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
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
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
game/tv areas for the kids
Here are some
tips for Amtrak Travel
yourself on routes and times.
Amtrak's online web
site shows detailed maps and can give very detailed
information about your routes.
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).
several different kinds of fares. Everyone who rides
Amtrak has to buy a "coach fare".
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.
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.
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:
"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
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. |
have discounts available.
Seniors and junior high, high school and college
students, children under 15 and disabled
special discount programs.
passes typically have "peak" and "off-peak"
rates. Off-peak is typically fall through
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
purchasing your coach fare, you can get "upgrades"
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.
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
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.
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.
Selected Amtrak Travel
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.
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.
|Get 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
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.