Early December 2016, I presented my Granddaughter a surprise 100 slide PowerPoint Presentation complete with automation, layering, flowing maps, music, etc. about this trip. FYI, with Sleepers on every train, even the days, the cost for both of us was under $2000 by using AmSnag. She said yes, so here is our trip.
Wednesday, June 28 - To start our 13 day journey, my daughter takes my Granddaughter and I to the San Antonio (SAS) very early in the morning so we can arrive by 6:30A. The boarding process started with the Coach passengers since the Conductor thought his partner had already pre-boarded the sleeper passengers. My granddaughter and I get settled into our roomette (#4), Our SCA was very nice, though he really was not comfortable talking with the passengers. We departed on time, Breakfast was 30 minutes after departing. We took advantage of the vacant seats in the SSL to watch the Texas hill country pass by. This was the next to the last say that the Texas Eagle (22) took the detour from Taylor to Longview. We arrived in Longview on time, but the buses were not there. Before long the buses rolled down the platform to the designated car to be boarded. The detour itself was interesting to see. My granddaughter (17) found that the train was just north of Bryan, close to the University she hopes to attend. This is her 5th trip with me, the first was when she was 7 years old, and when she fell in love with train travel. Until Longview, the train seemed almost empty. After dinner, the SSL was full, so we stayed in our room. Both of us listen to music as the big trees of East Texas passed us by. After dark, we read for a while before deciding to have the beds made. I looked for the SCA, but could not find him, so pressed the Call Button, no response, so after 20 minutes repeated the Call, so after the third call, My granddaughter and I made down our beds. I was on the lower level with the curtains open. I sat up watching the stars and the small communities pass by.
Thursday, June 29 - We were going to get up so we could have Breakfast about 6:45A, but the train arrived early in St. Louis about 5:45A, but it wasn't until 6:15A we stopped at the platform, the Chicago coach car had been added. The mother with her boys, I talked with at Lunch, came in shortly after us, she told me thank you for the advice, especially since she got the last table before the wait list started. After breakfast we talked with a couple from Austin going to Long Island about train travel and Congress. The Conductor announced that the train was now on the original schedule so we couldn't depart before 7:55A. We finally departed about 8:30A after a slow freight went across the Mississippi before us. We enjoyed the crossing from the SSL. When we got back to the room our SCA had made up the room for daytrime. My granddaughter started texting her good friend in Chicago to confirm our meeting when the train arrived in Union Station. About Bloomington Normal I had rented a car to pick up at Union Station. We arrived about 30 minutes late. Since we were in a sleeper we didn't have to walk a long way, just make a left in the station, go along the gates to near the Met Lounge for the Rental Car Counters. Each Agent represented two companies, ours was AVIS/Budget. The walk to the cars themselves was down a very long hallway, up several ramps, and maybe a city block away, we found the rental cars. For the next 3 hours we fought the Chicago traffic out the Kennedy and the NW Tollway then up into McHenry County. After dropping my granddaughter, It was down the road to my hotel in Hoffman Estates by the Tollway.
Friday, June 30 - Sunday, July 2 - My granddaughter had a wonderful time with her good friend. I went around the Chicago area, one day by Lake Michigan in Winetka, totally clear skies, and the water in the lake unbelievably blue. Got to connect with several people I had not seen since we moved to Texas.
Monday, July 3 - I picked up my Granddaughter about 9A, started what both of us thought would be bumper to bumper traffic. Everyone had taken off for the 4th of July for a 4 day weekend, so we took only a hour to go the 60 plus miles. With the car turned in, then checking in at the Met Lounge, we headed out to find a sandwich shop so we could eat by the Chicago River. We found "Pret A Manger" just opening in the Food Court with made fresh daily, left overs donated each night. We found a table to watch the boats go by, a couple old time refurbished tour boats. Back in the Met Lounge it was SRO. The line was forever to get the veggie cheese snack buffet. With my granddaughter along, I didn't do the wine tasting that ended at 1:30P. The TE was called at 1:00P, then the EB at 1:15 which totally confused the CZ passengers so they clogged the exit/entrance area making it impossible to get to the baggage room. Being a seasoned traveler, I had my granddaughter get our bags just prior to the TE boarding being announced, so when the CZ boarding was announced at 1:30P we just got in line to exit the Lounge. Coach Passengers were already boarding, so getting through mass of people took some effort. I knew our car 0531 was the middle sleeper. so we just pushed forward to find our SCA by himself at the door of the car. He greeted us with a warm welcome and a big smile. We got settled in our room just as the CZ departed on time at 2:00P. After the SCA came by to talk with us, the Conductor scanned our tickets, and the LSA took our reservations for dinner. We took in the rural area in Illinois from the SSL, then headed back to our room to get cleaned up for our 5:00P dinner reservation, not realizing that we would not find an open seat again until California. Dinner was good, my granddaughter had the Chicken and bacon pasta while I had the Chicken breast with rice and vegetable. We continued to skip dessert, but this time our server convinced us to take the cheesecake back to our room for the evening, glad we did. Service from everyone on the CZ (7/3) was excellent, we only had complements.
