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Guest bryher

Hi all,  

I took my two boys (ages 5 and 10) on the AutoTrain last March. It was a first for all of us - overnight, sleeping and eating on a train. My and my oldest instantly fell in love with it (the youngest too early to tell). I just spent a nice chunk of $$$ purchasing an Amtrak Superliner / AutoTrain train set for under the tree this year to relive our trip.  B/c these trips are not cheap I decided to sign up for the Amtrak Mastercard - they were running a promotion for 30k bonus miles.  

So for the last few months I've been putting everything on the card and now have over 53,000 points.  Just in time for my 10 year old's birthday coming up.  I got my wife (who wants nothing to do with riding on trains especially overnight) to agree to let me take him on a trip. Quite honestly he doesn't care about the destination and just wants to take another ride, anywhere, on the Amtrak overnight (me too!). I found this cool site (http://biketrain.x10.mx/amsnag2.0/amSnag.php) that allows me to scan for low prices/buckets. Am thinking right now of taking him on the Capitol Ltd in April. Literally take it #29 up from WAS to CHI, walk around the city for a few hours, and hop on #30 back the same day :-)   

Our criteria: 

1) we're definitely booking a full bedroom (not a roomette). My son loves the idea of the in room combo shower toilet.  Showing on board a speeding train is a thrill for him :-). Superliner is his favorite b/c of the levels.

2) Dining: this is an important part of the experience. I just learned they've downgraded the dining on the Cap to meals served in boxes. Ideally we prefer full meals served by servers on plates in a dedicated dining car. Like on the AutoTrain.
 

Any suggestions, pointers, etc? 

Bryan 

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How about going one way on the Capitol Limited (a Superliner -bi-level Train) and one way on the Cardinal (a single level train)?:huh:

I don’t know if that’s a possibility. The Cardinal offers better dining (full service) and great scenery, especially eastbound! Onething to note is that the Cardinal only operates 3 days a week. You would still have a full day in Chicago.

Edited by the_traveler

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Firstly, good on you for using Amsnag. :)

But to answer your question, I would say that the ultimate trip to fit your criteria would be the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville (Bay Area). In my opinion (and I think many others here would agree), the CZ has by far the best scenery of any Amtrak train, as well as still having a full service dining car. Two people in a Bedroom from CHI to EMY (or vice versa) can cost as little as $920, or about 30,000 points. That would obviously be within your budget if done one-way, however, with 53,000 points currently in the bank, you are several thousand points short of doing so round-trip. However you do get a 5% points “rebate” after booking a ticket with them though, so you’d get about 1,500 points back upon booking a one-way ticket, which would leave you 5,500 points short of taking it the other way. If you’re willing to throw a bit of cash at this trip, you could buy the remaining 5,500 points for roughly $200, even though they are strictly only worth about $160. You would also need to pay for flights to and from Chicago. But that would give you a total of four nights onboard (two each way), in a full Bedroom, on the prettiest train in the Amtrak system.

On the other hand, if you are willing to only take the train one-way and don’t want to spend any extra cash on your ticket, you could just take the CZ in one direction between Emeryville and Chicago, and then either the Cardinal or Capitol to D.C, meaning that you’d be going coast to coast by train, just one-way. The two trains are very different, with the Cardinal offering spectacular scenery and hot meals (though it’s a somewhat limited heat-and-eat selection), while the Capitol runs daily and is usually much cheaper. Interestingly, there are two main differences that may either be a positive or a negative for you. The Cardinal uses single-level Viewliner equipment, while the Capitol uses Superliners (just like the CZ), so the former offers you some variety in the type of equipment you get to experience, however if you really just prefer Superliners, that may be a bad thing. The other difference is that the Cardinal takes seven hours longer than the Capitol, which is good for those of us who like the extra time on the train, but not necessarily if you just want to get to your destination after multiple days of train travel. And of course with this option you have to pay for flights to or from the Bay Area

TLDR: Your best options are to either a) Take the California Zephyr round-trip from Chicago to Emeryville round-trip, and have to spend roughly $200 to get enough points to do so, in addition to flights to and from Chicago, or b) You could take the train one-way, by way of the CZ and either the Capitol Limited or the Cardinal, which could definitely fit within your current 53,000 points. Either way, it’ll be a hell of a birthday present. Enjoy!

