I had many friends who had questions about spending two days on the train traveling. Here is the long winded review for anyone who is interested?
First time experience train travel Chicago to LA then onto San Diego. We had a few extra days to travel to our destination from Indianapolis, In. to San Diego, CA and decided to take the Amtrak Southwest Chief. We caught the 6 AM Hoosier Cardinal Dec. 25th from Indy to Chicago (4 hours) and then left that same day (3:30pm) on the Southwest Chief train #3 from Chicago, Union Station to LA (7:30 PST) on Dec.27th. We then had two hours of layover before we caught the Pacific Surf Liner from LA to San Diego.
Let me first begin by saying that during our travel on Amtrak we posted photos and info about our trip my Facebook page. I have NEVER had so many likes, comments and questions about anything on my page than I have in regards to Amtrak train travel and the experience we were having. This tells me, like us, many of you out there have questions, desires, or concerns in regards to travel on Amtrak. This is OUR first hand experience understanding that everyone has different expectations and ideas about travel and comfort.
Prices- Depending upon you being young and flexible or old and stiff like us will help you decide on your level of room expense. You can choose the cheapest and most basic, coach, and sleep in the oversized seats that are big and comfortable. If your older and stiff (like us) you can opt to spend a little more $ and get the Roomette (we did) or a "Bedroom" that includes a bigger sized room and private toilet (wish we would have) or larger family size rooms. Bedroom occupants of all levels are considered first class passengers. A big benefit for first class passengers is that you will enjoy the private "Metropolitan Lounge" exclusively for first class passengers in Chicago and LA that provides a very comfortable private waiting area with TV's , internet access, free soft drinks, coffee and light snacks, chips, muffins, rolls etc. The other nice thing about the Metropolitan lounge is that they will rally you together and get you to your train direct from the Metropolitan lounge, its very convenient and easy to board your train. Another benefit is that when coach passengers board the train at different stops they board at a separate location from the sleeper cars so you don't have everyone and their brother walking past your sleeping room and belongings. It also keeps it quiet, Amtrak does an excellent job of helping make sleeping car passengers have quiet un-crowded travel. Another perk is that sleeping room passengers food while eating in the DINING room is included in your ticket price. Bottom line, if your traveling for part of a day or maybe just a full day use the coach prices, if your traveling for a night at least get the roomette you will be happy you did. See "Rooms" below for more detail on the room accommodations.
Baggage- We arrived in Indy and checked our bags onto San Diego, CA. Once checked we never saw them again or had to handle them along the way very, nice. We took two carry on bags and a laptop bag on board with us. Since this was our first Train trip we probably over packed the carry on not knowing what to expect. When we arrived in SD our luggage was there and waiting on us we saw no one standing and upset about lost luggage.
Staff- The staff on our train was extremely polite and accommodating. They kept the bathrooms clean, turned down your beds and provided, Ice, waters, and hot fresh coffee throughout most of the day and night at the end of the hallways. We did not meet an unpleasant staff member who acted as if they did not want to be there.
Bathrooms- Small, like a airline bathroom, maybe a tad bigger, with a changing table located on the wall over the toilet. Our cabin attendant kept it very clean and asked everyone at the beginning of the trip to help keep it clean for other passengers after each use, and I have to say, we all did, it was a great team effort.
Showers, separate from the general bathroom the showers were located in the lower area of the sleeper cars. As you might expect they are small, but clean. Amtrak provides towels & soap. If you ever used a shower on a cruise ship this is close to what you can expect. They were clean and well looked after. Water pressure as you might expect is very low and the heads are the removable type that allows you to direct the area you wish to rinse.
Bedrooms- I can only speak of the one we had, a "Roomette". Tip, its smaller that it looks online I am of Med-Large size ( some might say large to XL) and my wife is Small-Med size so it worked for us. When traveling you have two seats that face across from each other, with the option of a fold up and out table. You have the convince of reading lights like an airline seat, you have an AC Plug to keep your electronics charged during travel, and you have climate control for your room along the bottom of the floor. Their is a vent on the top of your cabin that is controlled with a damper lever, this helps the upper bunk passenger during sleep time. If you like it dark, take the top bunk, if you like the window yours would be the bottom bunk. Windows in the Roomette are huge and nice. The tempature in our room was very comfortable, we traveled during winter and high winds and went through what looked like a mini blizzard in Colorado and never felt cold in the room. You can bring your own alcohol onboard to be consumed in your own room, however, you need to respect there request to keep it in your room while being consumed. Tip, the less carry on you keep in your room the more area you will have uncluttered and less confining.
