Sunday, January 27, 2013

Amtrak Trip

When I was a little girl, my mom once pointed out a passing Amtrak to me.  "Look in the windows- people are riding in that train!"  I was awestruck.  From that point forward, I dreamed of someday taking a trip on an Amtrak.  I told my husband about that dream a few months ago and the next thing I knew, we were looking at a route map, deciding where our final destination would be.

Over Christmas break, we climbed aboard the Sunset Limited; destination: Tucson.  It was AMAZING.  We saw such wonderful sights and met the most interesting, funny, and friendly people along the way.  Here are a few pictures of our journey.  Toward the bottom of this post, you'll find some tips I came up with for train travel.  Enjoy!

The Houston station featured wall-to-wall displays of old posters, tickets, photos, brochures, you name it!  It was awesome to be able to take a look through history to see how the route has changed over the years.

We had a multi-hour layover in San Antonio, so we were able to get off the train and explore the city.

Outside the station, a Union Pacific train had been decked out in Christmas decor.  It was beautiful!


We took that opportunity to go check out the front of our train for the first time.  That thing was a beast!
The Alamo, all lit up at 2:00 in the morning.

On our return trip, we were in the middle of a snowstorm through much of New Mexico and west Texas.  Aside from the snow-covered Grand Canyon (more on that another day), it was the most snow I had seen in my life.

  Passing another Amtrak in the middle of nowhere.

All in all, it was an experience I will not soon forget.  We plan to take another train trip in a couple years.  We're thinking next time we may visit Chicago!

 And a few tips for Amtrak travel:

1.  Spring for a sleeper.  The roomettes are tiny, but are totally sufficient.  The sleeper accommodations give you a lot of privacy and are very comfortable.   Your sleeping car reservation also entitles you to three free meals a day in the dining car.

2.  Speaking of the dining car, this aspect of Amtrak travel was one of the most pleasant of our trip.  The food was GOOD.  Not "good for a train," or "good for mass-produced food"- I'm talking really, truly delicious.  Over the course of our travels, I enjoyed roasted turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, fresh crab cakes with rice pilaf and a vegetable medley, a chicken pesto panini with kettle chips, pancakes with eggs and bacon, a flavorful four-cheese macaroni, and a seared tilapia fillet with roasted red pepper sauce.  Dinner entrees were served with a dinner roll along with a fresh salad.   It was all delicious!  There is also a wonderful dessert assortment available following lunch and dinner.

3.  Do be aware that there is community-style seating in the dining car.  A few hours prior to meal-time, your sleeping car attendant will come around and help you make a reservation for the meal.  When you arrive for your meal, you will be seated in groups of four.  My husband and I were a little nervous about this prior to our trip, but it was not a problem at all.  We got to know a lot of cool people this way!

4.  For your comfort, bring a jacket onboard.  You never know when it might be a little chilly in the dining car or in your sleeper.  In the same vein, be sure to ask your attendant for an extra pillow and blanket when you board.  You have some control over the AC in the roomettes, but it's best to be prepared.

5.  Have small bills on-hand for tipping.  A two-to-three dollar tip is sufficient for each meal.  We tipped our sleeping car attendants around $20 each way because they really helped make our experience great.

6.  Bring flip-flops for the shower.  I didn't think I would take a shower on the train, but it was actually a very comfortable experience.  Just make sure you take a wide stance in the event that you go over a rough section of track mid-scrub.  :-)

7.  Consider bringing a fanny pack or pocketed apron  to hold your toiletries to get ready in the morning.  Although the shower room was spacious and had ample shelving to place your soap, shampoo, and all that jazz, the toilet rooms themselves were pretty compact.  I found myself having to hold my face soap between my legs when I was washing up in the sink.  (Remember what I said about assuming a wide stance earlier?  Yeah, my elbow definitely met with the bathroom wall a time or two!)

8.  Amtrak's baggage policy is awesome.  We did not have to check anything- we were able to carry our two large suitcases on board along with toiletry bags, overnight bags, and a laptop bag.  The large bags were stored on luggage racks just outside our room.  It was nice to have access to our luggage at all times.

9.   Pack earplugs.  Some sections of the track are quite noisy and can keep you from getting your beauty sleep!

10.  BRING DRAMAMINE.  You do NOT want to discover 2 hours into a 25-hour journey that you get motion sickness on trains!  Lucky for me, a kind-hearted cafe car employee named Josette took pity on me and let me borrow her Sea-bands for a couple of hours on the ride westward. 

11.  You will be a lot happier if you tell yourself that your train will arrive late.  You will be even happier if you tell yourself your train will arrive *really, really, really* late.  We experienced a few hitches on our way to Tucson, turning our 25-hour ride into a 33-hour ride.  I was very grumpy about it and wish I had prepared myself for that possibility.  Our ride back went smoothly and we were able to get to our station within 15 minutes of our designated arrival time.

12.  Alcohol is plentiful on the train.  You may buy beer, etc. in the cafe car, and sleeping car passengers are free to bring their own liquor and beer so long as it is consumed in your room.  If you choose to imbibe, however, make sure you do so in moderation.  Amtrak conductors do not tolerate any shenanigans and will be more than happy to pluck your happy hiney off the train at three in the morning and deposit you into the waiting hands handcuffs of the local police (or a team of border patrol agents, as it were).

Anyway, if you have been thinking about taking an Amtrak vacation, DO IT!  Then, come back here and let me know how it was.  Cheers!

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