Special note - only a few weeks after this initial trip I did ANOTHER train trip and added a review of that as an addendum down below the main review.
Before beginning the actual review of my trip, I think its best you know a bit more about me.
I love baseball. Not just a casual fan type, but I LOVE baseball. Like a good baseball movie, I love to go early to a game and just revel in the sight of the green of the grass, the sound of batting practice, the smells of the hot dogs, etc. When I attend, I don't want to spend my time chatting or attend with someone who does. I want to watch every minute. Kind of like Susan Serandan's character in Bull Durham, “I believe in the Church of Baseball.”
I love the Los Angeles Dodgers specifically. I cheer with my whole heart and soul. I cheer whether they're the best or worst team in baseball at that moment or ahead or behind by 10 runs or more. Until the 27th out, I believe there is a chance for my team to win.
I love trains. Not on the same level as the baseball or the Dodgers, but I enjoy it a lot still. And long distance trains are SO different than commuter trains. If you ride the train to work every day and you think trains are no big deal, then you don't know the difference. It’s such a fabulously relaxing experience to ride the train. Up until this particular trip, I'd never done a sleeper car. I'd always trained in coach class in Amtrak. Coach seats are big and comfortable. Plenty or room to stretch your legs. It’s great to be able to get up and walk around on a train trip. Go to the restroom when you want. Hang out in the glass-domed Sightseer Lounge Car a while. Get a snack when you like. Meet great people. Enjoy a meal in the dining car with changing views as you go and meals served on real china plates.
I love my husband more than the rest, but he thinks both baseball and trains are boring and slow. Therefore, we do other activities together and I tend to do both baseball and trains without him.
Trip Review -
So, I actually live near San Francisco now, but I was born in Southern California - hence why I'm a Dodger Fan. Because I live so far from LA, I don't actually get to attend home Dodger games in LA very often. I attend regularly when they have away games to San Francisco. However, the environment is very hostile in San Francisco for a Dodger fan, so it’s not something I'd do alone. And the stadium in SF is small and popular, so ticket prices are very high there.
I am member of the Los Angeles Dodgers Booster Club (LADBC). It’s a non-profit that obviously has dedicated Dodger fans as members, but also supports local little leagues and other charities and is in charge of the giveaways at Dodger Stadium. The LADBC does a lot of activities together, including attending a large number of Dodger home games together as a group. However, one of my favorite activities they do is AWAY games as a group.
As soon as I heard that the LADBC was doing Seattle as an away trip, I signed up as fast as I could write an email. I'd toured the Mariner's SafeCo Field in 2009 when on a cruise as a day activity and thought it was really beautiful and I wanted to come back for a Dodger game. Since the Dodgers and Mariners are in different leagues, this is the first time I'd had that chance.
Arriving Seattle from the airport -
I flew the quick 2 hour flight on Thursday evening into SeaTac. FYI if you're on a budget, it’s pretty easy to take the Link commuter train from the airport to Downtown. It’s a bit of a pain on the butt with bags though, so I took the Downtown Airporter shuttle bus instead. All of the transit from the airport leaves from various levels of the parking garage that is across the sky bridge from the baggage claim area of the airport. Just go up to the sky bridge level (you can see it visually) and look for signs.
The Downtown Airporter costs $19 one way or $27 round trip, runs every half hour approximately, and stops at about six downtown hotels on its regularly scheduled route. You should check to see if your hotel is one of them. Everything downtown is close, but it’s also steep and hilly in some areas, so be mindful if it looks close on a map that it might be a challenge to drag a lot of bags.
Westin Seattle -
So, as a travel agent who sends a lot of people to Seattle, I try to stay in a different hotel on each trip. This time I chose the Westin Seattle, which I was really looking forward to because I love those heavenly beds! And now that I've come and gone, I can say that I do recommend it. There are some positives and negatives though.
To begin with the positives, we can start with the fact that once you pass the door to your room, the interior is standard issue Westin Heavenly. So, the decor and amenities are pleasant and have obviously been recently redone.
