Taking the Train

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Amtrak to Disneyland??

April 2014

Our 7 year old train enthusiast REALLY wants to take the train to Disneyland from the east bay. It seems like one could take the Coast Starlight into LA and rent a car from there - am wondering if anyone has done this trip recently and your thoughts on it? The appeal of not having to drive, the scenery and the ability to move around freely definitely appeals....thanks!! disney bound

My 5 year old and I traveled to Amaheim for a conference near Disney. We flew down and were picked up by a family friend and stayed at a hotel walking distance to Disney. We did not rent a car, on the way home we took a cab to Closest train. Transferred (in LA central?) and got a roomette home to Emeryville. Return trip was wonderful!!! Thinking of doing the round trip via train no car. Roomette!

I took Amtrak to Disneyland some years ago with my then 5 year old. My sister picked us up in Glendale. It was a looooong trip, basically one whole day on the train there, and another one on the way back. Before you decide, check the schedules on the Amtrak website and then add 2 hours, and think about whether you want to spend the time. A few months ago we took a train trip to San Luis Obispo and back. It was nice in a lot of ways, but on the way back we were delayed an extra 1.5 hours and we were so tired when we got in. Maybe do a Sacramento train trip instead, to satisfy your train fanatic - it's just the right amount of time and there's the train museum to visit. As to D-Land, the plane trip is short, and there are lots of hotels either in walking distance, or that have shuttles, so you really do not need to have a car. local mom

We took the train in 2008 with my 10 year old. It was a good idea. The Coast Starlight does take ~11 hours, but it was ok and not boring. There was an observation car. On the return, which you may consider, we took the bus/train route - from LA bus/train terminal, a very comfortable 2 hr bus ride to Bakersfield, then a 7 hr ride on the San Joaquin..a little faster than the coast route. There is also a connection in LA to the Surfliner which goes into Anaheim. kathy

Amtrak Coastal Starlite down the coast?

March 2012

Has anyone taken Amtrak's Coastal Starlite train down the coast? We are thinking of going from Oakland to LA on this train. It's a 12-hour trip, so our plan is to go down one day, spend the next day in LA, and then take the train back up. But perhaps that's too much train time. We also don't want to rent a car for the day, so we're wondering if we will be able to get around on foot/public transportation once we hit LA. So any advice on how to make this a fun and doable trip would be appreciated. Love public transportation

Around 30 years ago I took this train from LA to San Jose. It was about 2 hours late and we missed the last bus. This is the kind of question you want to google about. Recently I read in some column about someone taking the train to Denver (still Amtrak but a different train)(that I also took many years ago, and enjoyed), and that it was a super dump, filthy wet carpet, needed refurbishment etc. Maybe the Coastal Starlight is in better condition though. For a more do-able end point for overnight, try getting off in Santa Barbara, or even sooner, so you aren't exhausted already. Have fun! I like trains too. anon

I haven't taken the Coastal Starlight to LA, but I have taken it from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara, as well as from Santa Barbara to San Diego. I love to travel by train and it's a lovely train ride along the coast. But . . . I will warn you that this train is chronically late, especially (in my experience) in the Southern portion of the trip. More than once I tried to take it and it was snagged up in Oregon or something and was going to be hours, hours late and I was put instead on one of their buses. These buses are very nice, much nicer than Greyhound, but still, it's not at all the charming and relaxing train ride I was hoping for. Now, I haven't ridden the train in about 5 years, so maybe things have changed since then. (I hope!) -- choo choo

I took the coast starlite down to Santa Barbara a long time ago. I was really disappointed that by the time I got to the ocean, it was dark (hence the name?). I suppose you wouldn't have that problem on the way back. It was a loooong train ride and I never did it again. anon

We just took the coast starlight north, to Portland. I have taken the train south to LA as well, though it was a long time ago. I love the train, it's so relaxing and pretty too-the LA route goes along the coast. Going overnight is a bit hard, didn't sleep so well, but if it is going during the day, I say go for it! I don't know about LA itself and getting around there. My kids also love the train. love trains

Emeryville to Eugene via Amtrak

Sept 2008

My husband and I would like to take our soon to be 15 month old in November to Eugene, Oregon to visit friends around Thanksgiving. Flight prices are mighty high and neither one of us want to drive 9 hours with our already on the go son and are considering Amtrak. We were just going to get regular seats for the 14-15 hour ride. I am terrified that it could take us 24 hours to get there as I hear Amtrak is always late but I love the idea of being able to get up and move around and potentially sleeping through the night-plus it's a fraction of the flight cost and cheaper than driving. Has anyone out there taken Amtrak's Coastal Starlight overnight in that direction before? Good, Bad, I'd love to hear it all. Thanks beth

Yes, take Amtrack to Eugene. It is so fun! We've taken the Coast STarlight from Oakland to Seattle, then across the country, up and down and back. We did it years ago when our 17 yo was 10months old. Since we were on a long trip we got rooms and dinners on the train, but for a trip to Eugene (not that long) you could totally do coach seats. You can walk around all over the train, eat on the train, stand, etc. It's really nice to look out the window while someone else does the driving. Nice views, green forests. My son loved it. I don't know about Amtrak being late. We never ran into that problem, but that was 17 years ago. Definately do it...and have fun. Amtrak fan

About 7 years ago we took Amtrak to Bend Oregon on the overnight train. My kids were in the 8-12 yo range not 15 months. I liked that you could get up and walk around, stretch your legs etc. The chairs are pretty comfortable to sit in but not that great for 'sleeping'. The other problem was that the train made lots of stops with people getting on the train and making a lot of noise. On the way back my husband got a sleeper car; more money but definately worth it. We left at around 10 pm got in at around 10 am and felt like we had made good use of the time. have a good trip

