Enjoy Western Beauty on Amtrak's Coast Starlight
By Sharon Whitley Larsen
I'm always excited when I hear those words -- especially when it's for an overnight trip, which I have experienced several times abroad in Britain, Italy, Norway and Russia and twice on Amtrak. There's something so romantic about riding the rails.
This fall, my husband Carl and I took Amtrak's Coast Starlight -- known for its gorgeous journey along the Pacific -- for the 35-hour ride from Los Angeles to Seattle. The gleaming silver double-decker train would cover nearly 1,400 miles through three states -- California, Oregon and Washington -- with 28 stops along the way.
As the Amtrak website touts: "The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed. The dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline provide a stunning backdrop for your journey."
"It's our most popular ride because it goes along the coast and everyone loves that," noted our friendly car attendant, Mike, as he checked us in and showed us to our tiny compartment.
We had booked a lower-level "roomette"-- about 3.5 feet by 6.6 feet -- to be close to the nearby WCs and shower. Two facing chairs, used during the day, convert to bunks by the attendant in the evening. Other options are coach -- with seats much roomier and comfier than on airlines -- and business class; bedrooms (for two to three passengers, with convertible bunk sofa, easy chair and a WC with shower); the family bedroom; and accessible en suite bedroom. Meals are included for passengers in the sleeper cars (with room service option); business class passengers receive a $6 voucher for the dining car; coach passengers bring their own food and drinks or can purchase sandwiches, pizza and snacks in the cafe car or have a meal in the dining car, space permitting.
Shortly after departing Union Station in Los Angeles a dining car steward stopped by our compartment to get our names and reservations for lunch and dinner. "Welcome aboard" announcements made over the intercom covered the usual rules: no onboard smoking, don't disturb other passengers with loud music, wear shoes at all times while walking through the train, etc. They also listed menu items.
Emphasizing a long-standing practice on trains, the announcer explained, "It's a tradition on the Coast Starlight that passengers traveling in parties fewer than four join others in the dining car to fill out a table."
We learned that there was spotty cell phone service and no onboard Wi-Fi. I thought that was a good thing. This was our time to unplug and recharge, and I had brought a book to read -- which I rarely got to.