Next, this is my favorite hotel for location so far. Downtown Seattle has a lot of hills in the downtown area, so everything I've tried so far had a pretty steep walk away or to it if you want to wander to shop or dine. Westin is perfectly located near multiple types of transit venues and shopping AND it’s in a flat area.
The hotel also has a convenient continental breakfast area right in the lobby bar. You can get Starbucks brand coffees and tea as well as fruit, pastries, yogurt, etc. I had this twice ($3+ for coffee and danish or a yogurt parfait). There is also a regular restaurant there, but I didn't try it this trip.
The negative about the hotel is the view is not what you expect. I paid extra for a 'water view', thinking I'd be facing Puget Sound. 'Water' is relative as part of the circle faces Puget Sound, part Lake Union, and part the city. If you can see a sliver of EITHER Puget Sound or Lake Union they call that a water view. BUMMER! Don't pay extra for a view. You won't stay in your room enough anyway in all likelihood.
Restaurants Downtown -
I highly recommend Icon Grill, which is right across 5th Avenue from the Westin (5th is the one that the lobby bar backs up to). It’s got a bunch of awards for various things, but I went for brunch. I had a fabulous crab cake benedict on Saturday morning. Brunch is served until 2pm on the weekends. I believe they're a comfort food type place for lunch and dinner. It’s situated in an old movie theatre with a marquee so you can't miss it.
My friend Beth, a Seattle native, took me to a wonderful place called FareStart for lunch the first day. This is a gourmet restaurant (reservations suggested) that is a community outreach type thing. They take homeless people and train them in all aspects food service. There is a pretty experienced chef that does the teaching though, so it was really great lunch. I had a grilled salmon sandwich.
For great pub food and specialty beers try the Elephant & Crown restaurant in the bottom of the Crowne Plaza hotel. I'd stumbled upon this restaurant on a prior trip, and my first night at Westin I could see the Red Lion hotel symbol up 5th street a half dozen blocks and I hiked straight for it. Love the fish and chips! And I tried a Thomas Kemper Black Cheery soda with it, which was also yummy. They have a lot of cool specialty beers there in the Pub. And I wasn't up for dessert, but I saw some pretty impressive ones on other tables. If you're ever out wandering and want that, maybe check it out.
Another evening I wanted something light and I got a chopped chicken salad from PF Chang’s in the Westlake Shopping Center (which is only a block from the hotel).
SafeCo Field & Seattle Transportation -
Of course, I went to Seattle primarily for the baseball so let me talk about that.
For dressing appropriately, you should know that the roof protects THE FIELD ONLY when it’s closed. Unlike other domed stadiums that have air conditioners, this one just has a roof that covers the field but there is still lots of open spaces and air coming through. One of the things that impressed me about the tour is they said you could walk the entire main concourse and still see the field. The downfall of that is that wind howls through those openings when it’s blowing. Wear long pants and take a sweater ESPECIALLY if you're on the third base side. For more comfort, try to get tickets on the first base side.
I arrived really early for the first game (Friday night). The park opens two hours prior to game time, so if you're there at that time you can see the visiting team's entire batting practice. You can go right down to the railing and get autographs. And be sure to bring your glove as lots of foul balls were to be had.
Once the game is about to start, the ushers kick everyone out of the lower level that doesn't have a ticket. Be sure to always carry your ticket as they are serious seat police there. You'll have to show it every time you want to return to your seat.
The food options were varied. There was typical ballpark food plus some other things. Crepes and Sushi to name a few. On the first night when it was cold, I went to the one and only Ivar's Seafood and got clam chowder and a sourdough bowl. (Located near first base.) Ivar’s is a pretty famous Seattle seafood place.
It’s easy to take public transportation to SafeCo Field. You can take a Link train to the Stadium stop, or one of the many busses running through the transit tunnel from downtown to the International District / Chinatown stop. I thought they were honestly equal walking distance to the ballpark. Friday night I did a bus to International and Saturday I did the train to the Stadium stop. The transit tunnel is on the OPPOSITE side of the big train tracks though, so you have to hoof it from either one. The International stop was actually very interesting to me as it was also the King Street Amtrak train station stop. Either type of transportation will cost $2 1-way from the Westlake transit center downtown to the ballpark. You need to buy your transit ticket before you board and then it’s an honor system as to whether you’ve paid or not. Apparently, fare police sometimes board and want to see your ticket, but I didn’t experience this in the four times I rode. It costs a different amount of fare depending on how far you’re going by the way.
