Traveling from Chicago to Whitefish, coach with kids

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Kirsty, Jul 14, 2019 at 3:38 AM.

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  1. Jul 14, 2019 at 3:38 AM #1

    Kirsty

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    Kirsty

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    Hi all. We just realized (2 days before our trip) that we didn't actually book the sleeper car as we had though and that we are, in fact, traveling overnight in coach class on the Empire Builder. I guess we don't know how to read the booking site :/ So bummed:(

    Anyway, now that we know this, we are concerned about getting a decent seat, and how to ensure that the 4 of us can sit (and sleep) together. Last time I traveled with the kids on Amtrak from Chicago the waiting room was so hot we could barely think, and the boarding procedure was like something from my time in Eastern Europe 20 years ago! Someone said something unintelligible over the speakers then suddenly everyone in the waiting room swarmed at the door to the platform, pushing and shoving , battling to be the first one to get their large bag or stroller or whatever up the steps to the train. (I guess the only difference from my Eastern European trip was the lack of people trying to board chickens onto the train and no angry older woman throwing onions at people!!). On our last trip from Chicago we had arrived early to ensure that we could sit together but, due to the lack of information or instructions, or a line, there was no advantage to arriving early whatsoever! I am scared that this will happen again, but that this time we could be split up for the 30 something hours of our trip! I need tips from seasoned travelers for how to avoid this. How do we ensure that arriving early actually pays off? My kids are 10 and 7 if that information is important for this (so no toddlers or strollers).

    Also, how can we determine if this is a train that allows checked baggage? Where does baggage get checked? What is the baggage checking procedure? Where does the baggage go when we get off the train?

    Are there any blankets provided in coach class?

    What is the procedure for booking a table in the meal car? Will that be obvious when we get on the train?

    I have also emailed Amtrak with my questions, but as it is Saturday night and we are traveling Monday morning I am nervous that I won't get a response from them in time. Thanks in advance for any insight you can give!
     
  2. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:01 AM #2

    pennyk

    pennyk

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    I cannot answer all of your questions since I normally travel in a sleeper.

    If you are unable to upgrade to a sleeper for the four of you, I suggest getting a redcap in Chicago to take you to the train. I believe, in that case, you would board earlier. However, redcaps are not always available and you may have to wait, thus defeating your ability to board early.

    I am not sure if coach passengers in the Metropolitan Lounge board early. If so, you could purchase a day pass for the lounge.

    Blankets are not provided in coach.

    The train allows checked baggage, but I do not know if Whitefish is a staffed station where baggage can be checked as a destination. I would phone Amtrak and ask them.
     
  3. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:03 AM #3

    Rasputin

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    Rasputin

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    Here are a few quick answers:

    No blankets or pillows are provided in coach. Bring your own.

    This train has checked baggage and there is a checked baggage desk in Chicago which should be clearly marked. You have to check your bags at least 45 minutes before train departure. Be sure to do this early since there may be a line and your bags have to be checked at least 45 minutes prior to departure. Being in line to check your bags in this time period doesn't count. They have to be actually checked. You will not have access to the checked bags until you get to Whitefish so be sure to carry any medications, toothbrushes, etc. in a smaller backpack or bag that you will carry on the train with you.

    In answer to Penny's question, you can check baggage to Whitefish.

    You will get a receipt for the checked bags. Be sure not to lose it. They will ask for it in Whitefish.

    A sleep mask and ear plugs may be helpful.

    Carry a good supply of snacks.

    I am not sure about the procedure for sitting together but I assume the conductor or car attendant can take care of that.

    This train will have both a dining car and a café car. You can check out the menus and prices on the Amtrak website.

    I hope you have a good trip.
     
  4. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:08 AM #4

    pennyk

    pennyk

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    Regarding eating in the dining car, dinner (and possibly lunch) will be by reservation. The LSA (Lead Service Attendant) will take reservations first from sleeping cars, then from coach. Breakfast (and possibly lunch) will be first come first serve. Announcements will be made as to the hours the meals will be served.
     
  5. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:16 AM #5

    SarahZ

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    Coach passengers in the Metropolitan Lounge are offered pre-boarding, just like the sleepers. If you can afford lounge passes, I would do that. I believe they are $25. I'm not sure if they charge for minors.

    That said, when I've traveled in coach, they boarded families with children first (along with seniors, disabled passengers, and military). I would ask the gate attendant if you will be allowed to board first so as to keep your family together.

    I would call Amtrak and see if there are any sleepers left. If not, keep checking. People sometimes cancel as little as one hour before their trip.
     
  6. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:26 AM #6

    Milw6166

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    Don't Panic. No blankets for coach. Bring something as coach could be cool. Boarding is controled from the waiting lounge-(probably lounge A/B) but check at the info desk in the middle of the Great Hall at Union Station. Try to get to the station a couple hours before departure. Your ticket shows a train # (7 or 27) and a car number. You will walk out to the train from the lounge and at your car you are assigned a seat number by the attendant. Only dinner has reserved seating and you will be asked if you want to reserve after leaving Chicago. Breakfast/Lunch in the dining car are open seating. There is also a cafe for "fast" food/drinks in lower part of the observation car open all day except breaks for the attendant. This train has checked baggage to Whitefish. Go to the checked baggage counter to do that. safe travel.
     
  7. Jul 14, 2019 at 4:40 AM #7

    Michigan Mom

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    If your kids are 10 and under, or even one of them is, go to the gate agent and ask if you can preboard. If that doesn't work out, when you are walking down the tracks to board, ask one of the conductors how you can best sit together. Definitely bring blankets, or jackets, sleep masks and earplugs, and bottled water. Pack a ziplock bag of favored toiletries, and another ziplock bag of sanitizing wipes. You can use the wipes to clean your seat area, window ledge, armrests, tray table, and they also are handy in the bathroom. I won't tell you what I have cleaned but, trust me you won't be sorry about bringing the wipes. Frankly if you have space bring a whole canister.
     