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1 hour ago, Guest bryher said:

2) Dining: this is an important part of the experience. I just learned they've downgraded the dining on the Cap to meals served in boxes. Ideally we prefer full meals served by servers on plates in a dedicated dining car. Like on the AutoTrain. 

How "real" does it need to be?  I remember my first experience in the dining car with my kid, it was Amtrak patterned Corelle.  One a later ride it looked almost the same, but it was a similar pattern on disposable plastic.  When I asked if I could package leftovers, I was handed another plate to use as a cover along with aluminum foil to seal the two plates together.

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The OP implied he lives in the Washington DC area, or can easily get there as a starting point.  As The_Traveler indicated above, going one way on the Capitol Ltd and return on another route would be the most interesting.  The Capitol Ltd  is always the lowest cost WAS-CHI route.  When I can,  that's how I get to/from CHI from New England!

As one who sort of keeps track of roomette prices on the Cardinal (they're ALWAYS high!), I did manage to snag a cheap one for March.  Getting a bedroom on the Cardinal at a low price is near impossible, as there's usually only 1 Viewliner sleeper, which has 2 bedrooms only.  In summer, there's usually 2 Viewliners. That would definitely be a watch Amsnag daily to catch a good price.  Dining is the rear half of a lounge car with booths and OK microwaved/convection oven cooked meals.  The omelette at breakfast is always rubbery,  though. 

Another option for to or from CHI is the Lakeshore Ltd to NYP, then a regional or Acela train to WAS.  There's two Viewliners so there's a better chance of getting a bedroom.  But, like the Capitol Ltd, boxed meals are served in your room or in the 'first class lounge car', formerly known as a dining car.  I think the Acela would be a 'fantastic trip' for your sons, albeit at a higher price than the regional trains.

As for using up your points, you might need extra points to book whatever trip you choose.  If you're short a couple thousand points, going to the AGR website and 'buying points' is a good solution.  Otherwise, book one way or mulitple 'legs' with points and use your credit card to buy the last portion of the trip.  That way, you'll get 3x AGR points for the purchase of Amtrak tix and 2x points when you take the trip!  Unfortunately, one can't simply 'pay the difference with a CC' when you don't have enough points the entire trip.  It's points for 'these train(s)' and credit for 'those train(s)'.  Be sure to call the number on the back of your AGR card to talk with a human to book your trip.

Edited by bratkinson

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On 1/7/2019 at 6:27 PM, cpotisch said:

Firstly, good on you for using Amsnag. :)

But to answer your question, I would say that the ultimate trip to fit your criteria would be the California Zephyr between Chicago and Emeryville (Bay Area). In my opinion (and I think many others here would agree), the CZ has by far the best scenery of any Amtrak train, as well as still having a full service dining car. Two people in a Bedroom from CHI to EMY (or vice versa) can cost as little as $920, or about 30,000 points. That would obviously be within your budget if done one-way, however, with 53,000 points currently in the bank, you are several thousand points short of doing so round-trip. However you do get a 5% points “rebate” after booking a ticket with them though, so you’d get about 1,500 points back upon booking a one-way ticket, which would leave you 5,500 points short of taking it the other way. If you’re willing to throw a bit of cash at this trip, you could buy the remaining 5,500 points for roughly $200, even though they are strictly only worth about $160. You would also need to pay for flights to and from Chicago. But that would give you a total of four nights onboard (two each way), in a full Bedroom, on the prettiest train in the Amtrak system.

On the other hand, if you are willing to only take the train one-way and don’t want to spend any extra cash on your ticket, you could just take the CZ in one direction between Emeryville and Chicago, and then either the Cardinal or Capitol to D.C, meaning that you’d be going coast to coast by train, just one-way. The two trains are very different, with the Cardinal offering spectacular scenery and hot meals (though it’s a somewhat limited heat-and-eat selection), while the Capitol runs daily and is usually much cheaper. Interestingly, there are two main differences that may either be a positive or a negative for you. The Cardinal uses single-level Viewliner equipment, while the Capitol uses Superliners (just like the CZ), so the former offers you some variety in the type of equipment you get to experience, however if you really just prefer Superliners, that may be a bad thing. The other difference is that the Cardinal takes seven hours longer than the Capitol, which is good for those of us who like the extra time on the train, but not necessarily if you just want to get to your destination after multiple days of train travel. And of course with this option you have to pay for flights to or from the Bay Area

TLDR: Your best options are to either a) Take the California Zephyr round-trip from Chicago to Emeryville round-trip, and have to spend roughly $200 to get enough points to do so, in addition to flights to and from Chicago, or b) You could take the train one-way, by way of the CZ and either the Capitol Limited or the Cardinal, which could definitely fit within your current 53,000 points. Either way, it’ll be a hell of a birthday present. Enjoy!

