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Guest sandgk

Travelocity Reviews of Coastal Starlight - Which to Believe 5* or 1* Reviews?

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Guest sandgk

My wife and I are contemplating making a rail journey up the West Coast next year, using sleeper accommodations on the Coastal Starlight. After a day or so in Seattle take the Seattle to Vancouver train - flying back east. 

But, to be honest, I'm concerned by the reviews I have seen recently on Travelocity. There are a fair number of glowing (5*) reports, some as recent as November of 2018. Then again, there are a depressingly high number of wincingly bad (1*) reviews of similar vintage. (Some referring to reductions in service quality from prior rides on the same route). I realize that everyone's travel experience is individual, unique. Still, that is quite the spread of ratings to see. Some of the worst reviews suggest that you might end up with MREs rather than the expected assortment of catered, hot food advertised as going along with a Sleeper reservation - or the Coastal Starlight menu for other paying passengers for that matter!

So, help me out if you can. Have there been downgrading changes in the Coastal Starlight service? Or, put another way, which reviews are reliable for the route we are considering?

 

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Hi Sandgk!

I think the best thing to do is to read around on this forum about travel experiences on Amtrak.  While service quality varies, most of us have good travel experiences on Amtrak.

About the "MRE's," I have read on this forum about Amtrak serving Dinty Moore Beef Stew in emergency situations, and I was served beans and rice once on a severely delayed Capitol Limited. These are very rare occurrences, and in general you can count on hot food as per Amtrak's menus available on-line.

The scenery is fantastic, and nothing compares with sleeping in a sleeper, dining in a dining car, and relaxing in a Sightseer lounge car.  I hope you tell us how your trip goes!

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It's true that there have been multiple reductions in the Coast Starlight's services and amenities over the years, but if you never rode this train before you're unlikely to miss any of that.  In my view the food is nothing special.  The menu is limited and with many items using precooked-frozen-reheated ingredients there are few meaningful alterations available.  That being said the meals provided are usually enough to keep you from going hungry during your journey.  The staff and schedule keeping can run the gamut from good to bad.  For me the primary draw of the Coast Starlight is the scenery.  I really enjoyed the Pacific Parlor Cars back when they were still in use but even with their removal the route itself remains very scenic.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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Actually, you can believe both of them. That's Amtrak's biggest problem, IMO...the inconsistency.

With that said, my own experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I suspect that many of those negative reviews are not giving Amtrak the benefit of the doubt which may be extended to transportation which the writers are more familiar with. No one blames Greyhound if a bus is delayed by a traffic pileup or writes a one-star review of an airline if their flight is diverted due to weather. That said, while in my experience the good outnumber them, Amtrak does have some bad apples and many of those complaints are probably valid. On The Other Hand, the favorable reviews are almost certainly valid as well.

I wish things were more consistent, but they're not. I'll just say that I've had many good trips on Amtrak, and I look forward to many more.

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Guest sandgk

Thank you all who chimed in. I guess we will move forward with our plans, cross our fingers and hope that our experience is memorable - for all the best reasons!

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I think many of the 5* ratings were written prior to the retirement of the Pacific Parlor Car (PPC), where you could (if you dined in there) get different meals than what was served in the Dining Car. Likewise I think many of the 1* ratings were written after the PPC retirement. To me, it’s still a great train. And nothing beats an overnight in a sleeper!

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4 hours ago, Guest sandgk said:

Some of the worst reviews suggest that you might end up with MREs rather than the expected assortment of catered, hot food advertised as going along with a Sleeper reservation - or the Coastal Starlight menu for other paying passengers for that matter!

It’s actually the Coast Starlight. And I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to when you say that sleeper passengers get their own special “catered, hot food” that is different from the “Coastal [sic] Starlight menu for other paying passengers”. The menu is the same for everyone, with the only difference being that sleeper passengers eat for free while Coach and Business Class passengers have to pay.

The “MREs” that those people apparently were talking about was almost certainly the canned Dinty Moore beef stew that they serve if the train is REALLY late and they run out of food. I can assure you that that is a very rare occurence on that route.

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34 minutes ago, cpotisch said:

It’s actually the Coast Starlight. And I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to when you say that sleeper passengers get their own special “catered, hot food” that is different from the “Coastal [sic] Starlight menu for other paying passengers”. The menu is the same for everyone, with the only difference being that sleeper passengers eat for free while Coach and Business Class passengers have to pay.

