By Judy Colbert
“It was quite a geography and economic lesson,” say Clarence and Mary Bechter, from Ohio, about their trip last year aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder between Seattle/Portland and Chicago. They’re in their 60s and had never driven across the United States.
“The industry that is producing three shifts, big cities, farm land that stretched for miles, quaint towns,” says Clarence. “At one point, we had sun, then rain, and even snow all in the same 24-hour period. It was exciting going through the Cascade Mountains and through tunnels. I liked the fact that I could look out my window and see the stars at 2 a.m.”
After months of no vacation, it may be time for you to think about getting away. The safest public transportation these days is on Amtrak. The coach cars are booked to no more than 50 percent capacity and masks are required. For even more spacing, book a bedroom for one to five people (three little ones) and you have your own private accommodations.
You can go coach from the East Coast to the West Coast in a large, comfortable reclining seat with an electric outlet and a relaxed view of the world as the miles pass by. No need to worry about speed limits, traffic, or finding a place to sleep or eat. Someone else is taking care of those concerns. From the Carolinas you can head south to Florida, north to New York and New England, or New Orleans to Los Angeles and on to our northwest states. You can take the train through 46 of the 48 contiguous states (no trains through South Dakota or Wyoming).
Trains are fun. Watch the scenery change from the lowlands to the plains with crops that feed our nation to forests to mountains. It’s a great way to understand how diverse our country’s geography is. Big cities and little towns, factories, rivers and lakes make this an endless movie of constantly shifting participants. Look for wildlife, particularly birds during migrating season, a deer darting through the woods, or just pets that live along the rails. Take in vignettes where families and friends say goodbye to military personnel or welcome travelers back from great adventures. Wave back to the people who wave at trains and the railfans who take endless pictures of trains.
Bedroom options range from a roomette, bedroom and two adjacent bedrooms that connect to make a suite, a family bedroom or an accessible bedroom. Sleeping accommodations come with meal service, bottled water, and a sleeping car attendant. A fold-down table has a checkerboard/chess board etched into it. Coach or sleeping accommodations mean you can take two suitcases per person, up to 50 pounds each.
As of early October, service on most of the 15 long-haul routes has been reduced to three days a week. During COVID-19, dining is a choice of a handful of meals, with one vegetarian option. This is the time to take a cooler with you and some snacks so you can create your version of Hemingway’s moveable feast. If you have a bedroom, your take-aboard beverages can contain alcohol and you can consume it in your bedroom.
Plan Your Trip!
If you can’t decide where you want to go, check various Amtrak vacations available. Amtrak can take you to such national parks as Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce and Zion. Or, if you prefer bright lights and big cities, head north and spend time in New York City, see an exhibit and savor a slice street vendor pizza. Go to sleep in one town and wake up in another. You can even go to sleep in one time zone and wake up in another. It’s amazing what you can do on a train.
With over 500 destinations in 46 states and more than 30 train routes across the country – many of them legendary and some in Canada – there are endless opportunities to explore and enjoy life onboard. Packages include train fare, hotels and sightseeing. AAA Members receive $50 per booking savings off a 5-night or longer package. Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-2865 for more information!