Travel aboard the Coast Starlight

Recently, I was lucky enough to take the Coast Starlight all the way from Los Angeles to Klamath Falls, Oregon. Because this is an overnight trip (leave at 10:15 a.m., arrive at 8:20 a.m.), I booked a “deluxe roomette” in one of the sleeping cars. From Amtrak’s website:

Sleeping Car passengers can experience a full range of exclusive services and amenities on the Coast Starlight, including an exciting alternative meal service available in the Parlour Car. Each Sleeping Car passenger will receive complimentary meals (with the exception of alcohol) in the Dining Car or the Parlour Car, a special Welcome Gift and a Personal Amenities kit that includes shampoo, soaps and lotions. A daily tasting of local wines and artisan cheeses is available for a nominal fee in the refurbished Pacific Parlor Car. This “living room on rails” is the perfect place for Sleeping Car passengers to relax, celebrate or socialize. With a specialty coffee bar, onboard theater and alternative dining venue, the Pacific Parlour Car will make your Coast Starlight experience unforgettable.

The Pacific Parlour Car was indeed fine, with comfortable swiveling armchairs and a nice atmosphere. I ended up not spending much time there, though, because a) it was freezing cold (over-air-conditioned) and b) the view from the regular Observation/Lounge car was better (bigger windows). The menus in the Parlour Car were also more limited, so I chose to eat in the Dining Car. I did go downstairs to check out the theater on the lower level of the Parlour Car—they were showing Harry Potter 5. This was timed to be able to occupy kids while the parents attended the wine tasting (which I also skipped, in favor of lazily reading and knitting while enjoying the view outside of my roomette).

My Superliner Roomette was just as advertised, including linens, towels, turn-down service, bottled water, electrical outlet, etc.—and you can control your own speaker volume! This means that you can turn the train announcements on or off at will. How thoughtful! The soundproofing was also impressive; the train whistle sounded frequently, every few minutes, but I could barely hear it through the double-paned windows. Apparently the roomettes themselves are also specially constructed so as not to share walls with adjoining roomettes. Whatever the reason, I was never interrupted or disturbed by any noise from the other passengers.

The one limitation arose when trying to shower in the morning. The regular sleeping cars have only one shower per car, which can hold about 40 people. A good fraction of those all want to shower about the same time in the morning. My car was actually a “transition” car (which I infer meant that it held both passengers and crew) and had at least two showers (possibly three), one of which most people didn’t seem to know about, so I was able to get my shower. If I did it again, I’d shower in the evening and escape the morning rush.

All meals are included in the sleeping car add-on to the regular fare (about $250 for Los Angeles to Klamath Falls). I found the meals to be acceptable, but nothing to rave about; I don’t think there are any actual cooking facilities on the train, just microwaves. I had a veggie burger for lunch, crab cakes for dinner, and french toast for breakfast.

The trip itself was hands-down spectacular. This kind of travel just cannot be matched in terms of scenery and relaxation. Every turn reveals new sights (the coast, the valley, the mountains, the trees), and being on the train for that long feels a little like stepping away from the world for a bit. You have nowhere to go, no responsibilities to execute; someone else is driving, and you’re just along for the ride. You sit back and let the miles roll by, in perfect comfort, and yet unconfined; you can exercise your legs whenever you feel like it. I fell asleep watching the nearly-full moon float above, and woke to earliest dawn amid pines and snowy Mt. Shasta.

I did also find, as others have reported, that the social experience is like no other (neither planes nor cars); everyone seemed open, expansive, and friendly. In the dining car, you are regularly seated with new strangers at each meal, whom you get the chance to meet over your microwaved sustenance. No one is in a hurry, and everyone has an interesting story to tell about how they ended up on the train. I talked to two sisters who were going to meet a brother and his family, a man on his way home (to Ohio!) from a Baptist convention, and a couple headed for a blues festival in Portland.

I’m definitely sold, and already eager for another excuse to take the train… somewhere… anywhere!

4 of 4 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Susan said,

    July 14, 2009 at 2:12 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Wow! I think you sold me too! We’ve been looking into stuff like this ourselves. It’s been hard to feel it is justified to take a sleeper car when flying is usually a little bit cheaper and a lot faster. But I really love trains, and I’ve been dying to try this.

  2. Katie said,

    July 14, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    That is something I have always wanted to do. I am still thinking about making it happen sometime in the next few years. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Kathleen said,

    July 14, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Sweet! I’m planning a trip up north and I hate driving. But would it cost more if I made stops in Oakland and Eugene?

  4. jim said,

    July 14, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Good to know about the overnight cars. I’ve only taken the day train to/from Portland and Vancouver BC and between Boston & your favorite Pennsylvania town. All but the Penn Station – Harrisburg were superior in every way to driving or flying (but not necessarily biking :).

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    August 25, 2010 at 5:34 am

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