Amtrak Coast Starlight Trip Summary and my Train Traveling Thoughts
For those of you not following along at home, here are the 5 parts of my Amtrak Coast Starlight journey:
- Part 1: Advice for an Amtrak Noob
- Part 2: Transferring Points and Booking Trains
- Part 3: Bedrooms and Roomettes
- Part 4: Bedrooms at Night, Showers, Parlour Car, and Movie Theater
- Part 5: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner in the Dining Car and Parlour Car
I promise this is my last Amtrak post for a while. While on the train, I had a lot of free time so I passed the time looking out the windows, taking pictures, and writing blog posts. The journey took me from Seattle down to Los Angeles and stopped several times (sometimes for 2 minutes, sometimes for 45+ minutes), it just depends on the train traffic and if we are ahead of schedule or not. Train travel is not for everyone, but it is worth considering a trip across this great country. Here is a map of the journey:
Here are my thoughts on the entire trip…
- The southbound train leaves Seattle at 9:30am and arrives in Los Angeles the following day around 9pm. If you are going northbound, the train leaves Los Angeles at 10am and arrives in Seattle the following day at 8:30pm. Instead of booking flights the day the train leaves or the day the train arrives, I would give yourself a day extra. So fly to Seattle or Los Angeles the day before your train leaves so you don’t have to worry about missing the train. The same applies for flying from Seattle or Los Angeles. The train can be several minutes to several hours late, so you cannot count on the Amtrak schedule holding up. Therefore, plan accordingly.
- I have been on trains before, but this was my first long distance train ride. For the first few hours, it was difficult to get my “Amtrak Legs” and walk about the cars when the train was moving. After a few hours, I still felt the train moving but it bothered me less. If you get motion sickness, you may want to bring some medicine for the beginning of your journey. Trust me, it get’s better the longer you are on-board. If you have every been to an amusement park and went on several roller coasters, you may get this strange feeling that you are still moving even if you are standing still. The same thing happens with Amtrak. Even after 12+ hours on solid ground, I still feel like I am moving. This should go away in a day or so (I hope).
- The food on-board is surprisingly good. I don’t think I had one bad meal on-board. The train has a few options and they are all very good. If you are on-board for a few days, I would recommend trying all the options available. Desserts are great, so always leave room for dessert. Alcohol and tips are not included with your meal, so always leave a few bucks as a tip for your waiter. If you want food and drinks during non-meal times, you will have to pay for those (cash and credit cards accepted). Always make a lunch and dinner reservation. You will thank me later. For dinner, try to go earlier since it take a while for the main course to come. Breakfast and lunch are very fast.
- Be outgoing. You will meet a lot of interesting people on Amtrak. The average age in the bedroom/roomette was probably 60+ years old. My friend and I spoke with lots of people and could always find something in common. I recommend hanging out in the parlour car as much as you can. That is where all the socializing happens.
- If you are not in a hurry to get somewhere, Amtrak is a great way to travel. A flight from LAX to SEA would take about 2.5 hours, while an Amtrak ride from LAX to SEA takes about 35 hours. Northern California and parts of Oregon and Washington are beautiful. You see parts of the country inaccessible by car. Train is the only way to go.
- The price is a great deal. For 25,000 Amtrak Points (25,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points), you get a 35 hour journey for 1-4 people. I recommend going on one of the longer routes so you do not have to change trains. You will get the best bang for your buck. I had 5 meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and left $5 tip for each meal. $25 + 25,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points for 35 hours = great deal!
- Sleeping was an interesting experience. I had a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, even though I am usually a heavy sleeper. You may want to bring sleeping pills if that helps you sleep better. The trains are pretty noisy and bumpy, so you have been warned.
- I recommend the bedroom over the roomette. The bedroom costs 25,000 Amtrak Points while the roomette costs 15,000 Amtrak Points. I like having my own restroom near by and even taking a shower on-board was fun. The purpose of travel (at least for me) is to see and do things that I cannot do at home. Taking a shower in a 3 by 3 foot rectangle was an experience. Add in the fact that the train is moving and rocking back and forth. Very unique. If you have never done a roomette or a bedroom, take my advice and do a bedroom. You will thank me later.
- Last but not least, I think Amtrak is kind of addicting. After you finish one trip you want to go again. And again. Texas Eagle anyone? Its only 62 hours of non-stop fun!
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Have a great day everyone!
P.S. This weekend I will be at the Chicago Seminars, so I won’t be posting anything over the next few days. If you are at/near Chicago, come to the Holiday Inn Elk Grove on Friday and Saturday evening. I will be arranging a meetup for dinner both nights. See some of you there!
Great report! I am glad to hear firsthand from a frequent flyer what one of these journeys is really like.