Since I’m used to doing San Francisco area transit that allows me to a buy a large $$ value ticket and then spend it down, rather than a ticket every single time, I bought an Orca card. This is a card that costs $5 just to get the piece of hard plastic, and then you load it with whatever dollars you want. To use it, you beep it at your start and end stations and it subtracts correct fare. I know I’ll be in Seattle many times over my lifetime, so I just did that.
For the record, my taxi on Sunday morning from Westin to the train station was only $6. So, if there are a lot in your party, and you’re traveling NOT during commuter traffic hours, a taxi might cost you less and be less hassle than the public transit. Not sure where you’d get one FROM the ballpark, but FYI.
Amtrak Coast Starlight - Seattle to Martinez (near San Francisco)
The Coast Starlight is Amtrak’s premiere long distance train service. It runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, taking about two days with one overnight, to get between the two. You can ride it in coach class, which is pretty comfortable for daytime trips, and a good value. However, it’s not perfect for sleeping overnight. I’ve done overnight in coach a couple of times when I was younger and I say ‘never again’! For the longer trip, it’s much better to pay for the sleeper car upgrade. Being in the sleeper is a first class experience, especially on the Coast Starlight.
The sleeper cars have four different types of cabin accommodations. If you’re used to cruising with many different categories, this will be understandable to you.
The lowest level, and therefore smallest, is called a roomette. These are made for one or two people. In the daytime you have your own private little room with facing chairs, a small amount of storage, a fold out table in between you, and two beds. The lower seats convert down flat into one of the beds, and then there is a bunk that pulls down for the second person. You need to use the toilet down the hallway shared by others (there are four per car), and there is also one shower shared by all the roomettes in your car. There are 10 roomettes upstairs and four downstairs. There is one toilet upstairs and the rest of the facilities are down.
I had one of these roomettes. I tested out the upper bunk by taking a nap in the afternoon and found it to be comfortable. The steps are large built in shelf looking things, not a ladder. And there is a big safety net that looks like a seat belt you bolt into the ceiling with two hooks to be sure you don’t fall out once you’re up there. Quite an adventure! The lower bunk is what most singles sleep on though. I got SOME sleep, but it wasn’t all that comfortable. They put about a 3 inch mattress thing on top of the folded out seats to make it a solid surface, but you can feel the seat sections underneath. For this reason, I actually thought the upper bunk was more comfortable, even though it’s technically a few inches shorter and narrower. I’m accident prone though, and I wouldn’t take the chance of trying to get out of that upper when I was groggy from sleep at night!
The other room choices are a bedroom, which sleeps two ideally, but could fit three. The bedroom has its own sink, shower and toilet within it. During the day there is a couch with a single bucket seat facing it near the window, similar to the roomette. There is a fold out table that would be between you for eating and games. Then the couch folds down into a double bed and there is an upper berth with steps that can be pulled down above that. I think the double is much narrower than normal though, as they don’t suggest the triple unless it’s a child. (One adult and the child would be squeezing into the lower berth.)
Each sleeper train car has an attendant. Lorna was my car attendant and she was wonderful. She makes up each room, gets you champagne as you board, sets up your bed at night, and answers all your questions. There is a button to summon her at any hour in your room. She is your ‘go to’ girl and is very helpful. I left her a $10 tip when I departed because I asked tons of questions. Another friend said they normally leave $5. It’s up to you.
Each room comes with two bottles of water and a little packet of shampoo, conditioner and soap as you board. Each car has its own water spout upstairs built in, but also a coffee jug and boxes of juice you can pour. And there is also ice nearby, oranges and apples and more bottles of water you can grab at will. For decaf coffee I was told to go to the dining car, but I never did. I just got juice instead. I did find out after the fact that in the MORNING I could get decaf in the Parlour Car.
