Taking the Train
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Taking the Train
My husband and I would like to take our soon to be 15 month old
in November to Eugene, Oregon to visit friends around
Thanksgiving. Flight prices are mighty high and neither one of
us want to drive 9 hours with our already on the go son and are
considering Amtrak. We were just going to get regular seats
for the 14-15 hour ride. I am terrified that it could take us
24 hours to get there as I hear Amtrak is always late but I
love the idea of being able to get up and move around and
potentially sleeping through the night-plus it's a fraction of
the flight cost and cheaper than driving. Has anyone out there
taken Amtrak's Coastal Starlight overnight in that direction
before? Good, Bad, I'd love to hear it all.
Yes, take Amtrack to Eugene. It is so fun!
We've taken the Coast STarlight from Oakland to Seattle, then across the
country, up and down and back. We did it years ago when our 17 yo was
10months old. Since we were on a long trip we got rooms and dinners on the
train, but for a trip to Eugene (not that long) you could totally do
coach seats. You can walk around all over the train, eat on the train,
stand, etc. It's really nice to look out the window while someone else
does the driving. Nice views, green forests. My son loved it.
I don't know about Amtrak being late. We never ran into that problem, but
that was 17 years ago. Definately do it...and have fun.
About 7 years ago we took Amtrak to Bend Oregon on the overnight train. My
kids were in the 8-12 yo range not 15 months. I liked that you could get
up and walk around, stretch your legs etc. The chairs are pretty
comfortable to sit in but not that great for 'sleeping'. The other
problem was that the train made lots of stops with people getting on the
train and making a lot of noise. On the way back my husband got a sleeper
car; more money but definately worth it. We left at around 10 pm got in at
around 10 am and felt like we had made good use of the time.
have a good trip
We take the train from emeryville to portland once or twice a year to
visit family. I love it, but it does require a relaxed mindset. Yes, it
is often late, because it has to pull into the sidings to let freight
trains pass: this seems to occur with greater frequency as you approach
Portland. We are often only a couple of hours delayed as we approach
Eugene, and then we are 4-6 hours late by the time we get to Portland.
The worst is when you skip meals because you are ''almost there'': expect
that you will be at least 4 hours late, eat accordingly, and demand a
seat/reservation at at lunch/dinner! Seating: you will want three seats
for the overnight, so pay for your child (half price). Free seat sharing
is tempting (permissible under 2 years), but it is hard for three to sleep
all night on two seats! Don't count on occupying empty seats: the coast
starlight gets booked solid, especially near holidays,and I'm sure gas
price increases have increased ridership. My son has a hard time falling asleep with all the excitement boarding at 10pm.
He does better when we get a sleeping car, but I don't like the
''exclusive'' feel of the sleeping car end of the train. The only
affordable sleeping car has two narrow bunks: this doesn't work so well
for 3: narrow bunks are hard to share with a toddler. We only do the
sleeping car when my son and I travel alone: if all 3 of us go, we go
coach. Also, I wouldn't recommend taking the train both ways if you can't
stay for a week, at least: the overnight trip with a toddler is tiring:
plan for many nights of good (bed) sleep before your return trip. have
fun, I looooove the train.
I've made this trip twice, the most recent being last summer (2007). We
went coach both times.
Yes, AMTRAK is usually late. This is often because the RRs that own the
track hold up the passenger trains.
However, it's a great way to travel. Low stress, other than possibly
waiting for the train to pick you up. Comfortable seats, and great
scenery. Our first trip we pulled out of Dunsimuir as the sun was coming
over the mountains....just spectacular. And you get to enjoy the scenery
(which is really super north of Redding all the way to Eugene) instead of
concentrating on driving a car.
Being able to walk around, etc. is nice. No leg cramps! The food is not
what it was in 1996 (it was really quite good then), but it's fine and
I recommend the experience.
For many years, I have had the fantasy of taking a cross-
country trip on a train in a sleeping car like the old Pullman trains of the past.
I have a meeting in Chicago in early December and would like to consider flying to
Chicago for the meeting, and then, meeting my wife and taking Amtrak back to the
Bay Area (the ''California Zephyr''). The price of a ''bedroom'' for two
(including meals) is about $1100.00, but the accommodations, as described online,
appear fairly spare and cramped.
Has anyone made such a trip on Amtrak recently? If so, feedback would be
We have taken numerous trips on Amtrak, but mostly up and down the west coast on the
Coast Starlight. I have taken the train from Seattle to Chicago as a kid, but that was
a long time ago. I have very fond memories.
First of all, the bedrooms are cramped. I suggest a Deluxe if you can swing it...it's
the least cramped and you have your own bathroom. The food is pretty mediocre, but
certainly palatable. The experience is fabulous! It's so fun sitting eating dinner in
the dining car watching the world go by. It's fun sitting in the lounge car reading a
book and talking with people. Your bedroom may not be spacious, but you're not stuck
there, you have places to wander.
Oh, and be prepared to be late, very late. Amtrak leases track from other railroads,
and they have to wait on sidings while other trains use the track. It's really
annoying. Union Pacific is the worst offender, in my experience.
Have fun! It is a blast!
We took the California Zephyr from Denver to Reno two summers ago - my husband and I
and our two kids (ages 4 and 15 months at the time).
