. It's quite pretty in this car. Everything is completed with great efficiency. All cooking is done in the kitchen on the lower level of the dining car. The food is then sent to the upper-level serving area by means of a dumb-waiter. Breakfasts are served from 6 to 9 am, on a first come-first served basis. There is a good selection of food choices.
After breakfast, passengers can go to the observation car, with its floor to ceiling windows to watch the passing scenery. Some of the seats are positioned so that each passenger is facing the window, while other seats are in groups of 4 to 6, or at tables, so that card or board games could be played. The Lounge car is located on the lower level of the Observation Car. This is where coach car passengers can purchase sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and/ or beverages ( sleeper car passengers can also purchase snacks and beverages here if they so desire, but this is primarily used by coach passengers). Other travelers could choose to return to their own spaces. While we ate breakfast, the sleeping car attendant returned our beds to couch seating for the day. Our preference was to return to our own compartment, feeling that the passing scenery could be observed from both sides of the sleeping car more freely, without having to look over the shoulders of passengers opposite us, as would happen in the observation car. Lunch was served from noon to 2 pm in a similar manner as was breakfast. Dinner seating was on an assigned basis by the dining car steward. Around 9 pm, the sleeping car attendant transformed our compartment into beds for the night. We had felt that sleeping on a moving train would be comparable to a rock-a-bye nap in a hammock. This gentle swing didn't exist the first night, as the tracks seemed rough and noisy. Night number two was much smoother and quieter.
There were many stops along the route for passengers to disembark and for new ones to come aboard. Those passengers going further on could use these stops for a smoke break, to stretch their legs, or simply to get some fresh air. Carl had an interesting experience at one of these stops. He walked to the front engine for the purpose of taking a photo. No conductor yelled "All Aboard" when it was time to leave. As Carll was returning to our car at a leisurely pace, one of the assistant conductors told him he better get on board right away. "We are leaving NOW!" Needless to say, Carl hopped aboard at the first car he could. If the assistant conductor had not seen Carl, the train would have left him at the station. As it was, Carl had to walk through the length of the train, eight cars (not counting the two engines nor baggage car). They don't go back for you , should you get left behind.
Tip: bring a good book, a deck of cards, or a kindle along, as you can only talk to strangers for so long.
All-in-all, we had a great time, met interesting people, and definitely would do it again.