  8. Jul 14, 2019 at 7:17 AM #8

    dogbert617

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    dogbert617

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    Whitefish is a fully staffed station on the Empire Builder route, and for sure does allow checked baggage.

    I will note for Empire Builder, there are TWO combined sections of this train, and they are split AFTER Whitefish. The split occurs in Spokane. One half goes to Seattle(train #7, this is the front half of the train including its dining car), and the other half goes to Portland(train #27, rear cars of this train including the observation/sightseer car). This means essentially you have a choice of two sleeper cars to be able to find a sleeper(not to forget to note in peak months, often an extra sleeper car is added to both halves of the train for 4 overall), and I usually go with whether it's #7 or #27 with a cheaper sleeper fare. Of course on most Amtrak trains you only have a choice of one sleeping car(and sleeper fare as well) to book, and this is one of the rare ones where you have a choice of either half of the train to book a sleeper in. Rule of thumb: the #7 portion of the train is closer to the dining car, so if a long walk between so many cars to the dining car is something you'd all rather not experience, then don't book a sleeper in train #27. This is an issue that doesn't bother me(say if I end up w/sleeper on #27) , but clearly mentioning this issue so that you're prepared for this. Even if you already booked coach seats, you still can call Amtrak at their 800 number (and mention that you'd rather speak to a live agent, by saying agent when you hear the annoying automated Julie speak), mention your existing reservation number to the agent you talk to in coach, then say that you'd like to upgrade to a sleeper. I'll guess that a family bedroom in sleeper, would work best for your family.

    Like others said, I suspect if you have 2 kids, for sure you, your husband, and 2 kids would qualify for pre-boarding in Chicago before the rest of other ticketed passengers, on the Builder. Hope you guys all have a great trip on Amtrak. And if you have more questions (i.e. interesting scenery points along the way, smoke/stretch stops), let us know.

    Also BTW for smoke/stretch stops, there's a different thread on one of the Amtrak Unlimited message boards, that mentions when smoke/stretch breaks occur. The first and last one on the Empire Builder west of Chicago, is for the most part in Winona, MN. Others after Winona along your way before Whitefish are St. Paul, Minot, *Williston, Havre, and *Shelby. I am not sure if Fargo and/or Grand Forks are ever stretch/smoke stops, since those 2 stops are middle of the night, and I always forget to ask this to the train crew weirdly enough.

    *- the train crew do not always let people stretch their legs or smoke at these stops, IF the train is greatly running behind. So keep that in mind. Essentially, these 2 stretch stops are only called IF the train is running on time, and both are brief ones. If the train is running late, these 2 stretch stops will be cancelled, as was the case with Williston (but not Shelby, interestingly) when the train crew tried to make up time the last time I took #8/28 before Minot. Pay close attention to listening to a train employee loudly saying 'all aboard!' and blowing of the train whistle at any smoke/stretch stop, so that you aren't left behind.
     
  9. Jul 14, 2019 at 1:34 PM #9

    fillyjonk

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    It's ridiculous that you don't get help getting seats with your kids. If there's a redcap or an attendant or someone, ask them if there's some way arrangements can be made so you can sit together.

    I'm a solo traveler and when I've travelled in coach, I've always been directed to "share" a seat with another stranger so the seats-together can be left for families/couples. (While I don't necessarily think an adult couple HAS to sit together, I would move, even to an undesirable seat, to keep a parent and kid together, especially a 10 or under kid)

    But yeah, I remember the Chicago station, and what a confusing crush boarding could be. Good luck.
     
  10. Jul 14, 2019 at 2:34 PM #10

    Ziv

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    Not sure if this would work, but if you can't get a sleeper from Chicago to Whitefish, would it be possible that you might be able to get one from Red Wing or St. Paul to Whitefish? Coach from Chicago to St. Paul then moving to the sleeper for the night would be a LOT more comfortable than coach the whole way.
    I doubt it would be that likely to be available but it might happen that a sleeper passenger would book from Chicago to St. Paul. I would check Amsnag to see if this is a possibility.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2019 at 3:20 PM
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  11. Jul 14, 2019 at 3:14 PM #11

    lbrandon

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    Here’s the info about the Metropolitan Lounge and Union Station. If you can spring for the extra $25 per person you will get pre-boarding and a much nicer waiting area. When I used it they walked us right past the hoards of people in the general waiting area. https://chicagounionstation.com/travel/metropolitan-lounge
     
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  12. Jul 14, 2019 at 5:09 PM #12

    shelzp

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    Being honest, for peace of mind I would get the $25 passes but I also think help from a Red Cap would work out fine because of Chicago being the originating station. It does aggravate that you have to consider that you might not be seated together! The conductors do save seats for families/groups that they know are boarding down the line. But it isn’t automatic and is always a concern for groups.
     
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  13. Jul 15, 2019 at 4:00 AM #13

    FreeskierInVT

    FreeskierInVT

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    For travel tomorrow (7/15) and on Tuesday 7/16, there doesn't appear to be any family bedrooms available, but you could *possibly* get two roomettes across the hall from each other. Two roomettes are available on each train but only an Amtrak agent could tell you if its possible to be booked across from each other. Fares are high, especially on Tuesday.
     
  14. Jul 19, 2019 at 11:38 PM #14

    Ziv

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    Ziv

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    I wonder how their trip went... ...
     

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