We loved the scenery and the romance of the train travel. I think sleeping on a train
is so wonderful - the rocking motion, etc. And its so much more relaxing than either
flying or driving. We had a family bedroom and the space worked well. In fact, the
long lower bunk was wide enough for my husband and I to sleep on together, and we used
the upper bunk to store things. You will need to store your larger suitcases outside
the cabin regardless. Our kids took the two little bunks and really enjoyed it. But I
did think that the basic two-person compartment, which we saw from the outside, seemed
a little snug. There is basically no floor space -- the seats/bunks take up the whole
We also planned to stop off in various places along the way, including an overnight in
western Colorado and a stop-off in the Lake Tahoe area. I think if we had been
continuously on the train all that time it would have made us a bit stir-crazy.
I will say, however, that we got off a little early, in Reno. We had planned to get
off in Truckee, spend a night near Tahoe, and get back on and go all the way to
Emeryville. But by the time we got through Nevada we were running about 10 hours
behind, so at that point we bailed out and switched over to driving the rest of the
way. I am glad about the part we did on the train, but be aware that it is at times
Good luck with your trip
Fan of train travel
A few years ago my husband, 2-year-old son and I took the California Zephyr to
and from Iowa. I would *never* take the trip again with a small child, but I
would definitely take the trip again with my husband. If you look at it as an
experience rather than a method of transportation, it is well worth the money.
Good points. If you enjoy reading, sleeping, talking with your wife, doing
absolutely nothing, etc., the train is wonderful. You can spend hour upon hour
just looking out the window at America as it rolls by. If you're the friendly
sort, you can meet other travelers. The food is serviceable, and it's a blast to
eat in the dining car as the aformentioned scenery rolls by. The noise and
motion of the train can help you sleep really well.
Bad points. I'm afraid your fantasies of an old-fashioned Pullman car experience
will be dashed! The sleeping compartment is beyond tiny -- you'll laugh when you
see it. It's really just two seats facing each other with the only standing room
in between them. It works for two adults, it's just very, very cozy. One thing
you could try, though -- the train has an Accessible bedroom that they reserve
for people who actually need it. Around a week before the trip (call to confirm
the timing), if that room hasn't been booked, it becomes available to anyone.
They then let you upgrade for a very reasonable price, and the room is
(relatively) much bigger.
You can choose to have your meals in your room but it's a lot easier to use the
dining car. However, if you use the dining car, you're going to be sitting and
eating with strangers. I'm somewhat antisocial, so this was a drawback for me.
But maybe you like that kind of thing.
The last thing to remember is that Amtrak is inefficient and clunky. You are
almost always late to wherever you are going; the train can break down and/or
lose air conditioning/heat/electricity (aside from meaning you might be
cold/hot/in the dark for a while, it also means they might not be able to
refrigerate/cook the food). The train uses the same rails as every other train
in America, so it often has to stop and wait to let the other trains go by.
All of that said, I would take the train trip from Chicago in a heartbeat, and
look at it as an adventure. You can see some of the country, do absolutely
nothing for three whole days, and spend a lot of time with your wife.
We took a cross-country Amtrak trip 11 years ago - my husband, son (who had his
10th birthday on the train) and myself. We left from Oakland on the Coast
Starlight to LA and then I don't remember the name of the one that went across
the bottom of the U.S. to Winter Haven, Fl. It took 4 days. We were on a budget
(I think it was $450 roundtrip for the 3 of us) so didn't have a sleeper and it
was pretty uncomfortable in terms of sleeping accomodations (basically reclining
in our seats) but it was a major high point in all of our lives. I think the
fact that we didn't have a sleeper, forced us to mingle more with other
passengers. It was so incredibly enjoyable to meet folks picked up along the way
going across the southern U.S. and stopping at places we probably would never get
to otherwise and seeing scenery that was untainted by human activity. We still
talk about that trip and enjoy very much viewing our videos. Such a wonderful
adventure though the sleeping arrangement was a little too spartan. My son made
friends with other kids on the train (coincidentally one of them shared my son's
exact birthday) and they'd wander freely. There were movies to view, a snack
car, a dining car (with HORRIBLE food), people playing card games, my husband and
son spent a lot of time with other folks teaching each other card tricks, and
wonderful porters. I'm happy just thinking about it again. If we were behind
schedule (which other folks mentioned in their replies) I guess that part didn't
make a significant impact on us. If you're in a hurry, maybe it's not the best
way to travel. In my experience riding trains over the years, waiting is often
just part of the total train ride experience. Joan
Every child should have at least one trip on a train to remember!
Amtrak is very cheap when you book well in advance, and it
isn't necessary to get a private bedroom--the seats are extremely
wide, long, comfy and tilt way back. They are sufficient for an
adults for a few days, and certainly fine for kids. Bring your
own blankets. Food is adequate, kid-friendly & overpriced but
not terribly so. There is plenty of room for your own cooler if
you prefer to go that way. Some people order takeout at the
longer stops that are in cities--ask the porter. Beer and wine
are for sale.
