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Travel Amtrak and You Won't Be Sorry!

Updated on November 9, 2021
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Penny Lulich is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer. She lives in Indiana.

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Dining Well on the Southwest ChiefRoom With a ViewBeautiful Illinois Farm Land Fades into the DistanceBreakfast at Sunrise Rounding the BendNew Adventures At Every TurnIn Plain ViewService Stop Shopping while the train is serviced in Albuquerque, New MexicoMountains Glorious in ColoradoMajestic  New Mexico Mountains at SunsetImpeccably clean and elegant dining
Dining Well on the Southwest Chief
Dining Well on the Southwest Chief
Room With a View
Room With a View
Beautiful Illinois Farm Land Fades into the Distance
Beautiful Illinois Farm Land Fades into the Distance
Breakfast at Sunrise
Breakfast at Sunrise
Rounding the Bend
Rounding the Bend
New Adventures At Every Turn
New Adventures At Every Turn
In Plain View
In Plain View
Service Stop
Service Stop
Shopping while the train is serviced in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Shopping while the train is serviced in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mountains Glorious in Colorado
Mountains Glorious in Colorado
Majestic  New Mexico Mountains at Sunset
Majestic New Mexico Mountains at Sunset
Impeccably clean and elegant dining
Impeccably clean and elegant dining

Train Travel Has Its Appealing Side

Travel today is more complex and time consuming than ever. Due to new regulations, weather concerns, extra safety screenings, and mechanical delays, no one is getting anywhere fast, anymore. The friendly skies are no longer friendly, and flying is something we all endure as best we can, rather than enjoy. So, when I was looking for transportation from Chicago to Los Angeles, just two months ago, I decided to take the advice of my children and try out a trip on board an Amtrak Superliner. From the moment I stepped into the first class lounge area at Chicago's Union Station until I left the train at my destination, I knew that the glory days of travel had been preserved, and were now beckoning me to come along on a journey I would not soon forget.

A First Time Experience To Remember

I arrived early in the morning, fresh and ready, and eager to board my train. It wasn't long before a friendly uniformed attendant brought the first class passengers out on the platform and ushered us to our sleeping cars. I had booked a family bedroom complete with private bath, and three meals a day. Since it was my first time on an amtrak superliner, I had no idea what to expect. I was more than pleasantly surprised with my accommodations. My room could not have been more perfect. In the middle of the car, with a view out both sides of the train, I was intoxicated with excitement. Bringing along my digital camera, I had not expected to get such sweeping views out my own wide berth of windows, not to mention the entire width of the windows in the outer hallway, as well. I could hardly contain myself as I maneuvered from one side of the train to the other, snapping photos as often as I could without getting in the way of the attendants.

I spent a few minutes taking a quick look around my room, spacious and fully equiped for every comfort, then I left to wander through some of the cars. On my way out, I took note of a coffee station, and right past that, a juice area with snacks open 24/7 for sleeping car passengers. I would definitely be visiting these places from time to time throughout my trip. I soon learned that the trains are set up so that the sleeping cars are in the front, just behind the engines. Next in line is the dining car, so it's just a short jaunt to a well set table, excellent wait staff, and great food and drink. I found each of my visits there not only satisfying in the type of menu and delicious food (my first night I ordered the Duck a l'Orange with wild rice, and it was outstandingly good), but also for plenty of stimulating conversation with other travelers, most of whom were regulars on the rails. An observation car was next in line, with comfortable seating facing the windows which stretched across the car and over the top. The views were expansive and scenic at every turn.

After my first great experience in the dining car that evening, I headed back to my room for some sunset viewing outside my own window while seated on the comfortable sofa. By now I was pinching myself to make sure it was all real and not just a dream. I couldn't help congratulating myself on how great a payoff I was getting for trying out this form of travel for the first time. It costs a little extra to take a long distance train in style, but it is definitely well worth it. I was riding the rails on the Southwest Chief, known as the train of stars. It was during Hollywood's heyday that would-be actors left their roots in the Midwest and east coast cities to head west, on these same rails, for a shot at the big screen.

As the sun descended behind the farm land of Kansas, I decided to head to the end of the corridor for one more cup of decaf coffee before retiring for the night. I read for awhile, then remembered that a warm shower with fresh laid out towels was awaiting in my private bath. The car attendant came to make up a very comfortable bed for me, and after she left I locked my door, closed the curtains, and turned out the lights. I snuggled comfortably under the covers with my head nestled into two of the four perfectly fluffed pillows. This was comfort. This was glorious. This was romantic and adventuresome, and everything all other forms of travel are not. I was hooked, and I knew I'd have to do it again, soon.

Ultimately, I learned a lot on my first trip across the country on a long distance train. I learned that the early bird gets the best fares, and that being flexible with dates is the key to grabbing a great room at the bottom of the rate tier. I learned that the car attendant is worth his or her weight in gold. I learned that real chefs prepare gourmet meals on the train as it's moving down the tracks, and that it's worth paying for first class just to eat amazing food in an elegant dining room. Most of all I learned that I could go back in time to something I thought was long gone, the glory days of travel.

It took two and a half days to reach my destination. Truly, I was rather sad when the trip ended. Now I'm scheduled to return to Chicago, once again on board the Southwest Chief. It's spring time, and I can't wait to see how the snow drifts of February have given way to a fresh new carpet of green with colorful pink, blue and orange blossoms stretching upwards towards the sun. There's nothing like it, and no other way of getting across the country that compares to the enjoyment, and appeal, of long distance train travel.

You won't see this from a car or airplane
You won't see this from a car or airplane

Ten Tips For Riding the Rails

1. First and foremost, purchase tickets in advance. The more flexible you are, the better your rate will be.

2. Purchasing an upgrade can be tricky. After purchasing the coach fare, click on upgrade to a room. The roomettes are very small, and the bathroom is shared. Roomettes are not always the least expensive, so check all the room rates for each calendar date. Family bedrooms are nice for two people, and have a private bath. Family suites are for more than two people. I have found bedrooms on the train for as little as $300.00, including meals. That is a great deal!

3. Use the red caps for assistance with your baggage. Be sure and tip them for this free service. Sleeping cars are on the upper level, and without assistance, you'll have to haul your bags onto the train and up the stairs on your own.

4. Always let the attendant make down your bed for sleeping, and make up the bed for daytime relaxing. Tipping is usually ten dollars a day for this service, and it is well worth it.

5. Take some clips with you to secure the window curtain. Take some duct tape wrapped around the end of a pen, to tape any noisy little gadgets that might otherwise keep you awake at night.

6. Take a small flash light to have beside you when you sleep.

7. You can have your meals brought to your room, but I suggest eating in the dining room. There's great conversation, and new friends to be made on a nice long train ride.

8. Take your camera for great shots from your room or the observation car.

9. Take a digi player, if you have one, and some favorite movies. Amtrak is working towards wireless on all their trains, but some are still without it.

10. Take a few easy to carry along snacks.

Right outside my bedroom door
Right outside my bedroom door




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