1. Live in a town large enough to have an Amtrak station with actual agents and the ability to ship luggage through to destination.
2. Live in a town small enough that the agent remembers you from four years earlier, the last time you took a long distance trip. This familiarity will get you full attention and wonderful service. (Kudos to Mary in Salem, Oregon.)
3. On the return trip be lucky enough to depart from another small station where another helpful agent who loves her job finds you a sleeper car for a longer distance than your original ticket and still saves you $171 (all without asking!) (Kudos to the woman in South Bend, Indiana whose name I’ve forgotten.) She also told us about the Metropolitan Lounge at the Chicago train station.
4. If possible, splurge for a sleeper and find out all of the benefits associated with that, including the nice station lounges, full meals included in the diner car (great food!), and access to the parlour car on the Coast Starlight run. (Sadly, we missed this. We got on at midnight in Sacramento and thought we could handle coach for the remainder of the trip. However, we had rotten seats so didn’t sleep well and then had to listen to all the wonderful food being served in the very comfortable parlour car for the remainder of the ride up the coast.)
The “roomettes” aren’t big, and they are expensive, so book well in advance for best prices.
5. Even if you go coach, you can still make the most of your trip by not staying glued to your seat. You may as well fly or take a bus if you just sit in your seat the whole time. Get up! Move around! Walk the length of the train to see what’s there. Get off at the allowed “smoke/fresh air” breaks (yeah, I know, the air’s not always fresh with all the smokers out there!)
If the car you’re in isn’t full, feel free to find another seat and spread out. And the lounge car is available to everyone. It is light and bright, with seats looking out, as well as booth type seats and tables. It’s a great place to hang out. Downstairs from the lounge is the cafe which sells more snack-type food, but is less expensive than the diner.
The lounge or club car is also a great place to hear the Trails and Rails programs when they are offered.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people! It’s really interesting to meet people and share stories.
6. Lastly, schedule your trip to return home early Sunday afternoon. You may have a communication mix-up and several friends and/or family will be there to meet you. (Thanks Al and Rex and boys!) When you get to your home sweet home, you can enjoy the rest of the day without feeling the need to get busy. Pour yourself a glass of wine that doesn’t cost six bucks and sit back and relax. 🙂
7. Odds and ends: take pictures, enjoy the scenery, catch up on reading, give in to that Solitaire addiction. Most of all: enjoy yourself and let someone else do the driving.