Questions, Questions, Questions!
I’m getting more and more questions about train travel and, of course, I’m very happy to answer as many as I can. Here are my usual responses to some of the more frequent questions.
Q: Which Amtrak train offers the most scenic ride?
A: The California Zephyr. Leaving Denver, the westbound train climbs into the Rockies, then follows the Colorado River through more than 100 miles of rugged canyons to Glenwood Springs. The next day, the Zephyr crosses the Sierra Nevada Range by way of Donner Pass and descends through redwood forests into the Sacramento area.
Q: What is your favorite long-distance train and why?
A. The Coast Starlight—daily in both directions between Los Angeles and Seattle—because it’s a very scenic route and it’s the only Amtrak train that includes the luxury of a parlor car for sleeping car passengers.
Q: When is the best time of year to ride VIA Rail’s premier train, The Canadian, which runs between Vancouver and Toronto?
A: In the winter. The scenery is just as spectacular—maybe even more so—and, because it’s a much smaller train, the whole atmosphere is much more relaxed and informal. Furthermore, the fares are much less than they are in the peak season, which is roughly from May through October.
Q. Is traveling in a sleeping car worth the extra money?
A. Absolutely, if you can afford it. That’s especially true if you’re traveling with a companion. You each pay a basic rail fare, but there is only one charge for the room. And remember that dining car meals for both of you are included.
Q: When is the best time to book sleeping car accommodations?
A: As far in advance as possible. The closer you get to the departure date, the most expensive the room is probably going to be. Sometimes there are last-minute deals, but it’s much more likely that your train will be completely sold out.
Q: What’s the tipping protocol for Amtrak sleeping car passengers?
A: For sleeping car attendants, I suggest a minimum of $5.00 per person per night, assuming adequate service. I increase that if he or she offers to help me with my luggage. Add more if you have meals brought to your room. Tip the dining car servers as you would in any restaurant; i.e.: based on menu prices.
If you would like more detail or have other questions, by all means let me know in an email. Just remember that these are only one guy’s personal opinions, nothing more.