The big plus of being on the Coast Starlight is the Pacific Parlour Car. This is a communal area for sleeper car passengers. It has some 360 degree swivel chairs, some other comfy lounging couches, six dining tables and a full bar in the upper level. There is one Parlour Car attendant that does everything – serves all the meals in the dining area, makes drinks in the bar area, and hosts the 4pm wine & cheese get together. This wine event costs $5 and space is limited, so sign up with the Parlour Car attendant when you board. Barbara was my Parlour Car attendant and man, did she work her butt off. Since I don’t drink, I didn’t do the wine thing, but others loved it.
The downstairs of the Parlour Car has a movie theatre! It’s a big flat screen tv with theatre style seats that have a little table attached, so a group could use this as a get-together in the daytime. The TV was showing some kind of news channel when I ran downstairs for pictures, so it probably does that the whole time it’s not movie time. They show a kid-friendly movie at 3pm and a regular movie at 8pm. Unfortunately, the upstairs of the Parlour Car is supposed to have a screen that shows what’s going to be playing, but it was broken on my car. Since the movie comes in on some kind of national feed, even the Parlour Car attendant didn’t know what the movie was going to be.
You will also note that sleeper car passengers are advertised to include WiFi on the Coast Starlight. However, this is NOT in the sleeper cars themselves but solely available in the Parlour Car. I heard she had some technical issues with it, and also heard it was working. So, maybe it was off and on. I never did haul my iPad down to the Parlour Car to give it a test. I can tell you there is a huge section of Southern Oregon and very Northern California that has not even a cell signal though, so it’s not a place to go if you don’t REALLY want to just enjoy the fabulous scenery, people, wine, movies, a good book, etc.
If you’re traveling on Amtrak in a sleeper, all of your meals are included. So, you have first dibs on the dining car reservations OR, only on the Coast Starlight, you also can eat a meal in the Parlour Car. The Parlour Car has a different menu than the dining car. It has some lighter fare for some meals, but it was sufficient for sure for me. Be mindful that the dining room steward who is in charge of taking reservations makes announcements throughout the train and then starts in the Parlour Car but walks to ALL sleeper car accommodations taking reservations before walking through the coach cars. Many folks not ‘in the know’ would just automatically get reservations in the dining car without realizing there was an option for dining in the Parlour Car. I had actually downloaded to my iPad from the Amtrak Website both menus, so as the meals approached, I compared the two and decided where I wanted to eat. For all three meals I chose the Parlour Car this trip. Please note that your food is included, but since you’re not having to pay you might forget to take cash. The wait staff in the dining room, or the Parlour Car attendant in that dining area, certainly appreciate your tips. I left Barbara $2 for lunch and dinner and $1 for breakfast.
If you’ve never eaten on a train before, be mindful that most of the time they seat you with others. I have met some great people on the train, as it’s a very social environment in general (as long as you’re not holed up in your room). In the dining car I’ve ALWAYS been seated with strangers on past trips. In the Parlour Car I was seated with another lady for lunch, volunteered to sit for dinner with some folks I’d met in my train car, and sat alone for breakfast. The tables in the Parlour Car are a little smaller than the ones in the dining car, so they won’t automatically cram four together in there. If you prefer to sit ‘just the two of you’ then opt for the Parlour Car dining. Also, dining reservations are just spots, not truly a time. They might say you have a 7pm reservation, but you must wait for the ‘7pm reservations’ to be called. If those in earlier dining slots are taking a long time, the reservations get backed up. I believe I had a 7pm but didn’t get seated until 7:50pm or something like that. (This was another reason why I decided to share with the couple who had the room next to me. We were all hungry and by doing a table for three we could all eat sooner! Plus they were a lovely couple and I enjoyed chatting with them while we waited for our time in the Parlour Car.)
