Since we wrote about our interest in taking a train across America, a number of readers have emailed us about this decision with several questions; "Why take the train as opposed to flying?"; "After having done so, did we still think a train trip was a good one?"; "How expensive is it?"; and at least one reader said, "Give us tips!". So here goes.
Our youngest son's family lives in San Diego. Before we head out for another extended trip around the world, we needed a month long visit with David, Jessica, and our grandchildren, Devin and Gabriella. A novel way to get there was aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr. We've flown to San Diego a number of times, as David and Jessica have lived there for many years. So this means of transportation would be unique for us.
Our son, Carl, always adventurous, suggested taking a cross-country train. Since doing so has been on the bucket list for quite awhile, we said "Why not!". We studied the Amtrak map, trying to figure out which route to take. There are four from which to choose. Our choice was to fly to Chicago, in order to pick up the California Zephyr there, for this cross-country trip. That was only decision number one. Next, we had to choose between a couch seat, a roomette, or a sleeper car. Going coach is the most cost-effective means one can take. However, there are less amenities. One would need to bring his/her own pillow and blanket with this choice. Your assigned seat does recline(like on an airplane), but that's all you get. Meals and snacks are available for purchase. Young adventurers usually make this choice. Another way to go would be a roomette. In this tiny compartment, your seats convert to beds. Pillows, blankets, as well as all meals, are included in this price option. However, toilets and showers are only available at the end of each car, one set per 25-30 riders to share. Or you can choose a sleeper-bedroom. For us, this was a no brainer. We have our own bed, toilet, and shower in a private compartment. All meals are included in this price option. There are five sleeper compartments per car and are quite comfortable. Our bed is made up daily by the sleeper attendant. The main couch folds down into a double bed , and if needed, there also is a fold down bunk bed. The food is wonderful and there are many choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The earlier you book, as well as the number of sleepers available, affect the price. The prices jump as sleepers are sold. It's a matter of supply and demand. Last but not least is the family sleeper. This choice is for a family of four and is really inexpensive. There are many specials offered by Amtrak. We saw some for as much as 20% off. We were talking with a family who booked their trip for October, last January. They got a wonderful deal for $800 for a family of four to go from Chicago to San Francisco, all meals included. Ours was a lot more expensive than that because we detrained in Denver for an overnight stay, which included a city tour of Denver, as well as an all-day tour of Yosemite National Park at the end. Also, we booked the last sleeper available on the train. Next time we will book earlier.
To prepare for our train ride, we read pamphlets distributed by Amtrak, visited their website, as well as read a book called "All Aboard". All of these sources were quite helpful.