We take the train from emeryville to portland once or twice a year to visit family. I love it, but it does require a relaxed mindset. Yes, it is often late, because it has to pull into the sidings to let freight trains pass: this seems to occur with greater frequency as you approach Portland. We are often only a couple of hours delayed as we approach Eugene, and then we are 4-6 hours late by the time we get to Portland. The worst is when you skip meals because you are ''almost there'': expect that you will be at least 4 hours late, eat accordingly, and demand a seat/reservation at at lunch/dinner! Seating: you will want three seats for the overnight, so pay for your child (half price). Free seat sharing is tempting (permissible under 2 years), but it is hard for three to sleep all night on two seats! Don't count on occupying empty seats: the coast starlight gets booked solid, especially near holidays,and I'm sure gas price increases have increased ridership. My son has a hard time falling asleep with all the excitement boarding at 10pm. He does better when we get a sleeping car, but I don't like the ''exclusive'' feel of the sleeping car end of the train. The only affordable sleeping car has two narrow bunks: this doesn't work so well for 3: narrow bunks are hard to share with a toddler. We only do the sleeping car when my son and I travel alone: if all 3 of us go, we go coach. Also, I wouldn't recommend taking the train both ways if you can't stay for a week, at least: the overnight trip with a toddler is tiring: plan for many nights of good (bed) sleep before your return trip. have fun, I looooove the train. ms

I've made this trip twice, the most recent being last summer (2007). We went coach both times.

Yes, AMTRAK is usually late. This is often because the RRs that own the track hold up the passenger trains.

However, it's a great way to travel. Low stress, other than possibly waiting for the train to pick you up. Comfortable seats, and great scenery. Our first trip we pulled out of Dunsimuir as the sun was coming over the mountains....just spectacular. And you get to enjoy the scenery (which is really super north of Redding all the way to Eugene) instead of concentrating on driving a car.

Being able to walk around, etc. is nice. No leg cramps! The food is not what it was in 1996 (it was really quite good then), but it's fine and reasonably priced.

I recommend the experience. Ray

Cross-country trip via Amtrak

Nov 2006

For many years, I have had the fantasy of taking a cross- country trip on a train in a sleeping car like the old Pullman trains of the past. I have a meeting in Chicago in early December and would like to consider flying to Chicago for the meeting, and then, meeting my wife and taking Amtrak back to the Bay Area (the ''California Zephyr''). The price of a ''bedroom'' for two (including meals) is about $1100.00, but the accommodations, as described online, appear fairly spare and cramped. Has anyone made such a trip on Amtrak recently? If so, feedback would be appreciated. Robert

We have taken numerous trips on Amtrak, but mostly up and down the west coast on the Coast Starlight. I have taken the train from Seattle to Chicago as a kid, but that was a long time ago. I have very fond memories.

First of all, the bedrooms are cramped. I suggest a Deluxe if you can swing it...it's the least cramped and you have your own bathroom. The food is pretty mediocre, but certainly palatable. The experience is fabulous! It's so fun sitting eating dinner in the dining car watching the world go by. It's fun sitting in the lounge car reading a book and talking with people. Your bedroom may not be spacious, but you're not stuck there, you have places to wander.

Oh, and be prepared to be late, very late. Amtrak leases track from other railroads, and they have to wait on sidings while other trains use the track. It's really annoying. Union Pacific is the worst offender, in my experience. Have fun! It is a blast! Jennifer

We took the California Zephyr from Denver to Reno two summers ago - my husband and I and our two kids (ages 4 and 15 months at the time).

We loved the scenery and the romance of the train travel. I think sleeping on a train is so wonderful - the rocking motion, etc. And its so much more relaxing than either flying or driving. We had a family bedroom and the space worked well. In fact, the long lower bunk was wide enough for my husband and I to sleep on together, and we used the upper bunk to store things. You will need to store your larger suitcases outside the cabin regardless. Our kids took the two little bunks and really enjoyed it. But I did think that the basic two-person compartment, which we saw from the outside, seemed a little snug. There is basically no floor space -- the seats/bunks take up the whole area.

We also planned to stop off in various places along the way, including an overnight in western Colorado and a stop-off in the Lake Tahoe area. I think if we had been continuously on the train all that time it would have made us a bit stir-crazy. I will say, however, that we got off a little early, in Reno. We had planned to get off in Truckee, spend a night near Tahoe, and get back on and go all the way to Emeryville. But by the time we got through Nevada we were running about 10 hours behind, so at that point we bailed out and switched over to driving the rest of the way. I am glad about the part we did on the train, but be aware that it is at times quite late.

Good luck with your trip
Fan of train travel

A few years ago my husband, 2-year-old son and I took the California Zephyr to and from Iowa. I would *never* take the trip again with a small child, but I would definitely take the trip again with my husband. If you look at it as an experience rather than a method of transportation, it is well worth the money.

Good points. If you enjoy reading, sleeping, talking with your wife, doing absolutely nothing, etc., the train is wonderful. You can spend hour upon hour just looking out the window at America as it rolls by. If you're the friendly sort, you can meet other travelers. The food is serviceable, and it's a blast to eat in the dining car as the aformentioned scenery rolls by. The noise and motion of the train can help you sleep really well.

Bad points. I'm afraid your fantasies of an old-fashioned Pullman car experience will be dashed! The sleeping compartment is beyond tiny -- you'll laugh when you see it. It's really just two seats facing each other with the only standing room in between them. It works for two adults, it's just very, very cozy. One thing you could try, though -- the train has an Accessible bedroom that they reserve for people who actually need it. Around a week before the trip (call to confirm the timing), if that room hasn't been booked, it becomes available to anyone. They then let you upgrade for a very reasonable price, and the room is (relatively) much bigger.