The Train Consist is the official word for the question, “What train cars does this particular train consist of?”. You can CALL Amtrak and ask for your train’s consist if you want to know. The Starlight is usually hooked together in this order – Locomotives in the front, then baggage cars, sleeper cars (normally three in the summer months, two in the less busy times Lorna told me), Pacific Parlour Car, dining car, Sightseer Lounge Car and coach cars in the back. The second coach car back from the Sightseer Lounge Car has an arcade in the bottom with four video machines and a token machine.
Amtrak has a really cool National Park Service program called Rails & Trails where volunteers from the National Park Service board the train in certain stations and give a narrative in the SIGHTSEER LOUNGE CAR ONLY. This is the glass-domed casual visiting area mostly used by coach passengers. It has the snack bar in the lower level if you want a candy bar or some food not offered in the sit down dining. I love the Sightseer Lounge Car and have spent a lot of time in there on other trips I’ve been on. Anyway, on my route there was a Rails & Trails presentation going on from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR, so I spend part of that first section of my trip in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Met some really nice folks there too!
Here is a link to the Rails & Trails page of Amtrak’s Website so you can see if the section of train you’re going on has a narrative you won’t want to miss.
Boarding the train – sleeper cars are supposed to be a first class type service, so in some stations, there is a separate waiting area in the departing station for those in a sleeper. However, the Seattle station is under construction (apparently frozen in this half done state for quite some time – probably due to budget reasons), and there was absolutely nothing special about it. I can tell you that once you enter if you don’t have an actual ticket, you should go to the right and get a printed ticket at the window. You should also go there to check bags. If you already HAVE your paper ticket and you’re carrying on just one bag, then you check in with the conductor in the waiting area to the LEFT of the street entry. He’ll take your ticket and give you a slip of paper to give your cabin attendant so she / he knows when you’re detraining. There is no reason to show up particularly early. If you want to check bags, then you need at least 30 minutes before the 9:45am departure. However, they didn’t even pull the train up to the station until 9:20 or something, so hours early would totally waste your time. They call sleeper car passengers to board first.
Portland, OR was a really big station we stopped in during the first afternoon. It seems like a lot of folks start or end there rather than Seattle. It was also a beautiful looking station and historic on the outside. Not sure what it looks like inside, but it has to be better than the construction zone of Seattle I tell ya! If you’re just looking for a joyride, maybe go to Portland and back rather than Seattle.
About the bags – once you check them, you won’t see them until your destination. So, you want to have a small bag with your overnight stuff and whatever else you’re going to need on the train ride itself WITH you on the train. There is a nice luggage area at the bottom of every train car. I kept my suitcase there, and had just a really small duffle in my tiny roomette. There just really isn’t room for a suitcase in there with you AND if you get one of the 10 roomettes or 5 bedrooms upstairs, you’d have to lug the bag up some pretty steep stairs. (Not fun!) Pack accordingly! It amazed me how some folks getting on the train didn’t know anything at all about how it worked. One lady had checked all her baggage – even her toiletries. She had to go rushing down to the baggage car to try to snag what she needed before we left Seattle.
About room assignments – Amtrak’s computer does them, with no power over them by you or me, your travel agent. I feel pretty strongly that the right side of the train going South, and the left going North would be the best, as that’s the water side. However, you can’t pick it, so you just have to go with what you get assigned. If you’re not on the side you like, you can spend more time in the View (Sightseer) or Parlour Car. Near Seattle the train track runs right along Puget Sound.
And the best view in all the country (and on the cover of many Amtrak promo materials) is the ‘right along the ocean’ section of the Starlight between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. I’ve done this train in coach before (showing photos from 2008). The Pacific Surfliner, a California / not a sleeper train, does this edge of the ocean part too, but it makes LOTS of stops. You can ride the Coast Starlight or Pacific Surfliner with a morning departure from LA to get this water’s edge section without sleeping over if you want a shorter joyride.
Sleeper cost – You need to know from the get-go that riding in a sleeper is not super cheap. It has to be part of your actual destination rather than simply thinking it’s your transportation. The way the fare works is each person has a rail only fare, which would be a coach seat. And then on top of that you add on the sleeper car accommodations if you want one. For both of the Seattle to SF area trips I did the cost was $80 - $100 1-way for the rail part, and $225 - $300 for the roomette add-on. They offer senior and student and AAA rates for the RAIL fare, but the sleepers aren’t discounted. The price on both the rail and the sleeper add-on fluctuate, just like any other type of transportation, so be prepared. And I think it’s better to book sooner as well. FYI the bedroom cost for the 1-way I did was about twice as much as the roomette.
