A couple of months ago we started looking into visiting my in-laws in Northern California. We went back and forth on how we should travel down there and finally decided to try the Amtrak train. It was a new way to travel in the United States for us (We had previously taken the train in Europe to both Strasbourg and London) and we thought it might be easier with our new little baby (rather than having to stop every few hours to feed him).
We’re lucky enough to have a really nice little train station here in Olympia. It’s ran completely by volunteers and one of the volunteers gave our girls some activity books and chatted with us a bit about what to expect. It was really nice and we appreciated it.
We boarded the train around 11:30. It was a little late to make a reservation for lunch, but we had packed sandwiches for the girls and Aaron ran over to the cafe car and got us a sandwich for me and a slice of pizza for himself (the food was so-so).
After lunch, we went and explored the lounge car. It has tons of windows and offers beautiful views of the Pacific Northwest and California. From Seattle to Portland, a National Parks ranger is onboard and gives commentary on the surrounding areas (we unfortunately missed it both times, but it sounded really neat!).
We loved how bright and airy the lounge car was and that we had the option of sitting at a table (great for eating snacks or for the girls to work on their workbooks) or sitting in chairs facing the windows. We spent a lot of time in here and it was very pleasant.
When the girls needed a change of scenery, we would head back to our seats. We had a couple of movies downloaded onto our tablet that they could watch (I believe that they watched two on our trip down and one on our trip back up) and also a few books to look at along with a couple of toys each.
For dinner, we were told that we could make a reservation and that someone would come around to make that, but no one ever came around and then we heard an announcement that dinner was all full. On our way back up, a similar thing happened. We had to talk to someone in the dining car each time to make sure we got in for our meal (if you miss getting a reservation, you’re put on a waitlist). Luckily, once we were seated in the dining car, the food was actually pretty good. The girls got a hot dog each time and I got the salmon for dinner on the way up, and a hamburger for lunch on the way back.
Our family on it’s own is a big enough group to get a full table, but otherwise, if you’re traveling alone or with a smaller group, you’ll be sharing a table with other passengers. We overheard several people introducing themselves and it seemed like an interesting way to meet new people.
Our biggest challenge while riding on the Amtrak with kids was nighttime. Again, we were in coach so while the chairs did lean back (much more than on an airplane), they weren’t flat by any means and so our middle child (who is 4 years old) really struggled with falling asleep. We tried multiple positions and finally around 2 AM, she fell asleep laying down with her head on my lap. Our oldest (age 6) had a great attitude the whole night and slept fairly well considering the circumstances. On the way back though, both girls (and our newborn) slept well with no big issues.
After 18ish hours, we made it to Sacramento at 6am (after leaving around noon the day before).
Overall, we had a good experience while taking the Amtrak from Olympia, WA to Sacramento, CA. It was nice being able to walk around a bit and to have more space to stretch out. Bedtime was a real struggle on the way down, but had we been in a sleeper car, I think we would have been just fine.
Have you ever traveled long distance by train before? If so, what did you think?