British Couple Gets Poor Advice.
I have had countless numbers of delightful encounters with fellow passengers in Amtrak dining cars, many of which I’ve chronicled here. Friday night was no exception as I found myself across the table at dinner time with a couple from the U.K. They we connecting to the California Zephyr and were headed for Wyoming and ten days in a cabin in the Tetons. Sure sounded nice.
But once again I was surprised at the specifics of the itinerary that a travel agent in the U.K. had worked out for them. They were going to get off the Zephyr in Omaha, Nebraska, spend the night there and pick up a rental car the next morning for the drive up to Jackson Hole.
But why would you do that? The Zephyr doesn’t arrive in Omaha until 11:00 p.m. Why not stay on board until the train gets to Denver at 7:00 the next morning? The drive from Denver to Jackson Hole is a little more than 500 miles, but from Omaha, it’s more than 900 miles –realistically, that’s a two-day drive.
I remarked that it was too bad they couldn’t stay on the Zephyr until Denver, or even beyond, because they were going to miss the really spectacular scenery. Why not stay on the Zephyr all the way to Glenwood Springs? (Photo above.) To me, that’s the best idea yet because it’s only about 450 miles from there up to Jackson Hole, the shortest distance of all three options.
They reacted with surprise. “Really? But our travel agent recommended we get off at Omaha because the train fare would be higher if we stayed on until Denver.”
It’s so distressing when I hear stories like that! Unfortunately, the fact remains that many travel agents–probably even most of them–know very little about booking long-distance train travel. And it’s especially asking a lot to expect a travel agent in the U.K. to know enough about distances in the U.S.and about the Amtrak system.
Certainly, people who have never traveled overnight on the train should consult a travel agent but, for heaven’s sake, try to pick one who knows the ins and outs of train travel!
To find out if any individual travel agent really is rail savvy, just ask them this simple question:
What’s the difference between a roomette in a Viewliner sleeping car and a roomette in a Superliner?
Answer: The Viewliner roomettes have a window for passengers sleeping in the upper berth and there is an en suite toilet and wash basin. There are no windows for the upper berths in a Superliner sleeper, and the lavatory facilities are “down the hall”.
If your travel agent answers those questions with no fumbling, chances are he or she will make the right recommendations for a long-distance train journey. But if they don’t know, or say they’ll get back to you after doing “a little research”, look for help elsewhere.
There are a few travel agencies that specialize in rail travel. I’ve listed several in my book, but for overnight customized train travel, one I can specifically recommend is Train Travel Consulting in Klamath Falls, Oregon. It’s run by Ted and Sylvia Blishak and they know everything there is to know about train travel in the U.S. Chances are there’s a rail tour that will be right for you, in which case I suggest calling Vacations By Rail.