If you bring a laptop or DVD player, there is actually plenty of
room to operate it. (Grab a seat with an electric outlet next to
it as soon as you board.) I used to train to LA and work on the
train, with piles of files next to me. (Impossible to do on an
Typically the scenery is fabulous. The trains snake thru places
they don't send cars. In Colorado you go thru long gorges with
the Colorado River right next to you on one side and a cliff face
on the other. The Coastal Starlight to LA travels right next to
the water for many miles--you can watch the surfers and sometimes
Multi-stop tickets are extra but there are some wonderful places
to visit. The northern train that ends up in Seattle goes to
Glacier National Park. The train to Chicago from Emeryville goes
thru Colorado ski country. (When you plan this, be sure to factor
in the arrival time--could be the middle of the night.)
After a certain age your kids will be OK on their own. Mine got
card/video games going with other kids in the snack bar car. I checked in with
them occasionally, but mostly read and enjoyed
The biggest drawback: Amtrak is almost never on time. (Freights
get priority, so the trains are often sidetracked--literally--for
long periods.) This can be an advantage if your arrival is
scheduled for the middle of the night--otherwise, it is something
you have to factor in. Call before you leave for the station,
and have anyone meeting you on arrival do the same. If renting a
car, talk to the rental agent about whether they are willing to
leave it at the station for you if the train is late. If not,
carry motel names with you so you can call ahead for a room if
you need one.
The website is amtrak.gov (I think) and it is worth visiting just
to see where they go. Train fan
My son, like many toddlers his age, is obsessed with trains.
We've spent many a day at the Tilden Park steam trains. He
turns 2 in December, and given the weather risk here in
Berkeley at that time, we thought an indoor birthday party
would be smart. But why not on a train? We could catch the
train in Emeryville or Berkeley and head north perhaps for a
fairly short trip -- like 1 hour or less each way. Any ideas?
Anyone know if there are fun spots in Suisun or Martinez that
are in a short walking distance from the train stations in
those towns? Has anyone done this -- a birthday party on the
train? The party-goers will be mainly adults with perhaps 4
toddlers. Alternative ideas would also be great -- like I
understand there is a great steam train ride near/through the
Santa Cruz mountains? Thinking maybe something closer (but not
Tilden since we do that commonly) would be fun. Thank you!
If you are open to other ideas, the Sunol-Niles Canyon historic
train is a lot of fun. It's not too far from the Berkeley area -
about 30-40 min car ride. The ride itself roundtrip is about 1
hour. They have party rentals on the train.
When we went on it, they had wine tasting (there's a whole wine
country developing out this way) so that made it extra fun for the
Here's a web link http://www.ncry.org/home.htm Amy
I don't know how many kids you're planning to invite to your 2
year old's birthday party. But if it is just one friend or a few
family members, you should consider taking Amtrak to Sacramento.
There is a stop in Old Town Sac that is right across from the
Train Museum. It is a surprisingly fun museum for the whole
family. There are big train cars of every variety housed in a big
warehouse-type space. You can go into many of them. I took my kids
a few years back when they were 3 and 7, and they had a fabulous
time. We did not take Amtrak, but I know others who have and
enjoyed it. It's worth checking out
Hi - we have done the trip from either Emeryville or Berkeley to
Martinez as a birthday party, and there is a great park about a
block away. There's even a walk from the Martinez over a hill to
see the water, but the park itself is quite great for a picnic. I
don't know of indoor places in martinez though. Martinez is just
the right amount of time on the train each way, a bit less than an
hour I think.
If you have more stamina, you can go to sacramento - closer to 2
hours but a nice ride, and go to the train museum which is indoors
and great cause you can go in all these old trains.
We have done the bday party thing on the train, and if it's not
crowded we got a whole car top level, had snacks and presents
there and everything. GREAT for the right kids, and they have a
blast, very relaxing for you too as no driving, just a bit of
cleanup before arrival.
Allow a bit of time n case the train is delayed but normally those
routes are within a half hour of schedule. remember to get the AAA
discount. (from berkeley you have to have tickets ahead of time
though, or pay a premium to buy them on the train, so Emeryville
is easier in that way as a departure station)
It's not on Atrak, and is a little bit of a drive, but you should
check out Train Town in Sonoma. Of course, it's a little
weather-dependent, but that's what raincoats are for! It has a
lovely train ride, and a very low-key amusement park (just a few
rides, including some good kiddie-ones, and a great ferris wheel).
If you take Amtrak all the way to Sacramento, you can go to the
Railroad Museum there. http://www.csrmf.org/ It takes about two
hours to get there, but that could be a good time to have cake
(there are tables ont he train), walk around the train, maybe buy
a snack in the dining car. The museum is within walking distance
of the Sacramento train station. Of course, this would have to be
a full-day activity, and maybe a little pricier than you had in
mind. The museum is in ''Old Sacramento'', which is also nice to
For a short Amtrak ride, get on at the Richmond BART station, then
get off at Jack London Square (about 1/2 hour). At Jack London
Square, you could go to a book store, for pizza, or take a ferry
On Amtrak, kids under 2 ride free, and kids two and up are
half-fare. AA members also get discounts R.K.
We've done this several times and it is so EASY! Take Amtrak to
the train museum in Old Sacramento. When you get off the train in
Old Sacramento, you only need to walk about 50 yards and you are
at the train museum. The ride is NOT too long (about 2 hours) for
the two-year olds b/c there's a lot to see along the way, the
novelty of being on Amtrak keeps 'em going for a while and many
will sleep on the way home! The train
museum is FANTASTIC!
