Thursday, January 22, 2009

Amtrak Review: The Coast Starlight

There's little debate: the Coast Starlight is the best route that Amtrak offers. Spanning more than 1100 miles from Los Angeles to Seattle, the Coast Starlight offers its passengers a delightful range of scenery, from
crashing waves and rolling hills to snowy mountains and thick forests. Along the way, the train makes major station stops in Sacramento, Oakland, and Portland as well as dozens of other cities and towns that span the West Coast.

The Coast Starlight is a long-haul Amtrak line and offers a full range of standard amenities, including a Sightseer Lounge with Cafe, full Dining Car, and baggage service. Superliner Coach seats are quite comfortable--comparable to what one would find in First Class on most international flights before the advent of the lie-flat seat--and the large windows in the Coaches as well as in the Lounge give you ample opportunity to enjoy the landscape as it passes by. You'll also find a mini-arcade on the lower level of one of the Coach cars; this is the only Amtrak route to offer one.

With so much to be said for Coach, you might be surprised to learn that the Coast Starlight is also the route on which you probably benefit the most from choosing to upgrade to First Class, or what Amtrak calls "sleeper accommodations." There are a variety of sleeper options from which to choose, but the most affordable is the Superliner Roomette; on the Coast Starlight, these cost around $100 (per room, not per person) above Coach fare. (True Bedrooms are also available but cost much more, often around $400.)

Roomettes tend to be a good value on any Amtrak long-haul train; in addition to showers, fresh linens, and the comfort of a true lay-flat bed, your meals as a First Class passenger are included at no cost, which saves you $10-15 per meal per person. The Coast Starlight is a particularly great route on which to upgrade, though, because you also get something extra-special: the Pacific Parlour Car.

The Parlour Car is a unique treat. On one level, it's not so different from the Sightseer Lounge: there are places to sit, tables, windows, and a nearby cafe attendant. But the chairs are plush and more comfy, and the cafe offers complimentary coffee as well as reasonably priced cocktails and specialty coffee drinks. In the afternoons, there are wine-and-cheese tastings for $5--the wines are forgettable, but the cheeses are often impressive--and the lower level is a movie theater.

You'll also find tables in the Parlour Car, and you can choose to eat any or all of your meals there as an alternative to the main Dining Car. The menu is limited but specialized--nothing on the Parlour Car menu is available in the Dining Car, or vice versa--and the service is less rushed and better suited to couples.

Oh, and did I mention? The Pacific Parlour Car is exclusively for passengers traveling First Class.

All tolled, a trip from Los Angeles to Seattle (or the other way around) takes two days, leaving on the morning of the first day and arriving at around 9:00 p.m. on the second. You'll spend one night and enjoy five meals aboard this Amtrak flagship route, and tickets can be as little as $100 per person for one-way Coach. Add the Roomette and you're looking at less than $300 for two people--a small price to pay when you're also enjoying scenery and service like this.

America has a long way to go before its rail system will be the equal of those found in Western Europe, Japan, and Canada. We all know that. On the Coast Starlight, though, you'll experience the very best that Amtrak has to offer. It's a trip worth taking.


marine63 said...

I will be taking my wife and son and his wife first class on the Coast Starlight next year and I am looking forwatd to it. I have traveled back East a few time by coach only and coach is not the way to go on long trips. I going back East this Fall again by travelling First Class Albuquerque to New York round trip and will be riding the Acela first class as well From NYC to Washington, D.C and from Washington to Albuquerque on a sleeper. I have found that the food on the train has been really good (kinda high in price)If you have to travel long distance by train go first class it's a lot better then coach. I cannot not sleep all that well in coach especially if there is young kids in the same car at night. I know it is hard for kids to travel that way but it would be nice if the parents could keep them quiet during sleeping hours. I have seen comments on service. From my experience the service on the train is better in the Western Region, going East from Chicago it gets worst. I hope that the first class service on the Acela is good I am paying for it when is go back this Fall. I know what to expect from Chicago to Albany, NY I can stay in my sleeper and not have to see any of the staff only when I have to eat in the dining car. I hope the Coast Starlight will be nicer and friendlier then the Eastern trips I have made. From what I've read it seems to be a very nice trip. Don't ever fly take the train only if traveling around the country and leave the Grayhound to the dog track as well. Nothing is perfect but I have found AMTRAK to be realible most of the time.

Jamie said...

You'll enjoy the Acela experience, I'm sure. The price of First Class over Business can be pretty steep, but the service and food are both good onboard.

As for the Coast Starlight, you can probably tell that I'm a big fan of that route and its special amenities. The Parlour Car by itself is worth the cost of the First Class fare.

Roland said...

Just made our 6th Coast Starlight trip to San Francisco from Union Station in LA. We were very impressed with the upgraded first class service now offered. Amazing deal for our trip on March 16th, $138 for both of us in a Roomette!! (one way). The food was good, the staff were friendly and the scenery,as usual, is just amazing!! If you take this trip,be sure and book the Amtrak Truway bus service to take you across the bay to San Francisco from the Oakland depot. The bus is always waiting for the train and will usually take you right to your hotel in town at no additional cost to your ticket. The most amazing thing about this trip was that THE TRAIN WAS ON TIME!!! Due to a number of track upgrades, a better agreement with Union Pacific and reduced freight traffic due to the economy, we were not only on time but were a half an hour early at San Luis and San Jose! This was far and away the best Coast Starlight trip...ever.