You can choose to have your meals in your room but it's a lot easier to use the dining car. However, if you use the dining car, you're going to be sitting and eating with strangers. I'm somewhat antisocial, so this was a drawback for me. But maybe you like that kind of thing.

The last thing to remember is that Amtrak is inefficient and clunky. You are almost always late to wherever you are going; the train can break down and/or lose air conditioning/heat/electricity (aside from meaning you might be cold/hot/in the dark for a while, it also means they might not be able to refrigerate/cook the food). The train uses the same rails as every other train in America, so it often has to stop and wait to let the other trains go by.

All of that said, I would take the train trip from Chicago in a heartbeat, and look at it as an adventure. You can see some of the country, do absolutely nothing for three whole days, and spend a lot of time with your wife. Tori

We took a cross-country Amtrak trip 11 years ago - my husband, son (who had his 10th birthday on the train) and myself. We left from Oakland on the Coast Starlight to LA and then I don't remember the name of the one that went across the bottom of the U.S. to Winter Haven, Fl. It took 4 days. We were on a budget (I think it was $450 roundtrip for the 3 of us) so didn't have a sleeper and it was pretty uncomfortable in terms of sleeping accomodations (basically reclining in our seats) but it was a major high point in all of our lives. I think the fact that we didn't have a sleeper, forced us to mingle more with other passengers. It was so incredibly enjoyable to meet folks picked up along the way going across the southern U.S. and stopping at places we probably would never get to otherwise and seeing scenery that was untainted by human activity. We still talk about that trip and enjoy very much viewing our videos. Such a wonderful adventure though the sleeping arrangement was a little too spartan. My son made friends with other kids on the train (coincidentally one of them shared my son's exact birthday) and they'd wander freely. There were movies to view, a snack car, a dining car (with HORRIBLE food), people playing card games, my husband and son spent a lot of time with other folks teaching each other card tricks, and wonderful porters. I'm happy just thinking about it again. If we were behind schedule (which other folks mentioned in their replies) I guess that part didn't make a significant impact on us. If you're in a hurry, maybe it's not the best way to travel. In my experience riding trains over the years, waiting is often just part of the total train ride experience. Joan

Every child should have at least one trip on a train to remember!

Amtrak is very cheap when you book well in advance, and it isn't necessary to get a private bedroom--the seats are extremely wide, long, comfy and tilt way back. They are sufficient for an adults for a few days, and certainly fine for kids. Bring your own blankets. Food is adequate, kid-friendly & overpriced but not terribly so. There is plenty of room for your own cooler if you prefer to go that way. Some people order takeout at the longer stops that are in cities--ask the porter. Beer and wine are for sale.

If you bring a laptop or DVD player, there is actually plenty of room to operate it. (Grab a seat with an electric outlet next to it as soon as you board.) I used to train to LA and work on the train, with piles of files next to me. (Impossible to do on an airplane.)

Typically the scenery is fabulous. The trains snake thru places they don't send cars. In Colorado you go thru long gorges with the Colorado River right next to you on one side and a cliff face on the other. The Coastal Starlight to LA travels right next to the water for many miles--you can watch the surfers and sometimes see whales.

Multi-stop tickets are extra but there are some wonderful places to visit. The northern train that ends up in Seattle goes to Glacier National Park. The train to Chicago from Emeryville goes thru Colorado ski country. (When you plan this, be sure to factor in the arrival time--could be the middle of the night.) After a certain age your kids will be OK on their own. Mine got card/video games going with other kids in the snack bar car. I checked in with them occasionally, but mostly read and enjoyed the scenery.

The biggest drawback: Amtrak is almost never on time. (Freights get priority, so the trains are often sidetracked--literally--for long periods.) This can be an advantage if your arrival is scheduled for the middle of the night--otherwise, it is something you have to factor in. Call before you leave for the station, and have anyone meeting you on arrival do the same. If renting a car, talk to the rental agent about whether they are willing to leave it at the station for you if the train is late. If not, carry motel names with you so you can call ahead for a room if you need one.

The website is amtrak.gov (I think) and it is worth visiting just to see where they go. Train fan

Where to take Amtrak for 2-year-old birthday party

Nov 2006

My son, like many toddlers his age, is obsessed with trains. We've spent many a day at the Tilden Park steam trains. He turns 2 in December, and given the weather risk here in Berkeley at that time, we thought an indoor birthday party would be smart. But why not on a train? We could catch the train in Emeryville or Berkeley and head north perhaps for a fairly short trip -- like 1 hour or less each way. Any ideas? Anyone know if there are fun spots in Suisun or Martinez that are in a short walking distance from the train stations in those towns? Has anyone done this -- a birthday party on the train? The party-goers will be mainly adults with perhaps 4 toddlers. Alternative ideas would also be great -- like I understand there is a great steam train ride near/through the Santa Cruz mountains? Thinking maybe something closer (but not Tilden since we do that commonly) would be fun. Thank you! Holly

If you are open to other ideas, the Sunol-Niles Canyon historic train is a lot of fun. It's not too far from the Berkeley area - about 30-40 min car ride. The ride itself roundtrip is about 1 hour. They have party rentals on the train. When we went on it, they had wine tasting (there's a whole wine country developing out this way) so that made it extra fun for the adults! Here's a web link http://www.ncry.org/home.htm Amy

I don't know how many kids you're planning to invite to your 2 year old's birthday party. But if it is just one friend or a few family members, you should consider taking Amtrak to Sacramento. There is a stop in Old Town Sac that is right across from the Train Museum. It is a surprisingly fun museum for the whole family. There are big train cars of every variety housed in a big warehouse-type space. You can go into many of them. I took my kids a few years back when they were 3 and 7, and they had a fabulous time. We did not take Amtrak, but I know others who have and enjoyed it. It's worth checking out

Hi - we have done the trip from either Emeryville or Berkeley to Martinez as a birthday party, and there is a great park about a block away. There's even a walk from the Martinez over a hill to see the water, but the park itself is quite great for a picnic. I don't know of indoor places in martinez though. Martinez is just the right amount of time on the train each way, a bit less than an hour I think.