Take the Amtrak from Emervytille station to Sacramento. At the
end of the line, walk a few blocks to the Sacramento train museum.
The steam train ride through the redwoods at Roaring Camp in Santa
Cruz is very scenic, but the cars are open-air, so it's probably
not something you want to do with a 2 y.o. in December.
Definitely check it out in the spring or summer CC
We took our then-3-year-old on an Amtrak train trip from
Emeryville to Martinez. It was great! It's not too long - maybe
40 minutes? - and there is a big public park right there at the
Martinez station with a lot of play structures and running around
room. We played at the park for a while, found a place near the
station to get burgers, and then came back home. It was a
low-stress parent-pleasing experience that will also please train
Hi! What about BART? My kids love to ride on BART are there are
destinations: 1) SFO (the people movers, air travel museum,
restaurants); 2) Embarcadero Center (glass elevators in the Hyatt,
walking around Embarcadero Center); 3) Downtown Berkeley (Habitot,
children's section of the Berkeley Library) Helena
It's more than an hour away (closer to 2) but the California
Railroad Museum in Sacramento is a great place to visit by train.
The museum is about a two-block walk from the station. It has
great exhibits (lots of old engines and rail cars) that kids can
look at, walk through and, in some case,climb on, and there's a
nearby restaurant (the Silver Palace) in a historic rail station
with a cheap and kid-friendly menu. There are also plenty of nicer
restaurants on the river and in Old Sacramento. And it can be fun
to watch the boats go by and the drawbridges go up and down.
If Sacramento is too far, and it's a nice day, there's a nice park
at the Martinez Marina, a short walk from the station.
There's also a hot dog place near the station, and several
restaurants downtown, but many are closed on weekends.
Take the kids to the Train Museum in Sacramento! It's the perfect
day trip for a train-crazy two-year-old, like mine was.
You leave from Emeryville @ 8 a.m., have a beautful, scenic ride
that's the perfect length - about 2.5 hours - long enough to enjoy
exploring the dining and observation cars, and short enough to get
off before boredom sets in.
Then the train museum is only a short, one-block walk from the
station. You'll have time to explore it and get lunch at one of
the many kid-friendly places along the historic Sacramento River
Walk before catching the train home, which leaves around 2 p.m.
You arrive in Emeryville @ 4 p.m., before anyone is so worn out
they melt down.
I think having a birthday party on the train is a great idea.
Wish I'd thought of it when my little engineer was two!
I haven't been there myself and am not sure how close it is to an
Amtrak station, but there is the Western Railway Museum in Suisun,
which has vintage cars and offers a 1 1/2 mile loop trip on site.
If the kids are really into trains, then taking Amtrak to
Sacramento to the train museum (right next to the station) is a
great daytrip. It's about two hours each way, which for our two
year old seemed short with so many things to see from the train.
We also did this for our three year old's birthday with just one
friend (three kids, including older brother) and it was ideal... a
bigger group of younger kids might be harder. If the weather is
iffy having a huge indoor train museum as your destination could
If a shorter ride is more appealing I'd shoot for Davis because
the downtown is so walkable and there's a big park maybe not too
far where they have the farmers market, but I don't know anything
about Suison, etc
My husband wants to take the train to Seattle this year with our
kids, at the end of May (21-27). I am looking for recent
recommendations for kid friendly places to stay for a couple of
nights, midweek. I have read the recs on things to do with kids
and I imagine they are still accurate? Nothing about where to
stay. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
clueless in seattle
Hello, Seattle is a great place but I have to warn you about
the train travel part of your plan. I took Amtrak with my two
kids to central Oregon last year. It was beautiful and parts of
travelling on the train were nice... but it was EXTREMELY
behind schedule! According to family members who I was visiting
there (who have used Amtrak regularly for years for shorter
trips), it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS behind schedule. For the
record - I am not talking about being a little late here... on
our way home, we were supposed to arrive around breakfast time
and we did not get back to Emeryville until after 3:00 in the
afternoon. Because the train was so far behind schedule, it had
to serve more meals than planned to each passenger... which
means, for example, that there was no milk at breakfast, since
we had not yet made it to Sacramento where the train was
scheduled to pick up provisions. Delays of this length are,
unfortunately, very common for Amtrak on this route. It is a
VERY long journey via Amtrak from the Bay Area to Seattle; it
will be even longer with certain delays. If you decide to do
it, I would highly suggesting packing extra food and drink, and
I would say that getting a sleeper compartment is a must. The
seat configuration in the regular cars is like an airplane, not
a European train (no compartments, in other words). It would
have been absolutely miserable had we not had the sleeper.
Unfortunately, the sleeper compartment is rather expensive - so
if you're set on vising Seattle, driving or flying is a better
option, in my experience. If you really want to take the train,
I would recommend a closer destination. Feel free to email me
if you have any additional questions.
Re: taking the train. Train travel is fun. However check the
schedules or with other travelers who have recently done it. I've
taken it twice and it has been HOURS off schedule, which may work
for your family fine or not.