Sorry just getting back to everyone now. Thanks so much for the replies!!

This is really helpful feedback. I had no idea about the CZ. best scenery, full dining service, and its a long trip. I contemplated doing a long trip one way on the train and then flying back. Now I'm thinking based on this intel I may do that.  Using amsnag and Amtrak's online tool I think I can do this:

Leg 1: WAS to CHI on the CAP - this is coming up at 

Leg 2: CHI to EMY on the CZ - just so happens our dates work out for some good prices. Right now (only two rooms left) I can get a Bedroom for ~41,000 points

Total trip would be ~55,000 points.  I know I'm short but the points from my MasterCard seem to be applied on the 15th of every month. So I'd either buy the points or book the CZ leg now and hope to still get a good deal on the CAP next week.  Only problem is it seems like they penalize 10% for any changes or cancels. 

Then I would just fly back from SFO.  

Only problem....my wife :-) She's gonna think this is too much for an 11th birthday. I just have to convince her!

 

@the_traveler  - yep, if we dont do the one way coast to coast trip I think I may do WAS-CHI switching between the CAP and CAR

@BCL - both of use really enjoy the full dining experience. But if we can't get that we can't. We'll still have a ball!

@Bratkinson - thanks thats good intel on the Cardinal. Now that explains it. I actually live outside Philadelphia. So that Lakeshore Ltd might work. I know he'd love to ride the Acela too. Ok will call a person when I book this trip.

Will be back with updates soon!

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Since bryher has registered, I've moved this to the general Amtrak Rail Discussion forum.

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42 minutes ago, bryher said:

Total trip would be ~55,000 points.  I know I'm short but the points from my MasterCard seem to be applied on the 15th of every month. So I'd either buy the points or book the CZ leg now and hope to still get a good deal on the CAP next week.  Only problem is it seems like they penalize 10% for any changes or cancels. 

Amtrak doesn't have a change fee, so it doesn't cost anything extra to add another leg later. Make sure that both legs of the trip are on one ticket/reservation, since connecting tickets are often significantly cheaper than the two legs booked separately, in addition to offering guaranteed connections.

I will say that 41,000 points for a Bedroom between CHI and EMY is one of the higher buckets. Low bucket is actually only 32,689 points, so it may be worth it for you to wait a little bit or look at some other dates.

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Ok so the wife convinced me to take a breath and take some time here. Meaning I probably shouldnt take him on his holy grail trip -- cross country train -- on his first trip. So I'm back to planning something quick - one leg/night each way. With my bucket list being WAS-CHI and then the CZ to EMY someday. And back :-)  

So looking at Cardinal/capital combination. Or Silver Meteor. Or Crescent all round trip.  I think the last two - silver metor and crescent - all have full dining experience. 

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Just now, bryher said:

  I think the last two - silver metor and crescent - all have full dining experience. 

Correct. It is pretty sad that those are the only single night long distance routes anywhere near you with full service diners. :(

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@JEBR thanks for moving this!

@cpotisch I opened up my search (using amsnag) looking all the way through September 2019. The lowest fare I can find on the CZ is 1113 for a bedroom (1 person). Each time I try to then book any of those dates on Amtrak.com the lowest I get for points is 38.3k points. Add the child to get to 41.3k points. It looks like this might be the lowest fare?

 

 

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update. Really nice prices/points values for the overnight Crescent trip. Hmmm, maybe we'll do that one. I've only been to NOL once and could be pretty cool for an 11 year old :-) Again, tho its the trip not the final dest. We'll need to spend the night in a hotel and get the train the next AM. Or spend a full day in NOL and leave a day later. 

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17 minutes ago, bryher said:

update. Really nice prices/points values for the overnight Crescent trip. Hmmm, maybe we'll do that one. I've only been to NOL once and could be pretty cool for an 11 year old :-) Again, tho its the trip not the final dest. We'll need to spend the night in a hotel and get the train the next AM. Or spend a full day in NOL and leave a day later. 

Note that this train has typically been arriving NOL late, sometimes very late. I'd definitely recommend a full day in New Orleans, perhaps including the Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi. 

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1 hour ago, bryher said:

@JEBR thanks for moving this!