If you have more stamina, you can go to sacramento - closer to 2 hours but a nice ride, and go to the train museum which is indoors and great cause you can go in all these old trains.

We have done the bday party thing on the train, and if it's not crowded we got a whole car top level, had snacks and presents there and everything. GREAT for the right kids, and they have a blast, very relaxing for you too as no driving, just a bit of cleanup before arrival.

Allow a bit of time n case the train is delayed but normally those routes are within a half hour of schedule. remember to get the AAA discount. (from berkeley you have to have tickets ahead of time though, or pay a premium to buy them on the train, so Emeryville is easier in that way as a departure station)

Have fun! isabel

It's not on Atrak, and is a little bit of a drive, but you should check out Train Town in Sonoma. Of course, it's a little weather-dependent, but that's what raincoats are for! It has a lovely train ride, and a very low-key amusement park (just a few rides, including some good kiddie-ones, and a great ferris wheel). http://www.traintown.com/ If you take Amtrak all the way to Sacramento, you can go to the Railroad Museum there. http://www.csrmf.org/ It takes about two hours to get there, but that could be a good time to have cake (there are tables ont he train), walk around the train, maybe buy a snack in the dining car. The museum is within walking distance of the Sacramento train station. Of course, this would have to be a full-day activity, and maybe a little pricier than you had in mind. The museum is in ''Old Sacramento'', which is also nice to walk around.

For a short Amtrak ride, get on at the Richmond BART station, then get off at Jack London Square (about 1/2 hour). At Jack London Square, you could go to a book store, for pizza, or take a ferry ride.

On Amtrak, kids under 2 ride free, and kids two and up are half-fare. AA members also get discounts R.K.

We've done this several times and it is so EASY! Take Amtrak to the train museum in Old Sacramento. When you get off the train in Old Sacramento, you only need to walk about 50 yards and you are at the train museum. The ride is NOT too long (about 2 hours) for the two-year olds b/c there's a lot to see along the way, the novelty of being on Amtrak keeps 'em going for a while and many will sleep on the way home! The train museum is FANTASTIC! ngp [at] bayarea.net

Take the Amtrak from Emervytille station to Sacramento. At the end of the line, walk a few blocks to the Sacramento train museum. http://www.csrmf.org/ The steam train ride through the redwoods at Roaring Camp in Santa Cruz is very scenic, but the cars are open-air, so it's probably not something you want to do with a 2 y.o. in December. Definitely check it out in the spring or summer CC

We took our then-3-year-old on an Amtrak train trip from Emeryville to Martinez. It was great! It's not too long - maybe 40 minutes? - and there is a big public park right there at the Martinez station with a lot of play structures and running around room. We played at the park for a while, found a place near the station to get burgers, and then came back home. It was a low-stress parent-pleasing experience that will also please train buffs. Ginger

Hi! What about BART? My kids love to ride on BART are there are several fun destinations: 1) SFO (the people movers, air travel museum, restaurants); 2) Embarcadero Center (glass elevators in the Hyatt, walking around Embarcadero Center); 3) Downtown Berkeley (Habitot, children's section of the Berkeley Library) Helena

It's more than an hour away (closer to 2) but the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento is a great place to visit by train. The museum is about a two-block walk from the station. It has great exhibits (lots of old engines and rail cars) that kids can look at, walk through and, in some case,climb on, and there's a nearby restaurant (the Silver Palace) in a historic rail station with a cheap and kid-friendly menu. There are also plenty of nicer restaurants on the river and in Old Sacramento. And it can be fun to watch the boats go by and the drawbridges go up and down.

If Sacramento is too far, and it's a nice day, there's a nice park at the Martinez Marina, a short walk from the station. There's also a hot dog place near the station, and several restaurants downtown, but many are closed on weekends. Mike

Take the kids to the Train Museum in Sacramento! It's the perfect day trip for a train-crazy two-year-old, like mine was. You leave from Emeryville @ 8 a.m., have a beautful, scenic ride that's the perfect length - about 2.5 hours - long enough to enjoy exploring the dining and observation cars, and short enough to get off before boredom sets in.

Then the train museum is only a short, one-block walk from the station. You'll have time to explore it and get lunch at one of the many kid-friendly places along the historic Sacramento River Walk before catching the train home, which leaves around 2 p.m. You arrive in Emeryville @ 4 p.m., before anyone is so worn out they melt down.

I think having a birthday party on the train is a great idea. Wish I'd thought of it when my little engineer was two! Trainster Mom

I haven't been there myself and am not sure how close it is to an Amtrak station, but there is the Western Railway Museum in Suisun, which has vintage cars and offers a 1 1/2 mile loop trip on site. http://www.wrm.org

If the kids are really into trains, then taking Amtrak to Sacramento to the train museum (right next to the station) is a great daytrip. It's about two hours each way, which for our two year old seemed short with so many things to see from the train. We also did this for our three year old's birthday with just one friend (three kids, including older brother) and it was ideal... a bigger group of younger kids might be harder. If the weather is iffy having a huge indoor train museum as your destination could be helpful.

