We had been talking about taking the train somewhere for a few years now and a little research revealed taking the train from Chicago to Tucson was doable. So we did it. Fifty -two hours. But we had a family sleeper car which made all the difference.
We really had no idea what to expect so I was excited but also had a little of that fear of the unknown going on.
Turns out there was nothing to fear, though we almost didn’t get on the train. As we waited in the special lounge for those on the sleeper cars we were surprised at how crowded it was. We heard our train being announced for “pre-boarding” and gathered up our stuff in anticipation of “our” boarding call. We saw people lining up and they made the announcement several times. My husband and I looked at each other and decided maybe we should get in line, if we were wrong they would let us know. Turns out pre-boarding for a train is not the same as pre-boarding for an airplane, just so you know.
An Amtrak agent led us a long ways and then we went through a doorway of sorts and were left on our own, told to walk all the way to the front of the train. Which the whole crowd of us did right down to the engine. We had walked right past all the sleeper cars! So the whole gaggle of us turned around and started peering at car numbers in the gloom. Turns out our sleeping car attendant, while pleasant, wasn’t exactly the hardest worker. I am pretty sure he was supposed to be outside the car looking for us.
But the rest of the trip was very relaxing. Our family bedroom was spacious and I enjoyed some much needed bits of solitude while small child and spouse sat in the observation car or meandered through the train. I spent a lot of time just gazing out the window at the passing country which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Meals were included with our sleeper car which was a good thing as the meals were pricey. While the menu was limited the food wasn’t bad at all. I had a very good steak the first night and everything I ate was actually quite tasty.
The first leg of our trip was from Chicago to San Antonio. The train wasn’t very crowded and our car was next to the observation car and the next car was the dining car, very convenient.
The second leg of our trip had our car being added to the Texas Eagle that came from Louisiana and continued on to Los Angeles. Now our car was at the back of the train (hey, we were the caboose!) and we had to walk through all the coach cars to get to the observation car and the dining car. It was a slow go with people’s legs sticking out in the aisle and others just standing in the way. We learned after the first trek to go up a bit early and wait in the observation car for our seating time for meals to be called.
The train was much more crowded now but since we had our own private compartment it didn’t really bother me. We shared our dining table with seasoned train travelers and learned some good tricks. (You can get a roll with your meal if you just ask and “the tamale lady” meets the train at Alpine, Tx.)
Our sleeping car attendant, Steve, did an excellent job of keeping things tidy (specifically the bathrooms) and being around if we needed him (we didn’t) and offering to make up the beds etc. He really kept on top of things and that was how we realized what a poor job the first sleeping car attendant did. Live and learn, at least we learned how to set up and put away the beds on a train.
I was surprised at how well I slept. The first night I had the top bunk which seemed a bit narrow but was okay. The second night my husband and I swapped and I slept on the more spacious and better padded bottom bunk. I didn’t hear a thing and didn’t notice when we were swapped from one train to the other in San Antonio in the middle of the night.
When we left the train in Tucson there was quite the line of people waiting to get on. Apparently the coach cars would be completely full going to LA, an overnight trip. Yikes!
I say if you are thinking of taking the train, do it! And if you are going to be on overnight splurge and get some kind of sleeping car. There are little rooms (roomettes), slightly bigger rooms with a private bath and one or two family sleeper rooms. The family sleepers do not have their own bathrooms but facilities were just a few steps up the hallway. It took me a day but I eventually learned there is a little light on the ceiling in front of the bathrooms and shower room that lights up when it is occupied. I never had to wait for the facilities though I did get up early to shower. Look into making reservations pretty far in advance as the sleeper cars fill up on some of the routes. Our train only had one family sleeper car and we reserved it eight months in advance.
I would love to take the train again. It was a very positive experience. Happy Rails!