Things to Do in California
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Since 1949 this Amtrak train has taken travelers on scenic rides between Roseville, IL and Oakland, CA.
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More than 3 hours
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Detailed Reviews: Reviews order informed by descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as cleanliness, atmosphere, general tips and location information.
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4.0
1,124 reviews
Excellent
422
Very good
393
Average
140
Poor
78
Terrible
91

corkerIreland
Ireland90 contributions
Jul 2022
What an adventure! We experinced hot tracks, wet tracks and tracks blocked by a flash flood landslide but we also experinced wonderful scenery, friendly staff and great service. We were delayed by over 15 hours on our trip from SF to Omaha but we felt safe, informed and well cared for throughout the journey. Do not book connecting trips with a tight timeline as your arrival time will be unpredictable due to the mother nature's impact on the tracks. Do try to book a 'roomette' if you can afford it as you will have bunkbeds at night, access to a comfortable shower and all meals and soft beverages included, as well as a personal attendant in the carriage to keep you informed and looked after. I would also recommend you get on the train at the beginning as it will probably involve a long wait at a station to join the trip. It is a train afterall, it is not spotlessly clean and toilets do get grubby as the journey progresses, we brought anti-bacterial wipes etc to ensure we were comfortable and prevent covid etc. One major tick on the 'bucket list'! Would I do it again? - Probably not! Do I regret it? - Definitely not! We really really enjoyed the experience.
Written July 31, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

mosquitofever
Washington DC, DC27 contributions
May 2021
I took the California Zephyr from Denver to Chicago with a transfer in Chicago to the Cardinal. I am a big fan of Amtrak in general, but since discovering the roomettes...there's no turning back on longer trips. Certainly the price is comparable to flying, but I really enjoy Amtrak. I like to sit back, watch the country slip by and (mostly) disconnect. Better yet, in my pajamas and space to lounge. Unless you're really close with your travel mate, I would not recommend the roomette for more than one person simply because there is very little extra space - it's all quite efficient.

The California Zephyr train includes a glass viewing car which is the best - I've experienced these on other rides and it's always a thrill. What I had not realized about this particular line is that the roomettes are slightly smaller than those on the Cardinal and lack the toilet/sink installation as well as dedicated baggage space. This didn't matter for me as I was solo, and the shared bathrooms were kept tidy the full trip.

I like to pack my own food, so I can't comment on meals served, but it was nice to receive an email in advance to order any specific meals. That said, the menu in my room was more appealing than my memory of the online options. This was the best coffee I've had on a train.

My particular ride, the train arrived in Denver Friday evening 3+ hours late due to delivering a private car. The Denver Amtrak station is beautiful, with power to charge devices, and honestly a delight to spend time in, so leaving a little late was not a terrible inconvenience. We did not lose additional time, but we were not able to make up the 3+ hours and it became clear I would miss my transfer in Chicago. I was disappointed about this as I had looked forward to dinner in Chicago. Further, I needed to complete this journey before I was due back at work on Monday.

I'm really impressed with the logistics. Saturday afternoon the conductor calmly explained the plan and communicated appropriately. In order to meet up with the Cardinal, anyone due to transfer to the Cardinal disembark from the California Zephyr several stops outside Chicago. We were then to walk out of the station and directly onto a long distance bus to Indianapolis where we would board the Cardinal at 11pm. It was as smooth as anyone could hope and everyone involved was jovial. If my goal had been to arrive home Sunday at an exact time, I would have been very pleased. But, my goal had been to zone out and this did put a damper on things...but I still love Amtrak and look forward to my next overnighter.
Written June 9, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Mikkel K
Herlev, Denmark19 contributions
Jul 2022 • Family
First time trying the slow moving concept but loved every part. Just sitting watching the landscapes pass by and going through both Sierra and the Rockies was simply fab. On the other hand Amtrak lived up to their reputation - old, worn out trains and cabins, staff quite unfriendly and we were more than 6 hours late to our arrival in Denver (of a 36 hour trip). As the staff said, this is what happens and although slow moving means less focus on the time, it was quite saying for the staff they didn’t really care about this. Have to say, the guides were great when they were available in the panorama waggon..
Despite Amtrak and a pretty heavy price for a two day journey (we could have taken a first class plane ride to Denver and checked into a fancy hotel and still cheaper than amtrak), the trip is highly recommended so go for it.
Written July 28, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

jmiller64
Olive Branch, Mississippi35 contributions
Nov 2021
Amtrak is a monopoly of America's railways. It can be argued that we would not have passenger railways in the United States without the creation of Amtrak. And that might very well be the case. But Amtrak has taken that and put in the minimal amount of effort for passengers while charging full price.