June 21 - 25, 2012 trip – addendum
Only a few weeks after taking the trip above, my Dad (who lives in Southern California) invited me for more baseball games down in Anaheim. Last minute flight costs were overly expensive, so I decided to do both directions on the train. I’ll briefly describe my experience as added info to this same review.
I particularly wanted to do the ‘right along the ocean’ train ride, mentioned above, both directions. However, my Dad doesn’t like to do Los Angeles traffic, so taking the Coast Starlight both ways was not practical. It only goes to LA, and he lives another hour on the train south of that, which REQUIRES the Pacific Surfliner.
Southbound – San Jose to San Juan Capistrano
I had to fit the dropping off and picking up into my husband’s workday schedule, so my options were limited. My southbound day, on a Thursday, started with him dropping me off in Pleasanton, CA at the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) station at 6:40am. This is a train that runs weekdays only from the Central Valley of California to San Jose. You can only go towards San Jose in the morning and from San Jose in the afternoon / evening. Other than the fact that I had to get a particularly early start, it was a fine ride. ACE one way cost $7.75, and it’s a larger sized commuter train, not unlike the MetroLink in the LA area. It’s a busy train. Very full!
I then had an hour wait in San Jose, which is HUGE transit center with lots of ways to get out and about in San Jose, or up or down the San Francisco Peninsula on CalTrain. I had a hot breakfast burrito there while I awaited my Amtrak Connection bus. This was my only and best option to get from San Jose to the Pacific Surfliner in San Luis Obispo. The ‘pretty part’ of the train ride is between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, so you have to be careful not to connect at Santa Barbara or lower, or you’ll miss the best. (However, you CAN see the ocean from the train for a little section south of Santa Barbara as well.)
After the bus, I had business class on the Pacific Surfliner. Business class gives you a free beverage and snacks, as well as more legroom, a power outlet, WiFi that works lousy, and a free newspaper. The upgrade cost was only $10 though, so worth the stretching room. And because I started at the beginning of this line, San Luis Obispo, I was able to easily secure a forward-facing seat on the right side of the train where the ocean was.
I want to point out that half of the seats on Pacific Surfliner face one way and the others the reverse. As the train pulls into Los Angeles, the front becomes the back. So, if you to always want to face forward, switch yourself in LA. MANY people get off the train in LA, so there was ample seats to switch to. The Pacific Surfliner has a snack bar type area in one of the cars, so you can get up and get some food, but there is no dining car.
This whole day was very long. The bus ride from San Jose to San Luis Obispo was 4 hours with lots of stops. And then the train ride on the Pacific Surfliner was fine, but also had lots of stops and took a long time. After starting at 6:30am from home, I didn’t get to San Juan Capistrano until after 9pm and I was SO ready to get up and move around. I realize now that there is a distinct difference in traveling on the Amtrak California busses and commuter style trains vs. the long distance trains. On the distance trains there is an opportunity to get up and move around and socialize with others more. There is the communal view car and the dining car that gets you up and moving around if you wish it. It’s much better than sitting for hour upon hour on a bus or a train meant for shorter distances. The positive side though was that the San Jose to San Juan Capistrano full cost would have only been $56 if I didn’t upgrade to biz class. Really a great value if that’s what you need.
Northbound, San Juan Capistrano to San Jose –
On Monday, June 26 Dad dropped me back at the San Juan Capistrano station around 7:30am and I got back on the Pacific Surfliner. This was interesting, as it was a lot of regular commuters mixed in with the tourists like me. Thankfully though, this train was only a hour long to LA. Coffee, tea and pastries were available in our Biz Class car for free, as well as a pile of USA Today newspapers. The view in this part of the LA sprawl is nothing to look at, so you want to have that paper to keep you occupied for sure. Again, WiFi was promised but not too wonderful. My opinion of Amtrak WiFi is they have some really small amount of output that has WAY too many folks trying to access it. My 3G was better.
