Friday, January 7, 2011

Why the train - AMTRAK....?

For Diane and I, this will be our 4th trip to the USA together, although Diane has done a quite a few other trips to the USA, Vegas with her sister Lorraine and niece Karmen, as well as a trip to Kansas City, Missouri in the mid 80's with her late father Alan, to attend the Jim Beam Bourbon Convention.

In August 2002, along with an about to turn 10yo Casey, we spent 2 days in Los Angeles before flying to Miami for a 4-day Caribbean cruise. This was followed by 12 nights in Disneyworld Orlando, Florida, back up to New York for 5 days and back home. With the AU$ at 48c, it almost sent us bankrupt!!

In May 2004 Diane and I travelled to Vegas for 4 days, before flying to Seattle to board a 7 day Alaskan cruise.

In February 2008, Diane and I travelled to New York again for 4 days (not enough time for that wonderful city) and 2 days at Niagara Falls, before meeting up with Clive and Lorraine at LAX, flying on for a few days in Vegas, a few days in San Francisco then on to Big White for 10 glorious nights (which prompted this return trip). We then flew to Vancouver before driving to Whistler for another week on snow. Finally a few days retail therapy for the girls in LA and we were on our way back home. For those who haven't seen the blog for that trip, you can catch it here USA and Canada 2008

So as you can see, we have seen a fair bit of the USA and a little bit of Canada....but have we????

We've certainly been to a few places, but have we actually seen a lot? How much can you see from 30,000 feet??

This was a question we asked ourselves when we were planning on what to do for the 12 days between our ski trip to Big White and a quiet week on snow again with Clive and Lorraine after the kids wave goodbye and head back to Oz. At one stage we contemplated flying across to London and driving around the UK. It just became too cost prohibitive and we decided to leave it for our next big trip. Diane is keen to visit Europe again after travelling for 3 months thru Europe with Karmen in the mid 90's gave her the taste. Even though Diane doesn't have nearly the same passion for skiing as I have, she has let me organise nearly all our holidays over the past 5 or 6 years around the snow. The next choice will be hers. That said, it is peak tourist season in May thru September in Europe, so if we structure our European vacation earlier to save some pennies, I may sneak a late season European slide towards the end of March. Shhhh, please keep that one

We also thought about hiring a car in LA and heading off along the highway and see where it takes us. At least that way we get to see a bit of the countryside, something we haven't seen on any of our previous trips. As I said, you don't see a hell of a lot from 30,000 feet.

That's what got me thinking about the train. I love driving and enjoyed the novelty of driving on the other side of the road on previous trips, but in truth as the driver you still don't see much except the car or open highway in front of you.

I researched the net, as I do, coming up with a plan and than working out how best to put it into place. Found some great info on Amtrak (USA long distance rail network) at various forums and websites. Asked a few questions and we decided that we will go with it.

Research led me to the 'USA Railpass' which gives us 8 sectors of travel in 15 days for US$389, about $48 per sector if you use them all. A sector is more or less when you have to get off the train and change trains. For example, our trip from LAX to Chicago is about 4000kms and 45 hrs, but just 1 sector because we travel the entire journey on the 'Southwest Chief'. Our trip from Boston to New Orleans involves a change of trains in New York which is a short 4 hrs from Boston, but that makes it a 2 sector trip. Get it?

The 'USA Railpass' is good for a coach seat. If you are happy to sit for 3 days in a reclining seat, that is all u need, but if you want a sleeper, you purchase the sleeper separately.

The whole booking system was surprisingly efficient and painless. I paid for 2 x Railpasses online and received a confirmation number. I then emailed Amtrak with our confirmation numbers and our itinerary, asking for upgrades to sleepers on all the overnight sectors. Within 3 hours, they emailed me back with booking numbers, our actual sleeper room numbers and all the info we need to pickup our tickets on the day we leave Los Angeles for Boston on the 17th February.

The cost of the sleepers for the 7 nights we are on the tracks (we spend the other 5 nights in hotels) was US$1104. This is for 1 roomette sleeper, which is for 2 people, so it is just the one payment for 2.

The real beauty of the sleepers is it includes ALL meals whilst on board. Over the course of our trip, we will be on the train for a total of 20 meal times, be that breakfast, lunch or dinner. The menu looks surprisingly good and by reading the comments in the forums, whose members are traditionally hard to please, it is generally conceded that the food is of a pretty good standard, well beyond airline food for instance. Here is a link to the menus Amtrak Menus At $20 a meal, that is 40 meals between the two of us = $800. Also supplied is complimentary bottled water, tea/coffee in the sleeping car 24/7 and each sleeping car has a dedicated attendant to make up your room whenever you decide you want it converted from day to night mode. On top of all that, at major stations they have special first class/sleeper lounges that let you arrive early and enjoy free snacks and beverages in comfort before boarding the train. Fortunately, all the station we depart from are considered major stations and have a lounge attached. Who needs Qantas Club???

This link Virtual Tour gives a look at the double deck Superliner train that Amtrak use on all their long distance trains except for those down the East Coast which use single deck Viewliners. This is due to many low tunnels built in New York and on the run down to Washington DC.

Over the next week or two, I will explain each sector and link to the various web pages which give some great information on all aspects of the trip.

All for now and if you are still reading,


  1. I was reading it Bob.... all the way to the end. Now I want to see pics of the 3'6" x 6'6" roomette with BOTH of you in it. Hehehehe!!!!!

  2. With clothes or without???