Looking for an adventure out of Los Angeles that’s scenic, educational, and relaxing? Why not skip the traffic jams and try a train trip? Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train heads right up the California coast and then through Oregon and Washington, ending in Seattle. This easy 34-hour journey is spread out over two days and one night, and even by the end of the second day our kids weren’t quite ready to leave the train. As we told more friends about the trip, we discovered that very few of them had ever done it…and they had lots and lots of questions about it, so we thought we’d answer a few of the most frequently asked questions.
1) How was the food? Loved it! When you book a room in a sleeper car, all of the meals on your journey are included. For each meal, you get to choose whether you want to dine in the Pacific Parlour car or the dining car. You book a reservation time, head on over at your appointed time, and then you can order from among several choices on the menu.
Our meals were hot, fresh, healthy, and pleasing to both kids and adults. There are several “specials” for every meal, but just to give you an idea, here’s the dining car menu (remember that meals are included if you’re in a sleeper car so you don’t have to worry about the price of each item), the northbound Pacific Parlour menu and the southbound Pacific Parlour menu. Extra dining car bonus: You get to watch the scenery going by while you eat – it’s better than TV.
2) How was the sleeping? Surprisingly comfortable. Our family sleeping room was designed to sleep four – two adults plus two kids; which means there was an upper and lower adult-sized bunk, and an upper and lower kid-sized bunk. Our group only had one adult and two kids so the older kid (age 10) slept on the upper adult bunk to give him a little more leg room. Had we been a group of four, it might have been a tight squeeze – the kids’ bunks are very compact – but with three people we felt we had more than enough room. In the daytime, we had plenty of room for each kid to sit comfortably by his own window, while an adult could lie down and read a book between them. If you’re looking to stay in a sleeper car, there are several sleeper car room types available depending on the size of your party, including special bedroom suites that have their own bathrooms.
3) How were the bathrooms? The bathrooms are pretty similar to airplane bathrooms – They’re tiny and you may get bounced up and down a little bit while you’re sitting in there. But overall they were clean and well-kept. On our sleeper car there were three separate toilet rooms, plus one shower room, and we never had to wait for the bathrooms.
4) What did you do the whole time? We spent a lot of time either looking at scenery, reading, playing cards, or playing on iPads. At least three of our waking hours each day were spent in the dining car.
Plus, in the Pacific Parlour car there were movies showing each day (a 3:00 pm kids’ movie and an 8:00 pm adult movie). The observation car also featured a National Park Service docent who gave a talk about the scenery through the Trails and Rails program. The kids had a great time moving from car to car and checking out all of the activities.
5.) Who is available to help you once you’re on the train? Each sleeper car has its own porter, kind of like your own flight attendant, who helps you get oriented and who helps you convert your seats into beds at night. As soon as we got on the train, our friendly porter brought us fresh water and fruit. There’s also an attendant call button in each sleeping compartment if you need assistance. Also, the dining car personnel travel around the train to assist people with breakfast, lunch, and dinner reservations.
6.) What scenery did you see? In the first part of the trip, we enjoyed a lovely view of the Southern California and Central California coastline. Then the train took a “right hand turn” and headed inland through farm country. We reached Oakland at about 10:00 pm when we were going to sleep, so we didn’t see any scenery between the Bay Area and the California-Oregon border. But at breakfast the second morning, we got a chance to see fabulous waterside scenery through Oregon, and the views continued all the way through Washington.
7.) Do you stop and get out during the trip? No, the trip is designed so that you stay on the train the entire time (approximately 10:00 am the first morning, until 8:30 pm the next day). If you need to get out for a quick break (such as a smoke break) you can do that at the bigger stations where there’s a longer stop, but it’s only about 5 to 10 minutes. Ideally, you can just rest and relax and let Amtrak do all of the driving.