If a shorter ride is more appealing I'd shoot for Davis because the downtown is so walkable and there's a big park maybe not too far where they have the farmers market, but I don't know anything about Suison, etc - Charis

Taking the train to Seattle

Feb 2006

My husband wants to take the train to Seattle this year with our kids, at the end of May (21-27). I am looking for recent recommendations for kid friendly places to stay for a couple of nights, midweek. I have read the recs on things to do with kids and I imagine they are still accurate? Nothing about where to stay. Any suggestions would be appreciated. clueless in seattle

Hello, Seattle is a great place but I have to warn you about the train travel part of your plan. I took Amtrak with my two kids to central Oregon last year. It was beautiful and parts of travelling on the train were nice... but it was EXTREMELY behind schedule! According to family members who I was visiting there (who have used Amtrak regularly for years for shorter trips), it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS behind schedule. For the record - I am not talking about being a little late here... on our way home, we were supposed to arrive around breakfast time and we did not get back to Emeryville until after 3:00 in the afternoon. Because the train was so far behind schedule, it had to serve more meals than planned to each passenger... which means, for example, that there was no milk at breakfast, since we had not yet made it to Sacramento where the train was scheduled to pick up provisions. Delays of this length are, unfortunately, very common for Amtrak on this route. It is a VERY long journey via Amtrak from the Bay Area to Seattle; it will be even longer with certain delays. If you decide to do it, I would highly suggesting packing extra food and drink, and I would say that getting a sleeper compartment is a must. The seat configuration in the regular cars is like an airplane, not a European train (no compartments, in other words). It would have been absolutely miserable had we not had the sleeper. Unfortunately, the sleeper compartment is rather expensive - so if you're set on vising Seattle, driving or flying is a better option, in my experience. If you really want to take the train, I would recommend a closer destination. Feel free to email me if you have any additional questions. Sarah

Re: taking the train. Train travel is fun. However check the schedules or with other travelers who have recently done it. I've taken it twice and it has been HOURS off schedule, which may work for your family fine or not. anon

I took the train back from Seattle last summer and it was 4 hours late arriving. It is frequently late, and I thought folks should know that there are many reasons why. One big reason is that Amtrak only leases track from the other railroads, and has to wait every time another train needs to get through. So you spend a lot of time waiting. My 3 year old son and I road coach from Seattle to Sacramento and it was fine. The sleepers are grossly overpriced. We both slept fine in the seats. I grew up in Seattle and love it! So many great places to visit. Summer and early fall are the best time to go, weatherwise. Seattleite and Amtrak lover

I second the other responder regarding the train...It's great and usually late and springing for the room is extremely important if you have kids. Also, then you can get room service for dinner to your room, and you won't have to wait for ever for a dinner seatting (that was horrible with young hungry kids!). We got a 2 bunk ''room'' with a toilet. It was nice to have the toilet in the room so that we didn't have to leave the kids by themselves. Regarding the timing, we were supposed to get in around 8 pm and got in at 2 am after a delay in oakland and 3 hrs stopped in Portland with the power out (glad we got our dinner before hand!) Other than that, the trip was fantastic. Lots of amazing scenery and lots of nice folks. Great memories. anon.

Taking a toddler on a 48-hour train trip to Chicago

June 2003

My husband and I will be taking our then-17-month-old on a 48-hour train trip this summer from the Bay Area to Chicago. We've never been on a passenger train before, so we don't know what to expect (and aren't getting much info from the Amtrak website). The train is the superliner California Zephyr, and we will have a teeny-tiny 3.5 ft. by 6.5 ft. sleeper car.

Can anyone out there tell me what it's like being on the train, particularly in terms of having a small child along? Is there anything on the train that would interest a guy his age, or will we spend our hours walking from car to car with him? And finally, is it possible/safe to leave him in the sleeper car in the evening (asleep, of course, with a monitor turned on) so we could go into another car and watch a movie, or something? Wish I Had Done It Before Baby

My oldest daughter went on her first train trip from Oakland to LA when she was just over 2. They claimed to have a kids car, but it was pathetic, so I wouldn't count on that. We hung out in the lounge alot, and we walked from car to car alot. We also brought lots to do and spent time in our sleeper car playing. She had a blast, and it was fine as a parent. She napped fine as well, although we didn't leave her. Weren't alot of other kids in our immediate area, so didn't get to play much with other kids. Overall, a great trip for us. Hilary

The nice thing about train travel is that the long, long cars are connected. You can walk your toddler back and forth through several cars, wearing him or her out! On the Zephyr, I believe there are observation cars, so that you and your child can look out at the passing scenery. You may not spend a lot of time in that 3.5 by 6.5 sleeper cabin, but I predict you'll have fun with your child! Ilene

We traveled with our almost 2 year old in a sleeper car from the Bay Area up to Seattle Washington. Be prepared for the constant movement, rocking, and noise of the tracks. For sleeping we liked the downstairs sleepers better than the upstairs because the movement was less. Upstairs I felt like I was sleeping on some kind of Pioneer wagon. Very unsettling when you go over tracks that have dips. The car rocks from side to side. I couldn't sleep at all. Then we decided to move to a down stairs sleeper and found it to be much more calm. By the way our daughter had no problems sleeping on a train. Some say that the downstairs is more noisy cause you are closer to the tracks. I didn't find that to be the case. Bring sleeping pills if you are a light sleeper, and ear plugs. Our train had a ''kiddie Car'' which was a room for kids. They had toys, and videos. Our biggest challenge was our sleeper. It was the basic standard room. The cheapest one, and it was real tiney! It was not the greatest place to hang out with a restless 22 month old. We spent many hours walking up and down the train, hanging out in the parlour car and kiddie car. If you can afford it I highly recommend one of the larger rooms. Oh, and talk to your pediatrician about what you can give to your child for motion sickness. At some point during our travels, our daughter got very cranky and cried a lot. One of the tendants that worked on the train said that it might be motion sickness. Apparently some kids get it on trains, so just be prepared. 3loons

We took a major train trip across the USA when my oldest son was 10 months old(we made lots of stops visiting people along the way, so we weren't ever on the train for more than 2 days at a time). One difference between us and you may be that my son was not yet walking, just crawling so it was easier to keep him in one place.