Food / Beverages- Food is provided for as part of your fare for sleeping car passengers when you eat in the dining room. Once your board and get to your room a dining room attendant will come by and ask what time you want to have Lunch or Dinner depending on what time you board. Breakfast is first come first serve through 10:30am. For lunch and dinner reservations you simply make your request, later in the day they make an announcement over the intercom calling the times in 1/2 hr increments to come to the dining car. We arrived at our called times and NEVER waited for a table. If you are traveling as a couple as we were, you will be seated with another couple to dine with. You may roll your eyes at this but it was our experience that this ended up being very fun, in fact the couple we meet the first night wanted to join us again the following evening for dinner, we did and made fun new friends. So, if your traveling as a couple be ready to make some new friends everyone on the train we meet were extremely friendly. As I mentioned you may bring your own alcohol onboard and consume in your own cabin, you may not walk around with it, you may however purchase alcohol from the train and have it in public areas. Food quality rating for us, Breakfast "B" Lunch "A" Dinner "A" Its not a 5 star restaurant but it is much better than you would expect.
Stops / Announcements- Yes there are many stops along the way, we got on a online encyclopedia and looked up history of every stop, its incredible how much history and cool things happened along this route. It makes the time pass and its educational by default. Announcements are kept to a minimum and will not disturb you, the volume is kept to a good level in the halls and not in your room. Some of the stops will allow people to get off and stretch your legs or smoke, its a nice break when you get the chance. Some got off in KC to see the new Union Station remodel and said it was beautiful.
Kids- most of us have them and love them, however, this would not be an enjoyable trip for parents of small children or the passengers around them. Older kids who can entertain themselves with iPads or games will survive. You are expected (and in my opinion rightly so) to accompany any child under the age of 12, and fortunately this was strictly enforced for both the safety of the children, and the enjoyment of the other passengers. Walking between trains and different conditions of the tracks will get your attention in a hurry and small children should definitely not try to pass between them alone. The parents on our trip seemed to be sensitive to the adults traveling around them and worked to keep noise and activity in the sleeper cars to a minimum.
Older Adults- The action of the train in our opinion can be very unpredictable and moving about between cars and up and down the aisles can be tricky. If you need a walker, or cane, you might want to make sure you have an escort with you walking the aisles. Able bodies have a difficult enough time so anyone who needs assistance should be very careful. If I was restricted to a wheelchair, and after taking our trip, I would find a different mode of transportation. Train travel was designed years before the ADA act and as much as they do try to help those who need assistance in wheelchairs for short hops it would not be bad, however on a long haul this might be very uncomfortable? Not saying it can't be done or is not possible, it just appears that it would be uncomfortable for the handicap passenger passing between trains and maneuvering in tight spaces.
Overall- not knowing when and if Congress will ever fund the train system again, now is a good time to make a trip. You will see for yourself how enjoyable train travel can be and NOT understand why the government will not help to refurbish this mode of mass transportation. On our train had 500 passengers and you would have never guessed it. Lots of places to walk around and opportunity to visit the observation car with it's awesome floor to ceiling windows. However at night they are not much use except to play games or sit and have a cocktail and chat, since the car is lighted and much of what you see at night is your own reflection.
We were amazed how spot on time our train ran. This might not be everyone’s experience but is what we experienced. Would we do this again? Yes. Would we do this every 6 months, No. If you have the time, do it. If your in a hurry choose another way to travel. If you like history do it! If your traveling with small children for a long journey, maybe, but I would fly. My only change would be to get the bedroom for a little more space and a private bathroom. And of course this review is applying to our 2.5 day train trip, commuter travelers is a totally different game. Go experience, feel and be a part of our history, you might not have the chance if congress has its way.