Recently, CEO's were put in place to gut Amtrak's passenger services while keeping prices high. Food service on long-distance trains where you have to spend two full days entirely relying on what they serve you was reduced to microwave meals, and not good ones at that. On our trip from Chicago to Emeryville, across from San Francisco, the kitchen's cooking equipment was known to not work, but we left without repairing it. So we were left with microwaved meals for over two full days, as the trip took 53 hours including a one-hour delay.

The whole point of the California Zephyr are the views, especially in the morning out of Denver across the Rockies. We were very lucky to have clear skies, as the forecast had been for clouds. And it was very pretty. But again, taking care of passengers isn't a priority as the windows weren't washed for us before leaving Chicago. So we were always looking through speckled windows.

Our Car Attendant, Craig, was the greatest attendant we have ever had on Amtrak! So that was very good. We had booked two Roomettes cattycorner to each other in our sleeping car months ahead of time. But Craig asked the two men in the room across from me if they would switch with my wife and they did. Which was great! And Craig did special things for us, like keeping the coffee in the sleeping car going and making sure that we had drinking water.

The Car Attendants in the Coaches do sound like they can have their hands full, as some of those in those cars won't wear their masks or simply give the attendants too much trouble.

But those in our Sleeping Car were well behaved. The Dining Car staff were, as they often are on Amtrak, unconcerned with the Sleeping Car passengers situation, as they did not care that the only part of the menus available were the microwaved parts. We didn't even get the alcoholic drinks that we were supposed to on the first dinner night. Also, the menu in the Roomettes specifically says that soft drinks will be available throughout the trip. But the only time you can get those is when you are sitting at the table for meal. If you asked at any other time, you got barked at.

We were glad to be done with the trip. Amtrak's CEO's have gutted the passenger experience, especially for the Sleeping Car passengers who provide a bulk of the revenue for each of these trips.

Amtrak needs to pull it together if they want people to ride with them. Running your railway like its a cut rate way to get from Point A to Point B isn't the way to do things. Period.
Written December 7, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Barb C
2 contributions
Aug 2022 • Family
This is the worst experience ever!

The train is filthy and the staff is rude. You spend thousands of dollars and have to put up with the bathroom toilet in our car being broken so we had to go to another car to use the facilities. The AC was broken so they couldn’t run the kitchen and fed us subs, cold pizza, and a sandwich for the two days we had no food in the dining car. Then, when we were to eat, they sent us to our “rooms” so we couldn’t even eat in the observation area where it was cooler. Did I mention how rude the staff is? The one dinner and one lunch we had was met with rudeness from the wait staff and not even a polite smile. They led us in like cattle and then watched while we scarfed down our food so the next herd could be led in. They ran out of the simplest food. The coffee urn was also broken in our car so we had to walk to the next car to even get a cup of coffee. I bought a trip from Sacramento to Chicago with a sleeping car and a family car and none of the speakers worked in both rooms so we missed a lot of the first and last calls for everything. The wait staff was ignorant and couldn’t even sympathize how difficult a trip this is with a 4 year old. We were also accused of throwing a diaper down the toilet although our toddler is potty trained.

I will NEVER recommend this train trip to anyone nor will I EVER take this trip again!!!!!!! The train was filthy even in the observation area but the wait staff was just sitting around watching as all the guests had to fend for ourselves! Worst trip ever and I have troubled many places!

Since we had no AC it was a melting pot and so hot but they told us to stay in the hottest part of the train for 90% of the tripe.

Why if there was no AC, that we couldn’t even eat in the observation or dining car even though they were cooler … only the train staff knows but why they would tell us to eat in a small, hot and stuffy room is beyond the imagination.

Our room also had bits of pretzels and old water bottles from the previous guests!
Written August 15, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

P. Brown
1 contribution
Aug 2021 • Couples
My husband and I left for San Francisco August 3,2021 and was very excited about traveling by rail. After two hours from Chicago, it was announced that the trip would end at Denver and those who wanted to go back to Chicago could get off at the next stop. We were still in Illinois. Amtrak knew this before we ever left the station. We had arrived by airplane from Atlanta and could have easily gone directly by air to San Francisco. We had prepaid reservations in SF and a family gathering, so we had to make air reservations from Denver to SFO at a cost $250 each and an additional hotel night for $210. Cannot talk to anyone so far and customer service doesn’t call back as promised since wait time is more than an hour. Will never deal with Amtrak again.
Written August 8, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