We LOVED it. My son loved looking out the windows and crawling through the cars. We'd go from car to car, sit here, sit there. We had one of those tiny sleepers. It was tight but cozy. We didn't leave him at night and go anywhere else so i can't answer that part for you. Bring lots of snacks and toys. My husband and I have very happy memories of that trip. happy travelers

My husband, 2-year-old, and I (9 mos pregnant) took Amtrak from the Bay Area to Seattle round trip, and though we mostly enjoyed the trip, I would never do it again! Here are some answers to your questions:

1) Your train may have a child's play room with toys. The toys in our train were extremely grungy and not appropriate for his age, but it was a godsend because it was a big open space for him to move around in, and play with the toys we'd brought.

2) Walking up and down the halls and negotiating the joint between train cars was not easy with a toddler (of course, I was heavily pregnant, so I might be exaggerating).

3) We had a regular sleeper and then a ''family'' sleeper on the way back, and the family sleeper was much better. Two windows instead of one, and a nice fold down bunk for naps.

4) It's loud on the train! I found it very difficult to sleep (although, again, I was pregnant). I thought the clickety clack of the train would lull me to sleep, but found it incredibly distracting (also, it's coupled with bumps and jolts).

5) As a sleeper car passenger, you are riding first-class--but it's not equivalent to a first-class experience in a hotel, or even in a plane. The food was reasonably good, and it was nice to have the advantages of the parlor car. I would certainly never attempt such a trip with small kids WITHOUT being in a sleeper. But don't expect too much!

6) I certainly would not leave a child alone in the sleeper. The train could stop suddenly and pitch your kid out of the bed. In a fire you would not necessarily be able to get back to the train car you'd left. Unlikely events, sure, but you wouldn't leave your kid alone in a house while you went to a movie for the same kind of reasons.

sorry to have focused on the negatives here; for us it was once- in-a-lifetime in more ways than one. It was amazing to wake up in the morning, look out the train window and see elk grazing along a river. Wish I'd done it before the baby

Our 30-month-old son loves to ride the train. One of his favorite phrases is ''I ride Amtrak''. (His dad is nuts about trains, so maybe this is genetic). We've taken him on all-day train trips back east a number of times, although never on an overnight train (we did do an overnight trip on the Coast Starlight before we had a kid). Trains are way better than airplanes as far as being able to get up, walk around, entertainment value of scenery, etc. There are also food/snacks on board. Granted, our son is endlessly fascinated by trains and especially the view out the window, so he is quite content to look out the window for hours on end. The long distance trains have a dining car that serves restaurant style meals (menu is limited) that are not bad; and usually also a cafe car that sells sandwiches, snacks, yogurt, juice, milk. We found he sleeps well on board. The muffled rhythmic train sounds and swaying cars are very soothing. We usually had his carseat since the train was part of a bigger trip and he was very comfortable sleeping in his familiar seat. The sleeper compartments are ''cozy'' (very) but at least have small tables to play on. Also sleeper car passeners usually have access to a lounge car where you can spread out a bit. Personally, I wouldn't leave the child alone in the sleeper even if asleep. Although no one could take a child off a moving train between stops, he/she might wake up and be frightened, or there might be an emergency of some kind - who knows. For toys to bring, I'd follow same advice as for airplane travel: books, stickers, a few new things wrapped. Maybe legos or blocks for that age? A couple Thomas the Tank engine cars would be cool too. mom of junior railfan

Cross-country train trip with 2 kids

May 2002

We're (me, my wife, our kids aged 11 and 9)contemplating a cross- country train trip this summer, from (major east coast city of your choice) to Emeryville. The notion of sitting in a coach seat for 3 days is unnerving (probably de-nerving) but sleeper accomodations are SO expensive. We thought about springing for ONE sleeper room and kind of trading off. I'm curious to know if anyone on the list has attempted such a thing, and if so, how did it go? How did you handle it? Thanks. E.

We recently traveled overnight (24 hrs) from the Bay Area to Seattle and back on the Coast Starlight with our 2-year-old while I was very pregnant. I would not have considered it without getting a sleeper. Your kids are older, so naps are not an issue as they were for us, but having private space to retreat to was invaluable. The coach seats are very comfortable, but you have no place to put your stuff (you're only allowed 1 carryon there), and you do all your living out in public.

We got a ''family sleeper'' on the way up, which had two adult beds and 2 kids' beds; bathrooms and showers were outside in the hall. That was great because you have a relatively large space with windows on both sides of the car. On the way back, we had a (more expensive) ''deluxe sleeper,'' which included bath and shower; that was definitely not worth it.

Also consider that as a sleeper car passenger you get all your meals included; it might be hard to bring 3 days worth' of food for all of you, and you can't count on being able to leave the train at stops to resupply. Coach passengers can eat in the dining car at dinnertime, if there is space, which is not always true.

