Sunday, July 17, 2011

Amtrak Review

Audrey and I got invited to a wedding in the Pacific Northwest. And mostly to try something new, we decided to take Amtrak's Coast Starlight from Los Angeles' Union Station to Seattle, Washington's King Street Station.  There was some incredible awesomeness about the trip, and a lot that... wasn't so awesome.

No Internet (Bad)

Thanks to encroaching deadlines we planned to take advantage of Amtrak's wireless Internet, otherwise we would have flown. Each direction took 36 hours, which is basically two days. Which meant four working days on the train. Sure, we would have liked to have sat back and just enjoyed the journey, but for us that wasn't an option on this particular trip.

Unfortunately, both the ride there and the ride back lacked internet. In the first case the car with it wasn't part of the train. On the way back the car was part of the train but the Internet was nonfunctional. Which cost us nearly 4 days of work.

We did manage to use our cell phones for tethering, but coverage on rail lines is not that good. Each time we hit a town we connected and caught as much as we could. It wasn't ideal, but it worked. We're still trying to dig out from under work time lost.

What you should know is that more experienced Amtrak passengers all said that they've never had working Internet. There is always a problem on long journeys on the Coast Starlight. Which means don't use the train for business.

The Room (Okay)

We aren't big people and are fairly flexible and athletic. So the roomette we got was quite snuggly. Larger people or those unable to maneuver in tight spaces will probably be uncomfortable.

However, I think if I did this again I would get a bigger room. They have restrooms built in, but I think I would use external bathrooms so as to keep the room smelling nicer.

Food (Okay)

The breakfast eggs and dinner steak rocked. So did the ribs. The coffee was good. Everything else was mediocre at best.

The juices they served tasted like they lacked any connection to natural substances.

Room Attendants, Conductors, and Lounge Car attendant (Good)

The room attendants were amazing. They worked their butt off and got no sleep. I made sure to tip them well. The conductors were also extremely helpful. The first lounge car attendant, a guy named 'CJ' was incredible - he lacked a real lounge car and simply made do.

Diner Car Service (Unacceptably Bad)

The service in the Dining cars was uniformly bad. They were rude, obnoxious, and did their absolute best to avoid eye contact. One meal, when we waited two freaking hours for our food while others got seated and finished after we ordered, was unbelievable. If we asked about our food or drink refills we got snapped at. In retrospect, we should have gotten up and left - or filed a formal complaint.

After several attempts to weather the bad service we took all meals in our private roomette.

Scenery (Outstanding)

This is the part of things that was incredible. The Coast Starlight goes through some amazing scenery, from the beaches of Southern California to the incredible forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  Pictures just don't do it justice - you have to see it sometime for yourself.

Conclusion (Okay)

The lack of Internet was annoying. The abominable dining car service was infuriating and Amtrak should give their dining car servers some basic lessons in proper restaurant hospitality.

Those things said, because the scenery was just that lovely, I might consider taking another multi-day train ride over a time when I wasn't trying to hit deadlines and would avoid the dining car at all costs.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I'm glad you experienced the train and sorry you had the internet problem that kept it from being a great trip. You ought to file a complaint with Amtrak about that and also about the dining car service.

I'm surprised to hear about the bad service in the dining car. I've never had that kind of service on any of my trips, and in many cases it has been great.

If you had asked, I would have suggested getting the larger room, although it's a lot more expensive. The roomette is way too small, I think, for 2 people. On the eastern trains it's even worse, because the toilet and fold-down sink are in the room. In the large bedroom the toilet compartment is well sealed, so smells shouldn't be a problem.