hydedoree
Cincinnati, OH1 contribution
Jul 2022 • Couples
Terrible! Our train was over 7 hours late leaving Denver. Then, we had to wait quite a long time for a freight train. Because of these, some of the most beautiful scenery was in the dark. Our roomette was so tiny-not even room for 1 carry on. Bathroom was dirty and smelled. Even the countertop in the bathroom was peeling off. We were so late they ran out of food, so they gave everyone a small bowl of canned stew. Ended up being 13 1/2 hours late getting to Emoryville/Oakland after 6am. Supposed to have been there the afternoon before. We were so late we couldn’t get a refund for our hotel room, so we paid $250 for a shower. Oh, we were also delayed because the conductor reached his time limit (which they should have expected), and we had to wait hours for the new crew to get there. Absolutely not worth the $ other than the beautiful scenery. So disappointed that this bucket list/anniversary trip was so bad. For what Amtrak charges, the accommodations are horrible!
Written July 30, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Risgirl1
Wilmington, DE4 contributions
Apr 2022
This is the email that I sent to Amtrak Vacations at the very beginning of my trip.

"Please be advised that I am currently on the Southwest Chief en route to San Francisco. I am suppose to be on the California Zephyr en route to San Francisco.

Yesterday, I boarded the Chief and was riding for more than an hour before realizing this was not the Zephyr. I had no reason to question not being on the Zephyr After speaking with the conductor and after reviewing Amtrak's website, I learned the Zephyr is not operating until May. Someone should have informed me of exactly that.

When I spoke to the customer service rep who was making the change, he informed me that the only thing changing on my initial reservation was the departure time from Chicago and the arrival time in San Francisco. Not once did he mention this would be a different train (Chief) taking a different route. I reserved the zephyr because of the scenic route. The Chief is ranked #4 as far as scenery goes; it should be ranked at the bottom of the list. The Zephyr is #1. I've seen nothing remotely comparable to the scenery on the Zephyr route.

I'm ANGRY and feel like Amtrak represented with false information and basically a lie so I would not cancel my reservation. I researched the Amtrak Vacations and saved for 2 years to take this trip and it was ruined from the start.

I'm requesting full monetary compensation for this trip. This is not what I wanted nor is it the trip that I paid for".

Amtrak offered to reimburse me $57.25 for a trip that cost me $2210.50. Don't trust Amtrak with your vacation. They'll ruined it.
Written May 6, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Anonymous837
Saline, MI27 contributions
May 2022
I have just returned from taking the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville and then the Amtrak coach to San Fransisco. What an absolutely fabulous journey! I had researched the train and read many reviews and thus was prepared that the roomette booked, was going to be tiny. I traveled with my sister and we coped sharing the roomette - it is tiny but there is plenty of room to sit during the day, but limited room to move once the beds are made up (would advise, if on the larger size, to book a roomette per person). There is a tiny closet, 2 coat hooks, a fold down table, one electric outlet and a trash can. Our attendant, Catherine was excellent. Beds made and "unmade"promptly on request. Trash emptied daily. Coffee and water was always available. There are probably 10? roomettes per carriage, sharing 4 toilets and 1 shower. This was OK. Food was better than I anticipated in the dinning car - staff were attentive. There is a viewing car, which is a must for the second day of the journey from Denver. The scenery from Denver was stunning. We arrived late into Emeryville (4.5 hours) - no fault of Amtrak (they don't own the rails so freight get priority over Amtrak). I was worried about being dropped off in San Fran in the dark but it's fine. The area for drop off is well lit and appeared "safe". There were probably 40 people dropped off by the coach. I am now researching our next journey. Highly recommended!
Written June 5, 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

ChicagoBurnham
Chicago90 contributions
Sep 2021
Treated ourselves to a bedroom on the Zephyr. Great experience. Bedroom is cozy, but roomy enough for two until the bed is made up. Then it's hard to access the sink area. Enjoyed the large picture window and generally stayed in the room rather than use the observation car, which would have required face masks. Views from Chicago to sunset in western Iowa were typical midwest farm country, with a beautiful golden sunset over the golden fields of soybeans and corn. Sights from Denver to Glenwood Springs were spectacular, even though we mostly saw one side instead of a bigger view. We enjoyed having our own bathroom and shower, which was easy to wipe down after using it. Slept as a couple on the lower bed, which made it quite snug, but thereby avoided climbing to the upper bunk. Car porter was very attendant and made excellent early morning coffee. Meals in the dining car were free to us in "first class" and the meals were excellent. Steak and salmon prepared very well. Breakfast omelets made to order. Dinnerware was plastic, but a close second to real china. Ready to try another trip like this one.
Written September 25, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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California Zephyr - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go

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