The day had finally arrived. It was time for the great train adventure.
All my life I had wanted to take a long-distance journey on Amtrak and now I would have my chance…29.5 hours to Portland, Oregon then another 14.5 hours to West Glacier, Montana.
I redeemed Amtrak Guest Reward points for a Superliner Bedroom, which Amtrak describes as:
The Superliner Bedroom is ideal for two passengers, but can accommodate three (two passengers must share the lower berth). Each room has a large sofa with two individually reclining sections, and an easy chair. At night, the sofa converts to a comfortable bed, and an upper berth folds down from above. All Superliner Bedrooms feature private, self-enclosed restrooms with toilet, sink and shower. All Bedrooms are located on the upper level of our double-decker Superliner train cars.
It was nice to have a full bathroom in the room and we ended up spending almost the entire journey in our room. After spending 30 minutes in the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge at Los Angeles Union Station, boarding was called about 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure. Today the train was running on time.
Los Angeles Union Station – Portland Union Station
Monday, May 16
Depart: 10:10 AM
Arrive: 03:32 PM+1
Duration: 29hr, 22min
Seat: Car 1430 / Room C (Bedroom)
Our conductor, Terrence, introduced himself outside the train and directed to our room, on the upper level. He was happy to pose for this photo and offered excellent service throughout the journey.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Bedroom
We found our room upstairs. The lower level includes roomettes and a single family bedroom, Amtrak’s largest sleeping room.
Our room was tight: I was happy that I had booked the larger bedroom instead of a roomette. The room is big enough for three (two on the lower berth, one on the upper) but ideal for two. We found the beds folded up, with the upper berth wholly folded in and the lower birth folded into a couch. The room included a chair and sink as well.
A small closet was large enough to accommodate a few pieces of clothing and room temperature and lighting were controlled by switches above the couch.
The bathroom was an all-in-one, including a toilet and shower in the same space.
You can see that the room was starting to show its age: the chair was overdue for a reupholstering and the bathroom had duct tape on it.
In the evening, Terrence transformed our couch into a bed. The sheets and blankets were already on the bed: we just had to add pillows.
Although the accommodations were not luxurious, we enjoyed the privacy and found the room quite comfortable. Down the hall, coffee, water, and snacks were always available.
And this, which always reminds me of I Love Lucy:
Amtrak Coast Starlight Dining
All meals are included on Amtrak if you are a sleeping car passenger. About an hour after departing LA, a conductor stopped by to find out when we wanted to eat lunch and dinner. We made our reservations to have lunch at noon and dinner at 6:30 P.M.
Talk about a small world: I ran into one of my closest friends from law school in the lounge. We would be traveling together as far as the Bay Area! He and his fiancé live in Philadelphia and were just on vacation in California. Such a coincidence. That solved the dining with stranger problem.
You see, on Amtrak you do not get your own table. Booths are for four and if you don’t have a party of four you’ll be seated with strangers. Some people love this: it allows for new friendships and interesting conversation. I’m agnostic about it, though used to that arrangement since Germans do the same thing at many more traditional restaurants.
Anyway, we had our lunch and dinner companions sorted out, though I made a mistake. Sleeping car passengers are offered an additional special menu in the lounge car (formerly called the Pacific Parlour Car). The dinner special was lamb shank, which I thought I could order later. Oh no. There were only a limited number boarded and you needed to reserve it in the lounge car shortly after boarding. Oh well, lesson learned. Here is the lounge car menu:
The lounge attendant was nice enough to let me snap a picture of the lamb special before serving it to someone else. Too bad.
Dining – Day One
Lunch occurred during the most beautiful portion of the journey, along the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Barbara area.
Here’s the dining car menu for the trip:
The lunch special was pork ribs with mashed potatoes, which I ordered. My wife had a chicken salad. My friends are vegetarian and ordered veggie burgers. Lunch begins with a green salad. Soft drinks and water are complimentary while alcohol is available for purchase. Amtrak uses “real” cutlery, but plastic plates and cups in the dining car.