Finally, I should say that we didn't sleep very well on the train; the sound of the tracks and the jiggling and clacking of the cars, which I thought would be romantic and soporific, was sleep- shattering. But the tot slept fine, and it would have been worse in the recliner seats. VM

My family went on a train ride from Modesto California to Boston and back when I was sixteen. I had three other siblings with us along with our mom and dad. The siblings were 13, 10, and 7. Let me just say from experience I would get one sleeper and switch off. It was quite an adventure for the kids, and an exausting trip for my parents. We didn't have a sleeper and slept on the seats, below the seats, etc. Just a few tips, get the first seats of the train, they have much more leg room, and your young children can sleep on the ground if they want to. We had fun going to the movies at night, going to the window car and seeing the sights. Bring books and little binoculors, and your imagination. We had a good time and I will always have those memories, but glad that it was a once in a lifetime trip, too. If you would like to email with more specific questions, feel free. kristi

We traveled cross country (and up and down country) via Amtrack when my oldest son was 10 months old (he's now 11 years), so our situation was a bit different than yours, but we had a FABULOUS trip. We still rave about it. It was definately expensive, but really fun. With 4 of you it may be a scrunch in the economy sleepers, but they also have ''family sleepers'' with extra beds. The west coast trains are newer and the sleeper compartments are a bit more ''compact'' ie:cramped, but do-able. You can walk around on the train, go to meals in the dining car, go to the observation car...the east coast trains (Chicago and east) are (were) older trains and the regular sleeper had longer beds and also floor space, so maybe the four of you can sleep feet to feet, 2 to a bed, or roll a mat onto the floor. Also the older trains had the bathroom in the room. The west coast trains had bathrooms (showers too) down the hall.The scenery is great from a train. Are you going straight east? When we did it there was a deal that you could make 3 stops for the same price...somehow we were able to go from Oakland to Denver, to Omaha...drive to Chicago, take the train from Chicago to New Orleans, New Orleans up to Montreal (with a 5 hour stop in DC), then Boston to Seattle, Seattle to Oakland. That somehow was considered 3 stops. The trip took us 6 weeks with visiting and sightseeing. Again, I highly recommend train travel...also your kids are old enough that they can schlepp their own luggage...no strollers, diaper bags, toys, etc. Have fun, June

I think a sleeping compartment on the train for three nights is worth the expense. I remember a trip my husband, daughter, and I took to Nebraska. We thought our own little room was so cool! The seats opened out to become beds, and there were more beds overhead. We had a little table and room for our big green cooler of extra food. We could move about and had quiet time to read, talk, relax...and REALLY sleep. I was pregnant then and enjoyed knitting for the new baby. In contrast, on another train trip home from Nebraska, my sister and I each took a coach seat. Was that miserable. We were so uncomfortable, even though we found a couple of vacant seats so we could stretch out. I think I wore something in rayon, definitely not the best material for an overnighter. Those two trips have very different 'auras' in my memory today. Bonnie

Friday's (5/24/02) Wall Street Journal had a good article about overnight train travel. (weekend section, page 9.) The article included prices, differences between train routes, questions to ask, etc. It sounded like fun! Melissa T

Overnight train travel with 4 and 6 year old?

Feb 2002

I am contemplating a train trip from NM to the Bay area with my two energetic sons, 4 and 6, to visit their Dad over spring break in March. (We are separated.) I have looked at Amtrak's website, and it seems from the photos and illustrations there that the acommodations are okay, a double sleeper for the three of us looks like it would work. I am wondering though, if I am being unrealistic about 24 hours on a train with my boys. They have traveled often by plane, and are great in the air, but that is usually a much shorter haul. We would leave ABQ in the evening, arrive in LA the next morning, then change trains and head up north, arriving about 7:30 p.m. Does anyone have any recent experience with Amtrak and children? Reliability, convenience, child-friendliness, comfort, safety, cost, etc.? Are there any activities available on the trains for kids? Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks. Melissa

We traveled from Berkeley to Seattle with a 4-yr-old and a 1-yr-old; it was tolerable but would have been much more enjoyable with a 4 and 6 yr-old. A train is more like a car than a plane, in that you can *see* a lot more from the train than you can from a plane. Also, you can walk up and down the train as much you need to get some exercise. There is also (at least on our train - call Amtrak about yours) a kids car where there were some toys and sometimes a video; there was also a small movie theatre playing Shrek which we watched twice in one day.

I wouldn't look forward to changing trains in Los Angeles but once you get through that headache the rest of the day should be nice. Have fun!

Oh, one more note of caution: the dining car fills up quick so get there 5 minutes early for meals (waiting an extra 90 minutes once was murder); and have some healthy snacks on hand just in case. John

I travelled to Denver several years ago with my (then) 9 and 6 year old. It was WONDERFUL! As a single mom, it allowed me to really relax and enjoy the journey. It was costly but the vacation started the moment we got on the train, not after we got to our destination. We saw incredible scenery, and the ability to get up, walk around, go to the site-seeing car, dining car, snack car, use the facilities was great. The staff would let us know if we would be at a stop for a few minutes, so we could de-train and get some fresh air and exercise; some stops even had small local-flavor stands where we could shop. Another big plus: the luggage restriction was virtually nil (it's a TRAIN!) and we had access to our bags/ice chest anytime. (That may have changed recently.) The 6 year old spent much of the trip beside me; the 9 year old soon found a peer group and hung out with them in the snack car playing cards. Since then we've gone to San Diego and are making plans for another train vacation sometime this year. Be prepared for the trip to take longer than scheduled: AMTRAK is notoriously late. However, I can't recommend it highly enough. Lori

I have taken two Amtrak trips. The first from Chicago to Oakland when my son was 5 months old and the second from Oakland to Sacramento with my 2 year old and 2 month old sons.

