The romance of travel….
Last month we were standing in the Airport Security Theater line for a purposeless inspection, and the person behind us plaintively asked, “What ever happened to the romance of travel….” The answer is that the romance of travel is alive and well. On AMTRAK.
This was brought home to us last week, when we unexpectedly had to go from New York to Los Angeles. Since we had been on four continents in the last month, we simply couldn’t bear the thought of yet another exhausting air trip, and decided to go by train, instead. We took the Lakeshore Limited from New York to Chicago, then took the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles.
If you get a sleeper car, this is an extremely comfortable and luxurious way to travel. Indeed, the only thing at we can think of that would be better would be to go by private rail car. (There were two private cars attached to the train coming back fromL.A.!)
If you get a roomette, this trip would cost roughly $1,300 for two people, which includes meals in the dining car. The roomettes are comfortable, but it is our belief that most travelers will actually spend most of their time between Chicago and Los Angeles (or wherever you are going on the transcontinental trains) in the observation car. (We hear that the northern route, to Oakland, is even more scenic). That said, if you have work to do, you will likely do it in the roomette, as the scenery is too distracting to do work in the observation deck. At least it was for us!
The staff is excellent. If you are on the Southwest Chief, you may be lucky enough to get Kimberly Brown’s crew in the dining car. Kimberly Brown is a real professional who loves her job, and deals well with passengers. We like to think of ourselves as professionally forgettable, yet from the first time we gave a dinner reservation she remembered our name. And still remembered it when we ran into her in Union Station in Chicago hours after the train had arrived. This kind of thing always makes even the most jaded of us feel special. The conductors are excellent, and dealt very diplomatically and effectively with the rare troublesome passenger.
What if your kid wants to take the train and you aren’t willing to spend the money for a sleeper car? Still do-able. A coach ticket from New York to Los Angeles costs about $150. One can sleep in the reclining seats. (Bring a blanket: Amtrak provides little pillows). Some sleep on a bench in the observation car, or the café car. You have to pay for your meals in the dining car or the café car. There is no shower available as there would be if you had a sleeper, so think sponge bath (or unscented wipes) in one of the on-board dressing rooms /restrooms. Also, while there are there are four electrical outlets in the observation car, there may well be none in the coach cars, so be prepared to contend for a re-charge of your cell phone or laptop.
Is there a downside to train travel? Well, some people are ill-equipped to spend three days on a train going coast to coast, no matter how stunning the scenery. We ourselves don’t have this problem, and are happy to leave the office at3:30on a Thursday afternoon to catch a 4pm train, and then step off the train at 7am on Sunday morning in L.A, refreshed and ready to go, because there is no train-lag with which to contend. Coming back we left on Sunday evening, arriving back Wednesday evening, with no post-travel recovery needed.
If you have a trip coming up that can be done by both train and plane, we would strongly urge you to try AMTRAK at least one way, and then make your own judgment.