I took the train back from Seattle last summer and it was 4
hours late arriving. It is frequently late, and I thought folks
should know that there are many reasons why. One big reason is
that Amtrak only leases track from the other railroads, and has
to wait every time another train needs to get through. So you
spend a lot of time waiting. My 3 year old son and I road coach
from Seattle to Sacramento and it was fine. The sleepers are
grossly overpriced. We both slept fine in the seats.
I grew up in Seattle and love it! So many great places to
visit. Summer and early fall are the best time to go,
Seattleite and Amtrak lover
I second the other responder regarding the train...It's great
and usually late and springing for the room is extremely
important if you have kids. Also, then you can get room service
for dinner to your room, and you won't have to wait for ever for
a dinner seatting (that was horrible with young hungry kids!).
We got a 2 bunk ''room'' with a toilet. It was nice to have the
toilet in the room so that we didn't have to leave the kids by
themselves. Regarding the timing, we were supposed to get in
around 8 pm and got in at 2 am after a delay in oakland and 3
hrs stopped in Portland with the power out (glad we got our
dinner before hand!) Other than that, the trip was fantastic.
Lots of amazing scenery and lots of nice folks. Great memories.
My husband and I will be taking our then-17-month-old on a 48-hour train
trip this summer from the Bay Area to Chicago. We've never been on a
passenger train before, so we don't know what to expect (and aren't getting
much info from the Amtrak website). The train is the superliner California
Zephyr, and we will have a teeny-tiny 3.5 ft. by 6.5 ft. sleeper car.
Can anyone out there tell me what it's like being on the train, particularly in
terms of having a small child along? Is there anything on the train that would
interest a guy his age, or will we spend our hours walking from car to car with
him? And finally, is it possible/safe to leave him in the sleeper car in the
evening (asleep, of course, with a monitor turned on) so we could go into
another car and watch a movie, or something?
Wish I Had Done It Before Baby
My oldest daughter went on her first train trip from Oakland to
LA when she was just over 2. They claimed to have a kids car,
but it was pathetic, so I wouldn't count on that. We hung out in
the lounge alot, and we walked from car to car alot. We also
brought lots to do and spent time in our sleeper car playing.
She had a blast, and it was fine as a parent. She napped fine as
well, although we didn't leave her. Weren't alot of other kids
in our immediate area, so didn't get to play much with other
kids. Overall, a great trip for us.
The nice thing about train travel is that the long, long
cars are connected. You can walk your toddler back and
forth through several cars, wearing him or her out! On the
Zephyr, I believe there are observation cars, so that you
and your child can look out at the passing scenery. You
may not spend a lot of time in that 3.5 by 6.5 sleeper
cabin, but I predict you'll have fun with your child!
We traveled with our almost 2 year old in a sleeper car from
the Bay Area up to Seattle Washington. Be prepared for the
constant movement, rocking, and noise of the tracks. For
sleeping we liked the downstairs sleepers better than the
upstairs because the movement was less. Upstairs I felt
like I was sleeping on some kind of Pioneer wagon. Very
unsettling when you go over tracks that have dips. The car
rocks from side to side. I couldn't sleep at all. Then we
decided to move to a down stairs sleeper and found it to be
much more calm. By the way our daughter had no problems
sleeping on a train. Some say that the downstairs is more
noisy cause you are closer to the tracks. I didn't find that to
be the case. Bring sleeping pills if you are a light sleeper,
and ear plugs. Our train had a ''kiddie Car'' which was a
room for kids. They had toys, and videos. Our biggest
challenge was our sleeper. It was the basic standard room.
The cheapest one, and it was real tiney! It was not the
greatest place to hang out with a restless 22 month old. We
spent many hours walking up and down the train, hanging
out in the parlour car and kiddie car. If you can afford it I
highly recommend one of the larger rooms. Oh, and talk to
your pediatrician about what you can give to your child for
motion sickness. At some point during our travels, our
daughter got very cranky and cried a lot. One of the tendants
that worked on the train said that it might be motion
sickness. Apparently some kids get it on trains, so just be
We took a major train trip across the USA when my oldest son was
10 months old(we made lots of stops visiting people along the
way, so we weren't ever on the train for more than 2 days at a
time). One difference between us and you may be that my son was
not yet walking, just crawling so it was easier to keep him in
We LOVED it. My son loved looking out the windows and crawling
through the cars. We'd go from car to car, sit here, sit there.
We had one of those tiny sleepers. It was tight but cozy. We
didn't leave him at night and go anywhere else so i can't answer
that part for you. Bring lots of snacks and toys. My husband and
I have very happy memories of that trip.
My husband, 2-year-old, and I (9 mos pregnant) took Amtrak from
the Bay Area to Seattle round trip, and though we mostly enjoyed
the trip, I would never do it again! Here are some answers to your
1) Your train may have a child's play room with toys. The toys in
our train were extremely grungy and not appropriate for his age,
but it was a godsend because it was a big open space for him to
move around in, and play with the toys we'd brought.
2) Walking up and down the halls and negotiating the joint between
train cars was not easy with a toddler (of course, I was heavily
pregnant, so I might be exaggerating).
3) We had a regular sleeper and then a ''family'' sleeper on the way
back, and the family sleeper was much better. Two windows instead
of one, and a nice fold down bunk for naps.