Convenience - schedules are limited Child-friendly - I find train travel easier than car or plane travel because you can walk around and don't have to sit in car seats. Comfort - comfort is costly. The double sleepers are REALLY small. The deluxe sleepers are great, but very expensive. Safety - People are very friendly on the train and I felt safe - you can leave your stuff at your seat and it won't get stolen. I was worried about my 2-year old bumping his head when he walked around when the train was in motion, but he didn't.

You might want to take a short trip to Sacramento and test things out. Good luck! Helena

Hi Melissa, I am actually from NM so I had to answer your question. We travel a lot on Amtrak. They are wonderful! They are great to kids. The service is outstanding and we always have a great time. My son is much younger than your boys and doesn't have a long enough attention span for a movie, book, or a toy. We usually make up several small goodie bags that we give him at strategic milestones throughout the trip (and keep one or two things in case we are delayed). They have small toys, coloring books, stickers, snacks, and other age appropriate items inside to keep him distracted and happy.

One of the last trains we were on had a kid's room with loaner books, movies, games, etc. The Amtrak family rooms are large, but I don't think they have their own bathroom. The rooms with their own toilet/shower are small, but cozy and it's really nice to have your own facilities especially in the middle of the night. There is an observation car, and a club car where we usually play cars, or read. It's nice to move around to the different cars and get out of your room for awhile. As a child I traveled to California from NM on the train and it's one of my fondest memories. I hope if you take the trip it's fun for you all.

I've seen lots of tips on the web at various parents sites for long trips. You might have some luck with them also. Good luck, Bridget

Four of us traveled by train from Oakland to Seattle last August. My daughters were 4 years and 18 mo. We had a great time. Lodgings are crowded and expensive, but also tons of fun. Trains often get delayed for hours, however most folks (passengers and staff) are really nice. The two bed sleeper rooms on the Coast Starlight were very small. There was little to no room to stand in them once the beds were pulled out. Most people climbed into the top bunk from the hallway. You should check the width of the bed to see if it is even possible for two of you to share a bed. We rented a more expensive sleeper with one large and one small bed and a toilet/shower in a closet in the room. My husband got the upper bunk. The girls and I shared the big 3 foot wide bed below. There are other options for 4 beds. Each train (e.g., Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, etc) has its own particular sleeper car set up. Out 4 year old used the upper bunk for play space during the day.

If you stay in one of the sleeper cars, your meals are included. We also had use of a lounge car and a room where they show movies. Everyone on the coast starlight had access to the more crowded playroom. You also have priority for seatting in the dining car - if you choose to use it. Next time we will ask for room service mroe often as you can get your food much faster than waiting for a dining car table!

We liked haveing the sleeper as it was much quieter than the coach, and it was less crowded with folks.

Make your reservations as soon as you can. See if they take an AAA discount.

We hope to do it again...once we save up enough money! Suzanne

Taking baby on the train - are there seat belts?

Aug 1999

I will be taking a trip to New York in October. We will fly round trip through JFK, but will be spending part of our time in up-state New York. I will be travelling with my mom and my 9mo baby (age at time of trip). We are currently weighing the option of renting a car and driving up-state (and back) vs. taking a cab to Penn Station and taking the train. Does anyone have a recommendation as to which is better with a baby and a car seat? If we rent a car I know I can buckle him in and he will be safe. What about the cab and train? I read on this list that lots of cabs don't have belts, but can't remember if that applied to US or foreign cities. I have never taken a train, other than BART or the Subway, are real trains the same, with no seat belts? Rose

The last time I rode one of the trains going to upstate, there were indeed no seat belts. If you rent the car at JFK, it will be expensive but you can head straight up from there and cross the river farther up. The position of JFK gives you a serious headstart over taking a cab all the way to the center of the city and then waiting for a train. Plus you'll have transport when you are upstate. I'd vote for car, if it's not prohibitively expensive (2-way cab won't be cheap either). Heather

Trains have much to offer. Last summer my wife and I took our two kids (ages 4 and 8 at the time) on an Amtrak from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, New Mexico and back to visit old friends. The train trip was fantastic. The seats were roomy, we could wander around the train, read, watch the beautiful scenery go by, or play games (we made sure the kids had plenty with them). The trip one way was 17 hours. The train left L.A. at 8:00 pm, so we spent a good part of the trip sleeping. In the morning we had breakfast in the dining car, with the beautiful scenery of northern Arizona to gaze at out the window as we ate.

Of course, traveling with a 9 month old would be different. Every baby is different, of course, so you will be the best judge of how your 9 month old might handle a car trip, but I know that our youngest couldn't stand being strapped into a car seat for much more than about 45 minutes. Before we moved to California, he couldn't even handle the drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque (about one hour). Consequently he made even short trips miserable for everyone. In contrast, the freedom from having to concentrate on driving, and the freedom to move about, that the train provided made for an enjoyable and relaxing trip for all of us. Hope this helps. Carl

All of the cabs I've ridden in the USA--SF, LA, DC and NYC have had seatbelts in the back seats--I think it's the law. Some drivers act impatient when I take the time to strap in a car seat, but--tough. Most drivers seem to have their own kids or grandkids, and are very understanding.

I have never seen a seatbelt on a train, and I've travelled on quite a few, although never the line you're planning to do. In general, the idea on a train is that it is safe to move around at all times--there shouldn't be any reason to really need a seatbelt. In addition, on a train, you typically have good access to the floor, so you could set up the carseat there, and wedge it in well--it won't go anywhere.

My two cents on which mode of transport to take would probably be the train, because you can easily move around on a train to care for the baby and/or yourself. Plus no driving stress on unfamiliar roads. Meg