I had an hour layover in LA’s Union Station, which was nice considering it’s such a beautiful and historic station. There is some great architecture in the ceilings and walls, as well as a pretty courtyard with a fountain and roses. It’s great for stretching your legs between trains and having something to look at.
Along with that though is the Traxx Bar that is set up for sleeper car passengers on Coast Starlight. This area has coffee, tea and multiple juices for free as you wait for the Starlight to pull in. Scheduled departure for the Coast Starlight long distance train from LA to Seattle is 9:45am, but our train was slightly delayed. I think they finally knew which track it was ready for us about 10am. That was fine though.
You can walk to the train or get red cap golf cart service from the door near the Traxx Bar to the rails. It’s very cool how the LA station is set up where you walk in an underground tunnel towards the tracks and then up ramps on both the left and right side to the platform. Sleepers were to the left and coach to the right as we boarded.
Unfortunately for me, I had the nearly identical roomette as I had the prior time. I was in the middle of three sleeper cars, on the bottom level, AND AGAIN not on the ocean side. Just can win for losing on the room number assignment I tell ya! I still loved having it though. I was able to relax and upload my pictures before lunch in the regular dining car this time. I was seated with some nice strangers. A single retired gentleman and a lady and her granddaughter. MAKE AN EARLY LUNCH APPOINTMENT so you can get to a viewing seat for the ocean part. I did an 11:30am lunch and was out to the Sightseer view car by 12:45pm, somewhere below Santa Barbara.
I spent approximately two hours in the glass domed view car as we went by the ocean section. I met some really nice people and again got to see a dolphin in the water very near the coastline. (Could have been the same one I suppose.) During this pretty part we’re well away from the freeway and there are no cell signals so I’m not sure exactly where I saw it.
After my time in the warm and sunny view car, I headed to my sleeper room and took a nap in the upper bunk for an hour. I woke up around 4pm when the lady came around to make dining reservations. This time I dined in the Parlour Car around 5:30pm because I wanted to be sure to be done before our estimated arrival into San Jose at 8:30pm. We were, of course, late by 45 minutes or so, but I didn’t really want to get the train then. I enjoyed the Starlight SO much more than the smaller trains. Going through the Salinas Valley in the evening was truly beautiful.
I learned a couple things that made this second Starlight trip different from the first. First, my car attendant was exceptional on that first trip and you never know how great you have it until you don’t. My attendant on this second trip was nowhere to be seen, was very unhelpful, didn’t come when you beeped her, and seemed to only show up around the train stop points where she might have to let passengers on or off. It was very disappointing. I did not tip her at all.
Second, if you want to eat with others FOR SURE, you should reserve your meals in the dining car. If you ask for the Parlour Car, you’ll be seated by yourself unless the dining reservation person specifically tries to pair you up. I actually didn’t like dining for dinner alone the last night and asked the Parlour Car attendant about the protocol. She said it often has to do with the person who makes the reservations. Most dining coordinators give each party its own table in the Parlour Car, even though you might get paired up on a really packed train. The tables in the Parlor are smaller so they don’t want to try to pack 4 in there most of the time. I did notice that the herb chicken I had for dinner both trips in the Parlour Car is offered in the dining car as well, so I might just ask for dining car next time and order the same meal!
Train trips –
I would be happy to help you plan a long distance train trip. You can book either a pre-made Amtrak Vacation with me or I can help you do a custom trip with trains, hotels, sightseeing and rental cars you might need. I can also book Rocky Mountaineer and other trains around the world for you. Obviously, I’m passionate about this subject, so it would be fun to help others with planning their own rail trips.
And stay tuned as I’m going back to Seattle to visit my Mom in September (she lives in Alaska and we’re meeting there). I might post about the hotels I stay in that trip if I think they’re worthwhile, and I plan to take the Coast Starlight homeward again!
You can reach me by email if you already know it or by hitting “Contact Us” in the upper right of this page.