The Questions Keep Coming.
Q: Which do you prefer, the trans-Canada trip on VIA or the Rocky Mountaineer?
A: The two trains offer experiences that are quite different. I’ve made the trans-Canada trip eight or nine times and my wife and I took the Rocky Mountaineer several years ago—a two-day trip from Vancouver to Banff with an overnight stop at a hotel in Kamloops.
I remember thinking at the time that the people who enjoyed the Rocky Mountaineer the most were folks who had never been in serious mountains before and have never traveled much by train. The on-board crew did a good job and I thought the food was good. But I also thought, all things considered, that it was overpriced.
VIA Rail’s Vancouver-to-Toronto train is still one of the world’s great train rides. Their new Prestige Class accommodations are quite luxurious (although very pricey), but the traditional sleeping car accommodations are quite comfortable, the food is very good and the per person fares are substantially less than a two-day experience on the Rocky Mountaineer.
Q: I’m going to take my family across country on Amtrak this summer—Chicago to the Bay Area on the California Zephyr. We have three kids, ages 13, 11 and 2. Can we get by with two roomettes?
A: I guess so, but your two-year-old would have to share a berth with someone. If your budget will support it, I would recommend booking you and your wife and your youngest into a Family Bedroom and putting the two older kids in a roomette. Ask for number 13 or 14, either one is immediately adjacent to the Family Bedroom. When you’re not in the dining car or the Sightseer Lounge, you can all hang out in the big room. It has the added benefit of a window on both sides of the train.
Q: My husband just booked an overnight ride on Amtrak from Philadelphia to New Orleans. I’m willing to try the train, and I think it will be an interesting adventure. But I really don’t like the idea of being forced to sit with strangers when taking our meals in the dining car. Can we pay extra to have a table to ourselves?
A. No, although you can have your car attendant bring your meals to your accommodations. But please—take my advice and don’t do that. I can tell you from many years of traveling on Amtrak that meeting and getting to know fellow passengers in the dining car is one of the great pleasures of long-distance train travel. Do not miss out on this part of the adventure.
Don’t the Viewliner trains have a lunch-counter in the dining car for single diners?
No, they have regular dining cars. One exception: the Silver Star has a Cafe Car which serves snacks and microwaved meals. Seating there is wherever you find a seat, which could be by yourself, but probably not.
So this is not an accurate (or current) layout then?