@cpotisch I opened up my search (using amsnag) looking all the way through September 2019. The lowest fare I can find on the CZ is 1113 for a bedroom (1 person). Each time I try to then book any of those dates on Amtrak.com the lowest I get for points is 38.3k points. Add the child to get to 41.3k points. It looks like this might be the lowest fare?

That definitely isn’t the lowest fare possible (as I said, 32,689 points is the lowest), but I guess it is the lowest fare currently available on the dates you’re traveling. So your two options are to either a) hold out on booking in the hopes that the price will drop, with the risk that it could instead go up or even sell out, or b) book now and don’t run that risk, though that will probably make future price drops less likely (if there is one, just call and have them modify your reservation to the lower fare for a refund of the price difference).

So do you want to pay a pretty penny now, or hold out on booking in the hopes that the price drops (but with the risk that it could instead go up or sell out)?

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1 hour ago, tricia said:

Note that this train has typically been arriving NOL late, sometimes very late. I'd definitely recommend a full day in New Orleans, perhaps including the Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi. 

LOL, I've spent the last hour reading threads here with "crescent" in the title and have learned that. So yep, we'd plan to spend a night and day in NOL before hopping back on. Getting very excited about the Crescent route :-) 

 

1 hour ago, cpotisch said:

That definitely isn’t the lowest fare possible (as I said, 32,689 points is the lowest), but I guess it is the lowest fare currently available on the dates you’re traveling. So your two options are to either a) hold out on booking in the hopes that the price will drop, with the risk that it could instead go up or even sell out, or b) book now and don’t run that risk, though that will probably make future price drops less likely (if there is one, just call and have them modify your reservation to the lower fare for a refund of the price difference).

So do you want to pay a pretty penny now, or hold out on booking in the hopes that the price drops (but with the risk that it could instead go up or sell out)?

Strange. I really tried to find one. Here's what I did: Went to amsnag and search April, June, July, Aug and Sept (took awhile). And the lowest fares that came up for CZ was $1,113. I then put those dates into Amtrak and each time the lowest bedroom points were 32k.  Assuming all of the dates with $1,113 would result in the same points required. And it worked out that way each time I tried.  Weird. 

Anyway doesnt matter now as we'll shelf the cross country trip for now. Going back to focusing on 1 night trips.  Probably Crescent or Silver Meteor. 

 

57 minutes ago, VTTrain said:

Keep in mind that lots of those trains feature single-level equipment.  

Oh right. Didnt realize that. My son proclaims to love the SLs v/c of the two levels. So maybe we'll have to make a choice between the best combo of:

- Distance: 1 night

- Dining: full dining experience

- Coaches: Superliner vs Viewliner

 I saw pictures of the Crescent's VL diner car and its nicer than what we had on the Autotrain's SL dining car. 

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52 minutes ago, bryher said:
1 hour ago, VTTrain said:

Keep in mind that lots of those trains feature single-level equipment.  

Oh right. Didnt realize that. My son proclaims to love the SLs v/c of the two levels. So maybe we'll have to make a choice between the best combo of:

- Distance: 1 night

- Dining: full dining experience

- Coaches: Superliner vs Viewliner

 I saw pictures of the Crescent's VL diner car and its nicer than what we had on the Autotrain's SL dining car.

You haven't actually been on any long distance single-level trains, right? So how do you know that you'll definitely prefer Superliner? Viewliners have significantly more headroom, have a double row of windows (so the top and bottom bunks both get a view), have pretty large storage cubbies in each room, and a sink and toilet in each Roomette. I really am of the opinion that Viewliner sleeping accommodations are much more comfortable than Superliners, and considering you've already taken the latter, why not go for some variety?

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The two jewels in the system are the tri-weekly Cardinal and Sunset Limited in my opinion. They have some of the best scenery.

And if you want to take him on special trains sometimes there are Private Car deadheads originating out of Philly. Especially now that Bob Lowe moved his cars there. So there is that too.

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14 hours ago, cpotisch said:

You haven't actually been on any long distance single-level trains, right? So how do you know that you'll definitely prefer Superliner? Viewliners have significantly more headroom, have a double row of windows (so the top and bottom bunks both get a view), have pretty large storage cubbies in each room, and a sink and toilet in each Roomette. I really am of the opinion that Viewliner sleeping accommodations are much more comfortable than Superliners, and considering you've already taken the latter, why not go for some variety?