Tuesday, July 4 - We joined lots of others for 6:00A breakfast, the wait list started by 6:10A. By getting into Denver early, we had plenty of time to walk around, find a souvenir shirt for my Granddaughter. and note all the people traveling on this train. It was sold out leaving Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake, and Reno. Repeatedly, the conductors made announcements that every coach seat was sold. They also made regular announcements about the "seat hogs" in the SSL. at least 1/3 of the car's seats were taken by these people who had everything they owned with them so they could easily save the seat when they went to eat in the DC. Twice a conductor asked some of them to take their things back to their coach seat, which they refused to do. Rather than make a messy scene the conductor just walked away. When a passenger attempted to move one womans's things after being gone forever she returned tell the person she would have this woman arrested. She found the conductor and a heated discussion ensued. I decided it was time for my granddaughter and i to leave. We had been standing in the unused upstairs vending area. I had wanted to get photos of the beautiful canyons and gorges with the Colorado river that we followed for over 300 miles. Between us we took hundreds of photos. The entire day was one beautiful scene after another, never stopping, Some you think it can;t be better than around a curve, and WOW, it is magnificent. There is no time for phones, games, reading, etc. every second you want to take in as much as you can. As we were leaving Denver my granddaughter asked how to tell when we have crossed the continental divide, I told her to look at the streams, they were flowing against us, down hill toward Denver. After 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, the river flowed with us. She found this very interesting. She also like knowing she was at 9600 feet crossing the divide through the tunnel.
Wednesday, July 5 - Early breakfast with a couple from DC going to San Francisco for a couple days, then on to Seattle before flying home. Neither had been on the train before this trip, so they asked me a thousand questions, that I was very happy to answer. We saw some salt flats in western Nevada, then we got to Reno and the deep trench through the city. Now we climbed up into the Sierras for some magnificent views, but many of these ranges were lower and resembled the Appalachians in the Smokey NP. or the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. Once we came down, our SCA came by to tell us we were on time, so every station stop until Emeryville was drop only, so the CZ would probably arrive an hour early. We packed up, he asked if he could take our bags down for us, where we were going, so he told us where to find the Amtrak buses going to San Francisco. He had a couple kids in college and had worked the CZ route in the Sleeper for 13 years now. He totally enjoyed his job. We never had to ask for anything since he anticipated our needs. I absolutely tipped him well above my normal SCA tip. The bus to San Francisco was full, but they had another they were loading when ours departed. There were three stops, first the Transbay terminal, then Financial District Hyatt at Drum and Market, and third Fisherman's wharf in front of the Aquarium at Pier 39. We got our hotel taking the street car to Jones street stop then walking a block to the HI Express. We decided on dinner at Cioppino's which was a few blocks walk. We had their signature dish, the cioppino (tomato base broth with crab, mussels, clams, fish, octopus, abd more. Sour dough bread to soak up the remain broth, which is too good to leave. We used Open Table for reservations for all our dinners and were glad we did, it was mobbed during the summer. After we walked through out Fisherman's Wharf area, then took the street car to Market and Powell for the Mason Street Cable Car back to the Wharf. With the sun setting, I took numerous photos with the lights of the shops coming on and the dusk of the sun.
Thursday, July 6 - We started early at the Aquarium at Pier 39, then we strolled around some stores, got a bite of lunch at the huge Boudin building where you can watch the bread being made. We arrived 30 min early for the 12:30 Red & White Bridge to Bridge cruise. The line was around the block by 12:10. The cruise, 90 minutes was terrific. We sailed under both bridges, sat off Alcatraz for photo ops, slowly sailed along the wharf area so everyone could take photos of San Francisco. After the cruise, we took the tour of the WWII sub just down the R&W Cruises. That was very interesting, it was a trip highlight for my granddaughter. you really should see this to understand what it took for the men fighting in the Pacific. 80 men, 75 days, no showering, hot bunking, they working together for a number of kills and several destroyed/not sunk. The amazing feat was rescuing 53 POWs near Japan and sailing them back to Pearl. An over crowed sub with 80, then add the POWs. It is stories like this we realize we do not thank our servicemen anyway near enough for their service and sacrifices. We went to several other areas like Union Square, Chinatown, etc. Dinner was at the Crab House at Pier 39. I had a perfectly cooked salmon, my granddaughter the crab Alfredo (very light according to her). That night we walked, took the street car, and ended up at Ghirdelli .Square for delicious ice cream sundaes.