My main course was very tasty. That turned out to be a theme on Amtrak: food that was much better than I was expecting.
For dessert I enjoyed a Greek yogurt cheesecake and my wife had chocolate mousse.
I may have missed my lamb special, but I did enjoy a “signature” Amtrak steak for dinner. My wife had chicken with rice. This was no Morton’s, but again quite acceptable and filling. Once again, the meal began with a green salad and bread.
For dessert, I ordered vanilla ice cream and my wife tried the low-fat vanilla pudding.
Dining – Day Two
The following morning, we dined in the lounge car for sleeping car passengers. I thought I would give Amtrak’s breakfast burrito a try and did not regret it, though the portion was small. The lounge car offered real coffee cups compared to styrofoam in the dining car.
My wife skipped breakfast and my friends ordered a continental breakfast of Greek yogurt, cereal, fresh fruit, and croissant. I was offered a croissant too and thought it was served perfectly warm and flaky.
About an hour before arriving into Portland we had lunch. My wife ordered the same thing as the previous day and I ordered a bacon cheeseburger.
I truly was pleased with the food onboard Amtrak. If you are hungry between meals, a snack/café car offer hot and cold light meals.
Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car
I have to admit that I was devastated when I learned that our train did not include a Pacific Parlour Car. This was a primary reason I booked the Coast Starlight…but the car had “gone mechanical” and had to be removed. The Pacific Parlour Car was unique to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Service and included plush purple chairs and bar service. It was a special amenity for sleeping car passengers and hearkened back generations to a different era of train travel. Furthermore, the lower level of the Parlour Car included a move theatre where movies were screened.
Sadly, these cars were fully retired earlier this year. You can learn more about them here. Oh well.
Since the Parlour Car was broken, Amtrak hitched on a second dining car to my train and called it a lounge car. That still provided some of the amenities that the Parlour Car would have: private dining (you could eat alone or as a party of two and have your own booth) as well as an afternoon wine and cheese tasting. We did not partake in that since my wife does not drink alcohol.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Observation Car
The main Observation Car was quite crowded–twice I could not find a seat–but underscores what a beautiful journey this is if you have the patience for it.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Coach Class
Coach class is like an old business class seat on an airplane. The seats recline fairly deeply and are actually comfortable. That said, I certainly recommend upgrading to a sleeper if you can pull it off, since you’ll pay for all meals in coach class and those add up quickly. A couple of steaks will set you back $60 with tip.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Wi-Fi
Although Amtrak does not advertise Wi-Fi aboard the Coast Starlight, the lounge car had a wi-fi hotspot intended only for sleeping car passengers. It did not work and was one of those little boxes that uses a SIM card (thus was it was no surprise it didn’t work). I was able to check email intermittently throughout the journey on my mobile phone. Don’t count on it and you won’t be disappointed. If it works, consider it an added bonus.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Service
I got a kick out of the service onboard. It was by no means polished, but it was very friendly. The staff working the dining car and business class lounge car were very casual, but in a good way. You were called “honey” or “darling” and never sir or ma’am. Staff are happy to engage in conversation and have a repertoire of stories if you are willing to listen. Tips are expected. I choose tip after not before. Some say tipping in advance guarantees excellent service, but I still think tips need to be earned.
Amtrak Coast Starlight Outside the Train
I shared a couple pictures from Santa Barbara above, but here are some additional pictures I snapped during the journey to Portland. I’m sorry some of them are a bit blurry, but that’s what happens when you’re on a rapidly moving train.
29.5 hours on a train versus a two hour flight is quite a contrast. While a long-distance trip on Amtrak is not an everyday solution to traveling between Los Angeles and Portland, I sure enjoyed the journey. I hope one day to do it again.
Have you ever traveled on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight service? What was your experience like?