Your son might really love the upper bunk in the single-level Viewliner--it's got its own window. :) 

Also, the Crescent has the new dining cars (delivered last year).

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On 1/10/2019 at 5:43 PM, cpotisch said:

You haven't actually been on any long distance single-level trains, right? So how do you know that you'll definitely prefer Superliner? Viewliners have significantly more headroom, have a double row of windows (so the top and bottom bunks both get a view), have pretty large storage cubbies in each room, and a sink and toilet in each Roomette. I really am of the opinion that Viewliner sleeping accommodations are much more comfortable than Superliners, and considering you've already taken the latter, why not go for some variety?

Sorry just getting back to everyone now. All of us have had the flu at the same time, whole household.  Ugh.  Anyway I totally agree with your point b/c I failed to mention that I myself, traveled on the Silver Star from FLA last year after our Auto Train. I relayed the same to my son. He still likes the bi level but not enough to discourage a trip on a viewliner. 

 

On 1/10/2019 at 7:01 PM, Seaboard92 said:

The two jewels in the system are the tri-weekly Cardinal and Sunset Limited in my opinion. They have some of the best scenery.

And if you want to take him on special trains sometimes there are Private Car deadheads originating out of Philly. Especially now that Bob Lowe moved his cars there. So there is that too.

Hmmm, we would LOVE that. Ive heard all about those. Bob Lowe huh? I'll google. I did read tho, somewhere, that Amtrak was doing away with alot of those deals where they'd tow private cars. Maybe in PHL they still do it.  We'd LOVE that.  Ok will check it out. thanks!

 

On 1/11/2019 at 8:17 AM, tricia said:

Your son might really love the upper bunk in the single-level Viewliner--it's got its own window. :) 

Also, the Crescent has the new dining cars (delivered last year).

Both Plusses.  Ok well I've decided to pull the trigger and book the Crescent on a round trip from PHL to NOL in June. Using biketrain I found some dates that work perfectly in June, a  few days after he gets done school, for a really low rate IMO.  For 45,000 points I can get us both on the Crescent in a full bedroom, both ways. Here's the plusses for us:

- Viewliner: while its not a superliner to your point its a different experience/room and more headroom. 

- Diner: full dinner experience and newer dining cars. We checked out some pictures online and way nicer than the Autotrain's diner car we were on.

- Long trip: i've been reading about the consistent delays and we're fine with that since we're not on a tight schedule. We'll welcome them as long as they're not in the "days" range. more time on the train is best :-). And it looks like we'll get several meals since we get on and off in PHL .

I read the online T&Cs and if we cancel i'll forfeit 10% of the points. Thats what was holding me back. But I realized we wont cancel only change the trip. And changes would be fine unless any points go back into my account, where again the 10% is assessed. Dumb but I'm fine with it.  Esp since after this billing cycle we're up to 65,000 points.

Thank you for all of your help! Without everyone here I still would've booked a trip, but would've been  on the capital LTD. Which would've been great but a little disappointed with the meals. And we would've have known until mealtime came on the trip. I feel so knowledgeable. 

So even after booking this trip I have another 20k available....to begin saving for the next trip someday :-) Which I've already decided will be:  PHL to CHI to EMY on the CZ. 

I'm sure I'll be back on here posting with more questions. But if not I will post an update after the trip in June complete with pictures!

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It's a bit too late now, but I would have recommended you just get a Roomette on the Crescent, since it's WAY cheaper and you still get an in-room sink and toilet. Plus, it's really nice to sleep parallel to the direction of travel and right next to the windows. Because of how the beds are perpendicular to each window in a Bedroom, you are forced to either face the window but be 6 feet away from it, or to face away but have your head right next to it. Either way, it's not ideal if you just want to relax and enjoy the scenery.

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13 hours ago, bryher said:
1 hour ago, cpotisch said:

It's a bit too late now, but I would have recommended you just get a Roomette on the Crescent, since it's WAY cheaper and you still get an in-room sink and toilet. Plus, it's really nice to sleep parallel to the direction of travel and right next to the windows. Because of how the beds are perpendicular to each window in a Bedroom, you are forced to either face the window but be 6 feet away from it, or to face away but have your head right next to it. Either way, it's not ideal if you just want to relax and enjoy the scenery.

 

Thanks for that feedback. I can appreciate that. When I rode a roomette on the Silver Star I experienced exactly what you're saying.  However forgot to mention my son loves the idea of taking a shower in the room. 

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