I’ve always wanted to ride the Texas Eagle, especially since the station is just down the street from my office. I can see it coming into/leaving downtown. But my REAL bucket list trip (on that same routing) is to do Chicago to LA via the old Route 66.
Jennifer, you should do the Texas Eagle to Chicago and then road trip to LA. Then fly home. Some combination of that should work. Just gotta find somewhere to join you on your trip.
Your links in your post are to the admin edit panel, not to the posts themselves.
Uh oh. Better fix that. Thanks Jordan.
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I really enjoyed reading these reports. I never thought of doing an American train trip before instead of flying somewhere but I’ve seen so little of this country (because I hate to drive). It indeed is a good value.
Hi Ingrid, I would definitely consider it. Just find someone you don’t mind travel with for more than 24 hours and bring them along. Great way to see the country and meet some really interesting people along the way. Let me know if I can help you make you trip happen.
Years ago when you could transfer Continental Airlines miles 1:1 to Amtrak points, I did so, and ended up taking every US long distance train in both directions (East to West, and West to East), in a bedroom for free. I was hooked. I also took the Canadian Via Rail trip from Halifax to Vancouver in a two person bedroom both East to West & West to East (Except for between Toronto and Montreal where it is like an airline experience in business class.), and subsequently learned what long distance train travel was meant to be like. So much better than my Amtrak experiences! Via Rail does it right!
Still, it is the most relaxing, and enjoyable experience imaginable. I met a wide range of people, and nationalities, and interacted with them on the trains since there was more time. Not near as impersonal as plane travel can be. Saw our beautiful North American continent from one end to the other during various seasons, and I am still in awe.
Unlike you, I sleep like a baby on the train, but can’t sleep on a plane (15 hours to Seoul = 5 complete movies!). Like you, I recommend the Coast Starlight as the trip to take on Amtrak. Also to be enjoyed is the Cascades Portland or Seattle to Vancouver, and the Acela Express NYC to DC. Those are the three best trips in the US.
Thanks for the trip reports!
Thank you Mike, that sounds amazing. Is there any way to book Canadian Via Rail with points? When you travel, is it in a bedroom or roomette? How’s the food on the other rides? Thanks for sharing so much information. Have a great day.
I am not aware of any transfer partners with Via Rail, but they have some great deals all year long on long distance trains.
I was spoiled by having a whole room by myself, and will only book that type of option. I tend to book a 2 person bedroom that has its own bathroom, but an in room shower is only available on the Ocean between Montreal and Halifax. The Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver has a community shower at the end of the car. It is still the best experience I have had on a North American train.
The food on the long distance Canadian trains is near restaurant quality, and the staff on all their trains have been stellar! Even the business class food service between Toronto and Montreal is better than most domestic airlines.
I just got back from a Toronto to Halifax round trip I took the first of October. I now have 11,000+ Via Rail points available for a future trip!
I highly recommend taking a train trip on Via Rail, and giving yourself an experience you will never forget. Sometimes you just need to slow down, and enjoy the ride! I have literally hundreds of moments, and people I will never forget from my many train trips.
Safe travels Grant, and keep up the great work on your blog! I keep you on my weekly must read list.
Good evening Mike, thank you for all the helpful advice with booking US and Canadian trains. I have to look into the Canadian via rail option in the future. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend. Maybe we will run into each other one of these days on the train somewhere…
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I really enjoyed this series–thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s different! :)
Thank you Michelle, I recommend doing this route. It is very unique and memorable (just pack some sleeping pills).
Sounds like Advil PM & ear plugs will be a must! We live in CO so I think I have my husband talked in to trying the return trip from San Fran to Denver next summer. If only they had wifi the whole time but we’ll bring books & games for our kid. It’s so nice to know what to expect so thanks again. :)
Wifi is decent for most of the ride. Sometimes it got slow, so I tethered the internet from my iPhone. Some areas have no Wifi or cell reception, then you are out of luck. Most of my Amtrak review was created on the train, so Wifi worked decently.
Figure out what day/train you want, call Amtrak, have them check availability, and then do an instant Chase Ultimate Reward Transfer to your Amtrak account once they confirm the availability. No taxes/fees/cancellation fees for the Amtrak train ride.
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Bedrooms suck if you get dizzy should your seat face opposite the direction of travel. In that situation, you’d have to use the awkward chair across from you.
Whereas with the roomette, both seats are equally comfortable.
That is true, but luckily I don’t get sick facing the wrong way on the train :)
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We are looking to travel north from Martinez, do you think it’s possible to travel up to Portland, get off and spend a day and night there, then get on the train again to Seattle? Or is it a case of staying on the train the whole time? I guess it depends on what time it arrives in Portland as we were hoping to get the sleeper family bedrooms.
That would count as 2 trips, so you would need to book 2 separate trips. No free stopovers unfortunately.