Friday, July 7 - This day we took the street car to Market, then bus 21 to Alamo Park to see the Painted Ladies. My granddaughter is a big fan of Full House and Fuller House TV shows, so she had to see these houses. She was not disappointed. This on a hill so the city is in the background, I enjoyed the architecture and the many other similar houses. We took 21 back to Market and Drum then walked over to the Ferry Building. The Marketplace is huge with many places to eat (to go) lunch. We found San Francisco Fish Co. selecting crab cake sandwich and shrimp po boy. These we enjoyed in the park across the street with the nice 65 degree breeze and the clear cloudless day sun over us. We took the California Cable car to the Cable Car Museum which is also the power house for the four main cables running under the streets. Next we took the Hyde Cable car to Lombard street. What a crooked street, and the beautiful flowers on the homes as we walked down. At the bottom is where you get the best photos. It was just a few blocks back to Fisherman's Wharf for some souvenir shopping before Dinner. Our last night we ate at the Franciscan at a window table so we could watch the boats and the sun setting with the Golden Gate in the back ground. We headed over to see the sea lions, but were disappointed there were only a dozen or so. After a dessert, we walked all over the wharf area for some final souvenirs to take home.
Saturday, July 8 - The Amtrak bus arrived at the Fisherman's Wharf (SFW)stop the first, two minutes before departure, but he pulled away with the 15 of us just one minute late. Two more stops, then into traffic on the Bay Bridge, but we arrived with plenty of time to spare, especially since the CS (#11) was 40 minutes late. We watched California agriculture stretch for miles. Then below SLO, while at Dinner, we watched the Pacific Ocean coast line for a couple hours, We had dessert to stretch our time at the table to enjoy the views. The coast line views with the sun reflecting are special. The seaside cliffs with the ocean rolling in below. Mile after mile after mile. Then the let down it was dark and we were traveling through the LA suburbs, We arrived about 30 minutes late and it took 10 - 15 minutes for us to walk from the train to the pick up area in front of the station where my youngest daughter met us. The one bad thing was the PCC was bad ordered due to the AC turned into a heater, so hot you were sweating just walking through the car. I was told this car was coming of line, possibly sending it to Beech Grove, since it had been fixed several times, but would only last about a half day at best.
Sunday, June 9 - My daughter took us all over LA (Manhatten Beach, Groffith Observatory, Mulholland Drive overlooks, The Getty, LA Space downtown atop the tallest building for sunset. She joined us in the Met Lounge on second floor LA Union Station (elevators next to the rental car desks). We had walked slowly around the station taking in the Art Deco interior. Shortly after 9PM the Sunset Limited Boarding was announced in the Lounge so we said good bye and walked to our Sleeper (2130) the last car of the train. Our SCA was a Trainer with a 4 trip Trainee. Without asking, my bags were taken upstairs, then they helped my granddaughter with her bags, so she watch me as I slowly made the stairs. We were in room 2, the beds were made, so we each took turns getting changed, then lay down to relax on our final leg of the journey.
Monday, June 10 - We spent time in the SSL lounge watching New Mexico fly by. We had an early breakfast which was a walk through three coaches, and the SSL cars to get to the Dining Car. Same Menu again, so we didn't have to look at it. We knew the omlet was terrible, the french toast good, scrambled eggs very good, and of course the continental, with more food than you want at breakfast. Always took the fruit to the room for a snack later. Our SCA team was on top of everything. Again nothing had to be requested. We were tired so we spent more time in the room watching the scenery and listening to music. We had great table mates at every meal, again a couple on their first trip. My granddaughter told me later, she was surprised at how many people was able to help with advice or by answering questions. She said she felt like she was with a celebrity, people saying hi to me, stopping to ask a question, even stopping my our room or where sat in the SSL.
Tuesday, July 11 - I planned it so while we slept, our sleeper would be switched to the Texas Eagle and we would get off in San Marcos. This pleased my family immensely because they didn't want to get up so early to come get us. We packed up, had time for a nice breakfast before arriving at our final stop at 8:30A. The switch went better than last year, we were awake only one briefly and we never noticed the AC being off, which last year was off for almost 40 minutes, so the rooms were stifling.
This was a great trip, 5600 miles on Amtrak, on the Texas Eagle, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, and Sunset Limited. I am currently making another photo book (48 pages) for my granddaughter so she has this trip for ever to show to her grandchildren. Soon I will be working on next summer with my youngest granddaughter (12). She doesn't know yet.