4) It's loud on the train! I found it very difficult to sleep
(although, again, I was pregnant). I thought the clickety clack of
the train would lull me to sleep, but found it incredibly
distracting (also, it's coupled with bumps and jolts).
5) As a sleeper car passenger, you are riding first-class--but
it's not equivalent to a first-class experience in a hotel, or
even in a plane. The food was reasonably good, and it was nice to
have the advantages of the parlor car. I would certainly never
attempt such a trip with small kids WITHOUT being in a sleeper.
But don't expect too much!
6) I certainly would not leave a child alone in the sleeper. The
train could stop suddenly and pitch your kid out of the bed. In a
fire you would not necessarily be able to get back to the train
car you'd left. Unlikely events, sure, but you wouldn't leave your
kid alone in a house while you went to a movie for the same kind
sorry to have focused on the negatives here; for us it was once-
in-a-lifetime in more ways than one. It was amazing to wake up in
the morning, look out the train window and see elk grazing along a
Wish I'd done it before the baby
Our 30-month-old son loves to ride the train. One of his
favorite phrases is ''I ride Amtrak''. (His dad is nuts about
trains, so maybe this is genetic). We've taken him on all-day
train trips back east a number of times, although never on
an overnight train (we did do an overnight trip on the Coast
Starlight before we had a kid). Trains are way better than
airplanes as far as being able to get up, walk around,
entertainment value of scenery, etc. There are also
food/snacks on board. Granted, our son is endlessly
fascinated by trains and especially the view out the window,
so he is quite content to look out the window for hours on
end. The long distance trains have a dining car that serves
restaurant style meals (menu is limited) that are not bad;
and usually also a cafe car that sells sandwiches, snacks,
yogurt, juice, milk. We found he sleeps well on board. The
muffled rhythmic train sounds and swaying cars are very
soothing. We usually had his carseat since the train was
part of a bigger trip and he was very comfortable sleeping in
his familiar seat. The sleeper compartments are ''cozy''
(very) but at least have small tables to play on. Also sleeper
car passeners usually have access to a lounge car where
you can spread out a bit. Personally, I wouldn't leave the
child alone in the sleeper even if asleep. Although no one
could take a child off a moving train between stops, he/she
might wake up and be frightened, or there might be an
emergency of some kind - who knows. For toys to bring, I'd
follow same advice as for airplane travel: books, stickers, a
few new things wrapped. Maybe legos or blocks for that
age? A couple Thomas the Tank engine cars would be cool
mom of junior railfan
We're (me, my wife, our kids aged 11 and 9)contemplating a cross-
country train trip this summer, from (major east coast city of
your choice) to Emeryville. The notion of sitting in a coach
seat for 3 days is unnerving (probably de-nerving) but sleeper
accomodations are SO expensive. We thought about springing for
ONE sleeper room and kind of trading off. I'm curious to know if
anyone on the list has attempted such a thing, and if so, how
did it go? How did you handle it? Thanks.
We recently traveled overnight (24 hrs) from the Bay Area to
Seattle and back on the Coast Starlight with our 2-year-old while
I was very pregnant. I would not have considered it without
getting a sleeper. Your kids are older, so naps are not an issue
as they were for us, but having private space to retreat to was
invaluable. The coach seats are very comfortable, but you have no
place to put your stuff (you're only allowed 1 carryon there), and
you do all your living out in public.
We got a ''family sleeper'' on the way up, which had two adult beds
and 2 kids' beds; bathrooms and showers were outside in the hall.
That was great because you have a relatively large space with
windows on both sides of the car. On the way back, we had a (more
expensive) ''deluxe sleeper,'' which included bath and shower; that
was definitely not worth it.
Also consider that as a sleeper car passenger you get all your
meals included; it might be hard to bring 3 days worth' of food
for all of you, and you can't count on being able to leave the
train at stops to resupply. Coach passengers can eat in the dining
car at dinnertime, if there is space, which is not always true.
Finally, I should say that we didn't sleep very well on the train;
the sound of the tracks and the jiggling and clacking of the cars,
which I thought would be romantic and soporific, was sleep-
shattering. But the tot slept fine, and it would have been worse
in the recliner seats.
My family went on a train ride from Modesto California to Boston
and back when I was sixteen. I had three other siblings with us
along with our mom and dad. The siblings were 13, 10, and 7.
Let me just say from experience I would get one sleeper and
switch off. It was quite an adventure for the kids, and an
exausting trip for my parents. We didn't have a sleeper and
slept on the seats, below the seats, etc. Just a few tips, get
the first seats of the train, they have much more leg room, and
your young children can sleep on the ground if they want to. We
had fun going to the movies at night, going to the window car
and seeing the sights. Bring books and little binoculors, and
your imagination. We had a good time and I will always have
those memories, but glad that it was a once in a lifetime trip,
too. If you would like to email with more specific questions,
feel free. kristi
We traveled cross country (and up and down country) via Amtrack
when my oldest son was 10 months old (he's now 11 years), so our
situation was a bit different than yours, but we had a FABULOUS
trip. We still rave about it. It was definately expensive, but
really fun. With 4 of you it may be a scrunch in the economy
sleepers, but they also have ''family sleepers'' with extra beds.