The “MREs” that those people apparently were talking about was almost certainly the canned Dinty Moore beef stew that they serve if the train is REALLY late and they run out of food. I can assure you that that is a very rare occurence on that route.

There are also some packaged "snack packs" that attendants have to hand out if the train is running significantly late or there is a service disruption, but not late enough to justify breaking out the Dinty Moore. An aside to cpotisch: As a vegetarian/pescetarian, if you are ever on a train which is late enough that the Dinty Moore comes out, you might try asking instead for a couple of those snack packs if they're available.

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1 hour ago, ehbowen said:

An aside to cpotisch: As a vegetarian/pescetarian, if you are ever on a train which is late enough that the Dinty Moore comes out, you might try asking instead for a couple of those snack packs if they're available.

My thoughts exactly. :) 

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I've taken the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland and back home again this year in May and last year in August. The biggest difference was this year, the Pacific Parlour Cars are gone, and I did really enjoy sitting in the comfy big swiveling chairs on my first trip. Other than that, the food was pretty good both times...... dining car, included with my sleeper. I had burger lunch, steak dinner, pancake breakfast and all were actually quite tasty. The bathrooms in sleeper car were clean and supplied every time I used them. I had plenty of blankets and pillow for a somewhat decent night of sleep each trip. SLC was courteous and helpful on all trips. And the scenery, of course, is gorgeous.

My first trip in 2017, we were two hours late arriving in Portland. Beyond that, on time each leg of the journey, which of course, is not always the case.

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Guest AnnGSGG

My 15 year old and I travelled from Seattle to LA on the Starlight.  We had a great time.  Your experience will depend on your adventuresome spirit and your expectations. 

Pros:  We loved the privacy and quiet of the roomette.  It was nice to sleep in a bed instead of a coach car.  We even took a shower.  The sleeping car had a great attendant (Peter) who was polite, attentive and efficient.  We had 3 hot meals a day and there was coffee, water and juice in the sleeper car.  The scenery was great!

Cons:  The cars are a bit dated.  The roomette was a bit snug for two but we made it work.  The food wasn't gourmet ( like airplane food), I wish it was light 24 hours a day so I could see all of the landscape.  The meal servers were brief because they are so busy.

Take a chance, go for the trip and enjoy!

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On 12/20/2018 at 7:59 PM, cpotisch said:

And I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to when you say that sleeper passengers get their own special “catered, hot food” that is different from the “Coastal [sic] Starlight menu for other paying passengers”. 

They may have been referring to the difference between eating in the PPC and eating in the dining car. Both were available to sleeper passengers, and the PPC had a different menu from the dining car. That gave the sleeper passengers additional choices on top of the choices offered to those in coach who chose to eat in the dining car. So, in a way, I can see how the average person writing a review (i.e. not raifans) would consider it "special" food for the sleepers.

Now that the PPC is gone, those reviews are moot.

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On 12/20/2018 at 1:46 PM, Guest sandgk said:

Thank you all who chimed in. I guess we will move forward with our plans, cross our fingers and hope that our experience is memorable - for all the best reasons!

Good idea. Memorable guaranteed!

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On 1/1/2019 at 9:13 PM, Guest AnnGSGG said:

I wish it was light 24 hours a day so I could see all of the landscape.  

One star for the Sun!

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You're going to love it. We've done the coast starlight north of SLO only once, but it was to Seattle and back. We enjoyed the sleeper car experience and the scenery is simply stunning. We've done it SLO to LA more than a few times. A delightful ride. Just remember, you're likely not to be on time, but you won't care.

We're going up to Portland soon and looking forward to the trip.

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The Pacific Parlour cars didn't do anything for Amtraks sometimes 1* and sometimes 5* service. I've had  1 star service on the Coast Starlight. and I've had 5 star service on the Coast Starlight. It all depends on which crew you get.  Even the Pacific Parlour Car Attendants were hit or miss, and they had a big impact on how enjoyable those cars were.

The scenery will be fantastic and if you get a sleeper, your chances are you'll have a good attendant. While bad Sleeping Car Attendants are out there, in my experience they are much more rare than getting a good to excellent sleeping car attendant.   The dining car is what it is and it hasn't changed much in the past 5 years or so when they got rid of the glassware (the starlight was one of the last trains to hold onto the glassware and "china" plates). The food hasn't changed much in a while, the starlight still serves the standard amtrak menu that is basic, but good enough for most. 

 

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