We bought tickets online a couple of weeks prior to our trip. I wanted to go on the ride with snow in the Sierras and we were not disappointed! (March 31, 2010) We had questions regarding the trip and called an Amtrak representative to ask about food and parking. There is a lot immediately next to the train station in Emeryville...you have to go inside and get your tickets at the counter and they will give you a parking pass to display on your windshield, so parking is free.
Regarding food, there is a dining car and a small cafe on the train. Food is basic, prices range $5-$20 depending on bkf, lunch or dinner. After reading a review that the food is like 'airplane food', we decided to take snacks on the train from home and bought a subway sandwich, which is open early and is directly across the street from the station. Also across the street is another food store with pastries, coffee and snacks. There is food available to purchase inside the train station as well.
The train ride was very comfortable, many people bringing pillows and their own blankets. You can recline slightly in the seat and there is a foot rest as well. Plenty of leg room. You can wander to the 'lounge' car, which has tables and viewing seats with a clear dome ceiling. You are told not to 'camp out' there so that all may enjoy....but....
The stairway is VERY narrow and that leads to the bathroom. You can carry on your own bags that can be stored overhead. The drinking water on the train is terrible, bring your own. There is an electrical outlet under your window so you can charge electronic items. Cell phones seemed to work very well on the whole ride.
We left Emeryville around 10am and arrived in Reno around 4:30pm. We stopped 5 times...at Martinez, Davis, Sacramento, Roseville, Colfax, and Truckee...all stops were fairly brief. The only stop they allowed you to get off (smoke) was in Sacramento.
Seating is open and it wasn't any problem for us to find a seat for us together.
Bathrooms are like airplane bathrooms, and one had room to change clothing.
We stayed overnight in Reno, walked to Silver Legacy, although Harrahs was closer, almost across the street from the station.
There is a McDonalds right across the street from Silver Legacy, so if you are still full from the buffet dinner, you can get a light breakfast before going to the station.
Our train was an hour and a half late....something happened out of Salt Lake...we heard delays are common.
We sat on the right side each way so we could enjoy all the scenery...some say it isn't pretty until you are out of Sacramento, but we totally enjoyed it all....seeing the bay, the bridges, the mothball fleet, and then the beautiful sierras and rivers. We had to wait outside of Martinez for 45min for a tanker ship to go under the drawbridge...it was the slow boat from China!
We ate in the dining room on the way back...sat with ladies who were in the sleeping car, so got good feedback regarding their experience....their food was included in the fare.
The meal in the dining car was ok, salad very small (about 3 bites), but it was a fun experience, but nothing like the dining car on our trip to Alaska to Denali Park with Princess. But we are glad we tried it and it didn't break the bank, meal was about $16....I had the veggie burger and my husband had the 'special'...a hot beef/rice dish...he said it was good but a very small portion.
For those who get motion sick easily, this ride was very smooth until you got up to walk...could be wobbly....I was afraid looking outside the window would make me feel sick but I was ok.
Cost for us out of Emeryville was about $160 roundtrip for both with a senior and AAA discount.
We would highly recommend this trip, probably one of the best $200 weekend trips we have taken.
If you own or manage California Zephyr, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.