The west coast trains are newer and the sleeper compartments are
a bit more ''compact'' ie:cramped, but do-able. You can walk
around on the train, go to meals in the dining car, go to the
observation car...the east coast trains (Chicago and east) are
(were) older trains and the regular sleeper had longer beds and
also floor space, so maybe the four of you can sleep feet to
feet, 2 to a bed, or roll a mat onto the floor. Also the older
trains had the bathroom in the room. The west coast trains had
bathrooms (showers too) down the hall.The scenery is great from
a train. Are you going straight east? When we did it there was
a deal that you could make 3 stops for the same price...somehow
we were able to go from Oakland to Denver, to Omaha...drive to
Chicago, take the train from Chicago to New Orleans, New Orleans
up to Montreal (with a 5 hour stop in DC), then Boston to
Seattle, Seattle to Oakland. That somehow was considered 3
stops. The trip took us 6 weeks with visiting and sightseeing.
Again, I highly recommend train travel...also your kids are old
enough that they can schlepp their own luggage...no strollers,
diaper bags, toys, etc. Have fun,
I think a sleeping compartment on the train for three nights is
worth the expense. I remember a trip my husband, daughter, and I
took to Nebraska. We thought our own little room was so cool! The
seats opened out to become beds, and there were more beds
overhead. We had a little table and room for our big green cooler
of extra food. We could move about and had quiet time to read,
talk, relax...and REALLY sleep. I was pregnant then and enjoyed
knitting for the new baby. In contrast, on another train trip
home from Nebraska, my sister and I each took a coach seat. Was
that miserable. We were so uncomfortable, even though we found a
couple of vacant seats so we could stretch out. I think I wore
something in rayon, definitely not the best material for an
overnighter. Those two trips have very different 'auras' in my
Friday's (5/24/02) Wall Street Journal had a good article about
overnight train travel. (weekend section, page 9.) The article
included prices, differences between train routes, questions to
It sounded like fun!
I am contemplating a train trip from NM to the Bay area with my two
energetic sons, 4 and 6, to visit their Dad over spring break in
March. (We are separated.) I have looked at Amtrak's website, and it
seems from the photos and illustrations there that the acommodations
are okay, a double sleeper for the three of us looks like it would
work. I am wondering though, if I am being unrealistic about 24 hours
on a train with my boys. They have traveled often by plane, and are
great in the air, but that is usually a much shorter haul. We would
leave ABQ in the evening, arrive in LA the next morning, then change
trains and head up north, arriving about 7:30 p.m. Does anyone have
any recent experience with Amtrak and children? Reliability,
convenience, child-friendliness, comfort, safety, cost, etc.? Are
there any activities available on the trains for kids? Any input would
be greatly appreciated! Thanks.
We traveled from Berkeley to Seattle with a 4-yr-old and a 1-yr-old;
it was tolerable but would have been much more enjoyable with a 4 and
6 yr-old. A train is more like a car than a plane, in that you can
*see* a lot more from the train than you can from a plane. Also, you
can walk up and down the train as much you need to get some exercise.
There is also (at least on our train - call Amtrak about yours) a kids
car where there were some toys and sometimes a video; there was also a
small movie theatre playing "Shrek" which we watched twice in one day.
I wouldn't look forward to changing trains in Los Angeles but once you
get through that headache the rest of the day should be nice. Have
Oh, one more note of caution: the dining car fills up quick so get
there 5 minutes early for meals (waiting an extra 90 minutes once was
murder); and have some healthy snacks on hand just in case.
I travelled to Denver several years ago with my (then) 9 and 6 year
old. It was WONDERFUL! As a single mom, it allowed me to really relax
and enjoy the journey. It was costly but the vacation started the
moment we got on the train, not after we got to our destination. We
saw incredible scenery, and the ability to get up, walk around, go to
the site-seeing car, dining car, snack car, use the "facilities" was
great. The staff would let us know if we would be at a stop for a few
minutes, so we could de-train and get some fresh air and exercise;
some stops even had small local-flavor stands where we could
shop. Another big plus: the luggage restriction was virtually nil
(it's a TRAIN!) and we had access to our bags/ice chest anytime. (That
may have changed recently.) The 6 year old spent much of the trip
beside me; the 9 year old soon found a peer group and "hung out" with
them in the snack car playing cards. Since then we've gone to San
Diego and are making plans for another train vacation sometime this
year. Be prepared for the trip to take longer than scheduled: AMTRAK
is notoriously late. However, I can't recommend it highly enough.
I have taken two Amtrak trips. The first from Chicago to Oakland when
my son was 5 months old and the second from Oakland to Sacramento with
my 2 year old and 2 month old sons.
Convenience - schedules are limited
Child-friendly - I find train travel easier than car or plane travel
because you can walk around and don't have to sit in car seats.
Comfort - comfort is costly. The double sleepers are REALLY small.
The deluxe sleepers are great, but very expensive.
Safety - People are very friendly on the train and I felt safe -
you can leave your stuff at your seat and it won't get stolen. I was
worried about my 2-year old bumping his head when he walked around
when the train was in motion, but he didn't.
You might want to take a short trip to Sacramento and test things out.
