Robert H. (Bob) Jackson, Jr.
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  Bob's Vacation Destination Tips
Vacation Destination Tips
I'm a very picky vacation connoisseur. Vacations, to me, are opportunities to explore. And relax. O.K., and to eat things my doctor would kill me for...

With that in mind, I figured I'd share a bit of my vacation travels. And give lots of unsolicited travel advice.

Travel by Amtrak

Travel Tips for Amtrak - US Passenger Rail Service
OK, some of you think travel by train is a dead art form. 

If so, you (a) must rarely travel abroad where train travel is both a critical travel method in most European countries and (b) must enjoy being crammed like a sardine into increasingly packed and uncomfortable U.S. airliners.

True, passenger rail travel in the United States declined precipitously in the 1970s as airline travel volume increased, resulting in a government bailout of the passenger rail industry. Amtrak emerged as the corporation managing virtually all interstate and transcontinental travel for the US.  Early on, Amtrak apparently had a hard time of things trying to modernized equipment on slim budgets and repair rail lines and gain support for upgrading deteriorating railroad stations nationwide.

But Amtrak has made quite a comeback in my humble opinion.  If you have the extra time to travel, AMTRAK passenger rail is one of the best, least stressful and most comfortable ways to see the nation. Not even passenger car travel can compete with Amtrak's ability to get up and walk when you get tired.  And certain Amtrak routes, particularly the Coast Starlight (between Seattle, Washington and Los Angeles, California) and the Empire Builder (between Chicago and Seattle, Washington), cover views you can't get anywhere else. Dining cars and snack cars on most routes offer eating while you are moving. And many trains have cool observation cars Superlinerand game/tv areas for the kids


Here are some tips for Amtrak Travel

bulletEducate yourself on routes and times. Amtrak's online web site shows detailed maps and can give very detailed information about your routes.
bulletConsider booking your own travel itinerary directly with Amtrak either on-line or by their toll free number. I've found most traditional travel agents dislike booking Amtrak - they don't understand it and apparently don't have good computer connections to it like they do airlines. If you book on-line, it REALLY PAYS to be armed with good info on train numbers, departure times and dates of your travel (see the education tip above).
bulletAmtrak offers several different kinds of fares. Everyone who rides Amtrak has to buy a "coach fare". 
bulletCoach seats are actually fairly nice. They are generally the width of typical airliner first class seats, two such seats on either side of a center aisle. They have at least triple the amount of legroom as airliner seats and generally have a recliner option with a footrest that raises up. That said, I can't get comfortable enough in them to actually get any sleep (I can't sleep on planes either), but they are very nice for comfy travel. Take a lumbar pillow if you have lower back problems, like most public transportation, the seats have very little lower back support for long rides.
bullet Point-to-point coach fares are like airline tickets. Give them the departure city and destination city and they'll write you a ticket - one way or round trip - between them.
bulletAn alternative to point-to-point coach fares are Amtrak's Rail passes. There are currently two such programs for the general public as of this writing:
bullet "Explore America" passes break the nation into multi-state regions. You buy a pass for one or more regions and have great flexibility in your train travel within those regions. Typically you can stop over several times at different cities as you travel. This lets you take in attractions for as many days as you wish on your trips
bulletThe North American Rail pass allows you to travel anywhere Amtrak or Canada's Via Rail go for 30 days of unlimited travel. Since VIA's route include the breathtaking Canadian Rockies resorts and a series of resort hotels built in the late 1800's and early 1900s exclusively for rail passengers, this rail pass is a great opportunity to see hidden Canada.
bulletMost fares have discounts available. 
bullet Seniors and junior high, high school and college students, children under 15 and disabled citizens have special discount programs.
bulletAmtrak passes typically have "peak" and "off-peak" rates. Off-peak is typically fall through spring.
bulletPoint to Point fares not otherwise discounted have some sort of mysterious discount program that operates as a function of time. You can tell this by going to the Amtrak site and putting in the same trip at different times of the week and different times of a given season and you'll get different total prices. I've asked several Amtrak employees to explain these to me, but no one seems to know. Generally, the later you book on a nearly empty train, the cheaper the seats will be. 
bulletAfter purchasing your coach fare, you can get "upgrades" called "Accommodations". Sleeping accommodations are often referred to in Amtrak Brochures as "First Class" accommodations. If you are traveling overnight and have a hard time sleeping on regular planes (and have a little money to spare) I strongly recommend a sleeping accommodation. 
bulletGenerally, sleeping accommodations on Amtrak are small private rooms in sleeping cars. Sleeping accommodations come in several sizes and configurations depending on the route you are taking. For one or two adults, I'd recommend the economy/"Standard" bedroom with two small couches facing each other over a small cafe booth-like table. At night the table and sofas fold down to make a bunk AND a fold down bunk from the top comes down (getting up there can be rather exciting...)
bulletSleeping cars have a toilet and shower JUST for sleeping car guests. While taking a shower on a rocking train leaves a great deal to be desired, it is a nice refreshing experience for multiday travel and allows you to arrive fresh and relaxed at your destination. Note that showers are NOT available to people purchasing only coach fares with no accommodations.
bulletSleeping accommodations generally include meals in the dining car. Anyone can purchase meals in the dining car; guests with sleeping accommodations get theirs free and generally get the best choice of eating times.

Tips for Selected Amtrak Travel

bulletGoing to Florida from the DC area? There's a unique Amtrak Train called the "Auto Train" that allows you to drive aboard with your family auto, put it in storage, and travel the journey on Amtrak. At the end of the journey, you drive your car off and use it for travel during your vacation. 
bulletGoing through or to Washington, DC or Chicago? Be sure to plan some time just to explore the Union Train Station you'll stop at in each city. Both of these stations have been recently renovated and give a hint of the grandeur of the golden age of train travel.
bulletTraveling the Coast Starlight? 
bulletGet a sleeping accommodation. If you don't do sleeping accommodations anywhere else, they're well worth the money on the Coast Starlight. This route features extra high levels of service for sleeping car passengers with their own glass domed lounge and special snack service not available to coach passengers.
bulletAsk the dining car steward for seating looking westward at sunset when on the California leg. On a trip from Seattle to LA, I lucked up on such seating at a beautiful beach view while in the Air Force base portion of the trip (an area that the driving public cannot access due to security for space launches). The view during the meal was absolutely spectacular.