While our family has traveled by train in England for quick transport, we have yet to experience a long train journey. Often we’ve chatted about one day making our trek to visit our Alberta family via rail instead of car, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to interview my friend Nancy about her train journey when she mentioned a trip she had planned for herself and her adorable two-year-old son, Matthew.
In case you’re thinking of train travel for your next vacation, I wanted to ask Nancy a few questions that would perhaps help you with your own thoughts and plans.
Where did you travel recently & via what company?
We travelled on the Amtrak “Coast Starlight” train from Seattle’s King Street Station “over the river and through the woods” to Grandma (and Pops) home in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Tell us a bit about why you chose train travel for your recent trip.
Usually, we drive to Klamath Falls and it takes about 12 hours. My husband would not be joining us on this trip, however, and while I had driven the distance solo before, I was concerned about driving in the snow through the Oregon Cascades.
The two alternatives I considered were flying or taking the train. The costs to fly coach versus the cost to procure a roomette on the train were comparable. Yet, while the plane would have gotten us there quicker, there were no direct flights to K-falls. We would need to fly to either Bend or Medford and then purchase a rental car to drive the remaining 2 or 3 hours through the snowy Oregon Cascades.
In the end, I decided on the train. It would be a long trip, but it would not take any longer than if we drove the distance. The train would also afford us a unique experience. We could walk around on board, dine, use the internet, and I expected we would be able to see parts of Oregon scenery we would not normally see when traveling on the highway. My 2-year-old son, Matthew, is also fascinated with trains lately, so I knew this would be a wonderful surprise for him.
How long was your train ride?
The normal schedule is about 12 hours, we were fortunate to arrive at our destination about 40 minutes early. My understanding is that this train is often late, not early.
Did you have any problems choosing cabin / ticket types?
I booked online. The website is very user-friendly. We chose to upgrade from coach seats to a two-seat roomette. I wanted a quiet place for Matthew to take a nap and our meals are included in the price.
Was there a special deal or price break that you took advantage of? Was Matthew’s ticket less expensive?
Prices depend on when and how far you travel, children are half price. The sleeper cars are an additional fee – also based on distance, when you travel, and the size of the sleeper car you require. The “superliner roomette” was the perfect size for my son and me. I paid $520 RT; My fare one way was $64, Matthew was $32, the sleeper car $159.
How did you pack for the trip? Is it like a plane with carry-on and checked bags?
We were allowed 2 checked bags each and 2 carry-on bags. I checked one bag and Matthew’s car seat. I boarded with 4 carry-on bags. They did not appear to be as stringent in their baggage policies as airlines are. Security was non-existent (may be a concern actually) and no one checked to see if I was carrying excess bags onto the train. Baggage allowances and scrutiny may be different in coach.
Did you plan for any special activities to keep Matthew or yourself busy?
I packed an IPad with Matthew’s favorite games and shows on it. I also packed some books, a few of his favorite cars and action figures. I also included some healthy snacks as I wasn’t sure what the quality of the train food would be.
THE TRAIN RIDE
Was food readily available? What were the prices like? Do you recommend people pack their own snacks?
The snack bar was open during most of the journey. The menu included items you would expect in a snack bar: hot dog, burger, pizza, chips and candy, also beverages. We did not partake as we brought our own healthier snacks. I would encourage people to consider their options may be limited if they have food allergies or prefer a healthier diet. You are welcome to bring your own ready-to-eat food on board. Be mindful however, as dining staff will not be able to assist with warming your food.
At the beginning of our trip, the dining attendant came and scheduled reservations for us for lunch and dinner in the dining car. Breakfast is available without reservations in the dining car if you board the train prior to 9:30 am. I also heard an announcement that a set meal was available for those in seats (coach, business class) for $10-$15 – it included sandwich, chips and a beverage.
We ate in the dining car at our prescribed times. Seating was communal. If you are a party of 2, you can expect to be seated with another party in the dining car. Meals were included in our sleeper car price as well as 2 non-alcohol beverages each per meal. The menu ranged from $10-$25 for entrees and the food quality exceeded my expectations. A kid’s menu was also available offering hot dogs, mac n cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets. I had a glass of wine with dinner and was charged $6.50. I also tipped our waitperson.
2 bottles of water were in our roomette when we boarded, and coffee was available in our car throughout the journey.
How was the comfort of the train? Were you able to rest or nap?
The car was VERY comfortable. There was plenty of room for me to sit and for Matthew to play in his seat or on a fold down table. At nap time, I laid Matthew’s seat down. It provided more than adequate room to nap and I still had plenty of leg room in my seat facing him. We were able to close our compartment and pull curtains to darken the room and increase our privacy. At one point, I put both seats down and took a nap with Matthew. There is also a bunk, however, we did not need to pull it down and use it. The accommodation was clean, but it wasn’t new. The rooms are a little worn and electronic panel for lights, attendant call, and air were quite dated. We did have internet – a slow connection and it’s availability was sporadic at more remote points of our journey. It was adequate for checking email and social media, but would not be useful for streaming or gaming. Our car attendant was at our service for the entire journey- just push a button.
What were the bathroom facilities like?
Clean, but cramped. A lot like an airplane lavatory. I did see a baby changing table in the bathroom, but it would not have been possible to change a toddler on it. Not sure how someone in coach would manage if this was their only option. I was able to change him in our roomette, no problem. Some of the larger sleeper cars also have ensuite facilities. Our roomette did not. Shower facilities are also available for overnight passengers.
Did you make stops and get out to stretch your legs? Did you walk and explore while riding the train?
There were a few opportunities along our way to step off the train and stretch our legs. We did get off in Portland for about a half hour. The attendant is very good at communicating how long the stop is and if you are welcome to de-board. We were able to walk around the train at our leisure and were not given any restrictions as far as where we could go. There is an observation car with a glass ceiling, the dining car, the snack bar area and there is a parlor car (although this was not in service for our trips).
READY TO REPEAT?
Would you travel by train again? With kids?
Absolutely. I am eager to do it again.
Do you recommend it for families?
I do. It is a great experience for the kids. A relaxing experience for adults. Your journey will take about as long as it would if you were driving and I think it is a very affordable option.
Any special notes you’d like to share about families considering traveling by train?
I think this is a great way to ensure your journey is as amazing as the destination. The porter and attendants are very helpful – do not be afraid to ask for assistance. They are happy to help and make your trip stressfree. The ticket agent in Klamath Falls also gave us a paper conductor hat and an activity book. Be sure to ask for those!
Another great plus about booking the train is the cancellation policy. I was scheduled to leave on Saturday, but on Friday night- just after I finished packing- Matthew climbed in my lap and threw up all over me! I called Amtrak and was told I could change my reservation with no penalty as long as I cancelled before our scheduled departure time. A refund in the form of a voucher would be issued, valid for up to a year. I went to Amtrak on line and changed my departure from Saturday to Sunday. It was so easy, I ended up calling Amtrak just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.
After hearing Nancy’s experience with a train journey, I’m eager to book a trip! Thank you Nancy, for the great information, and for inspiring other families to take an adventure aboard the rails!