I am actually from NM so I had to answer your question. We travel a
lot on Amtrak. They are wonderful! They are great to kids. The
service is outstanding and we always have a great time. My son is
much younger than your boys and doesn't have a long enough attention
span for a movie, book, or a toy. We usually make up several small
"goodie" bags that we give him at strategic milestones throughout the
trip (and keep one or two things in case we are delayed). They have
small toys, coloring books, stickers, snacks, and other age
appropriate items inside to keep him distracted and happy.
One of the last trains we were on had a "kid's room" with loaner
books, movies, games, etc. The Amtrak family rooms are large, but I
don't think they have their own bathroom. The rooms with their own
toilet/shower are small, but cozy and it's really nice to have your
own facilities especially in the middle of the night. There is an
observation car, and a club car where we usually play cars, or
read. It's nice to move around to the different cars and get out of
your room for awhile. As a child I traveled to California from NM on
the train and it's one of my fondest memories. I hope if you take the
trip it's fun for you all.
I've seen lots of tips on the web at various parents sites for long
trips. You might have some luck with them also.
Four of us traveled by train from Oakland to Seattle last August. My
daughters were 4 years and 18 mo. We had a great time. Lodgings are
crowded and expensive, but also tons of fun. Trains often get delayed
for hours, however most folks (passengers and staff) are really nice.
The two bed sleeper rooms on the Coast Starlight were very small.
There was little to no room to stand in them once the beds were pulled
out. Most people climbed into the top bunk from the hallway. You
should check the width of the bed to see if it is even possible for
two of you to share a bed. We rented a more expensive sleeper with
one large and one small bed and a toilet/shower in a closet in the
room. My husband got the upper bunk. The girls and I shared the big
3 foot wide bed below. There are other options for 4 beds. Each
train (e.g., Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, etc) has its own
particular sleeper car set up. Out 4 year old used the upper bunk for
play space during the day.
If you stay in one of the sleeper cars, your meals are included. We
also had use of a lounge car and a room where they show movies.
Everyone on the coast starlight had access to the more crowded
playroom. You also have priority for seatting in the dining car - if
you choose to use it. Next time we will ask for room service mroe
often as you can get your food much faster than waiting for a dining
We liked haveing the sleeper as it was much quieter than the coach,
and it was less crowded with folks.
Make your reservations as soon as you can. See if they take an AAA
We hope to do it again...once we save up enough money!
I will be taking a trip to New York in October. We will fly round trip
through JFK, but will be spending part of our time in up-state New York. I
will be travelling with my mom and my 9mo baby (age at time of trip). We
are currently weighing the option of renting a car and driving up-state
(and back) vs. taking a cab to Penn Station and taking the train. Does
anyone have a recommendation as to which is better with a baby and a car
seat? If we rent a car I know I can buckle him in and he will be safe. What
about the cab and train? I read on this list that lots of cabs don't have
belts, but can't remember if that applied to US or foreign cities. I have
never taken a train, other than BART or the Subway, are "real" trains the
same, with no seat belts?
The last time I rode one of the trains going to upstate, there were indeed no
If you rent the car at JFK, it will be expensive but you can head straight up
from there and cross the river farther up. The position of JFK gives you a
serious headstart over taking a cab all the way to the center of the city and
then waiting for a train. Plus you'll have transport when you are upstate. I'd
vote for car, if it's not prohibitively expensive (2-way cab won't be cheap
Trains have much to offer. Last summer my wife and I took our two kids
(ages 4 and 8 at the time) on an Amtrak from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, New
Mexico and back to visit old friends. The train trip was fantastic. The
seats were roomy, we could wander around the train, read, watch the
beautiful scenery go by, or play games (we made sure the kids had plenty
with them). The trip one way was 17 hours. The train left L.A. at 8:00
pm, so we spent a good part of the trip sleeping. In the morning we had
breakfast in the dining car, with the beautiful scenery of northern
Arizona to gaze at out the window as we ate.
Of course, traveling with a 9 month old would be different. Every baby is
different, of course, so you will be the best judge of how your 9 month
old might handle a car trip, but I know that our youngest couldn't stand
being strapped into a car seat for much more than about 45 minutes.
Before we moved to California, he couldn't even handle the drive from
Santa Fe to Albuquerque (about one hour). Consequently he made even short
trips miserable for everyone. In contrast, the freedom from having to
concentrate on driving, and the freedom to move about, that the train
provided made for an enjoyable and relaxing trip for all of us.
Hope this helps.
All of the cabs I've ridden in the USA--SF, LA, DC and NYC have had
seatbelts in the back seats--I think "it's the law." Some drivers act
impatient when I take the time to strap in a car seat, but--tough. Most
drivers seem to have their own kids or grandkids, and are very understanding.
I have never seen a seatbelt on a train, and I've travelled on quite a few,
although never the line you're planning to do. In general, the idea on a
train is that it is safe to move around at all times--there shouldn't be any
reason to really need a seatbelt. In addition, on a train, you typically
have good access to the floor, so you could set up the carseat there, and
wedge it in well--it won't go anywhere.
My two cents on which mode of transport to take would probably be the train,
because you can easily move around on a train to care for the baby and/or
yourself. Plus no driving stress on unfamiliar roads.
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