The Empire Builder operates daily between Chicago and Seattle/Portland and was named for James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railway.
There are 45 station stops on the Empire Builder — the most of any Amtrak route.
The Lake Shore Limited route follows the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, the Erie Canal and the Hudson River, and is known as "the water-level route."
by Chris Wills
New York, New York
Chris introduced me to the wonderful world of traveling by train on our trip in October 2010 from Seattle to New York City on the Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited trains. We had a sleeper cabin on both trains and enjoyed watching the world go by while playing games comfortably in our cabin. The food was delicious (so much we could barely eat), met so many wonderful people, and we loved visiting the Sightseer Lounge Car to relax and see the panoramic views. It really felt like we were outside. The staff is so kind, and we found ourselves so excited we could barely sleep. I fell in love. By far this was the most relaxing, fun way to travel and see the world.
Chris is from England, and he is trying to go to as many states as possible. This is a great way for him to see America before we move in late October 2011. In fact, the Empire Builder helped him see North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois for the first time; with the Texas Eagle he saw Arkansas and Missouri, and he was able to see Indiana via the Lake Shore Limited. He only has 11 states to go.
I woke up to a treasure hunt one morning and a note telling me to have a relaxing day and to be ready to leave at 3:00 pm. There were post-it notes all over our apartment. The treasure hunt led to flowers and a back pack with a note to pack my bags. I didn't know where we were going, or if we were traveling by car, plane or train.
When Chris got home from work, it wasn't until we hailed a taxi to LaGuardia that I knew we were going to the airport. When we got to security, he handed me a ticket to Atlanta. It wasn’t until we got to the gate, that I saw we were going to Dallas, Texas. I was very confused.
When we arrived in Dallas, it was nearly midnight, so I wasn't surprised that we took a shuttle to an airport hotel. The next morning, we went back to the airport where I thought we might be flying again, instead, after making me believe that we were going on another plane, he rented a nice convertible — in 50-degree weather.
He had my satellite navigator pointed so that I could not see where we were going. I was so excited from not knowing, that my cheeks hurt.
Over two hours later, I saw a sign that said Paris, Texas. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a red cowboy hat on top, and I thought we were just staying there since we had been to the Paris in France. We then drove into Oklahoma because neither of us had been there yet, saw a lot of cows, turned around to go back to Paris, and then went to one of my favorites ice cream stores.
Chris pretended like he saw a lake in Paris and thought it would be nice to go see it, but in reality that was always the plan. We walked around this gorgeous lake in perfect, if slightly chilly, weather while the sun was starting to set, then walked on a quiet pier watching otters and mallards. When the sun was perfect, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was such a perfect couple of days.
But the surprise wasn’t over.
He tricked me into thinking that it was the final surprise, and we were going home the next day. So, after dropping off the car, we went into Dallas, which he pretended was a whim, and celebrated at a Mexican restaurant. We walked around a bit, and he then suggested that before heading back to the airport that we go into Union Station to use the restroom. After I went, as he walked towards the restroom, he handed me two Amtrak tickets and asked me to sign them. I was so excited.
We took the Texas Eagle to Chicago, where we celebrated with another delicious meal; the Capital Limited to Washington, DC, where we had a quick Skype call to England with Chris’ parents in the Acela Club Lounge, and Valentine’s Day lunch at one of our favorite restaurants (one of the only two in the entire US). Finally, we had a nice trip on a train back to New York City’s Penn Station where we first met. It was perfect.
We both love the Amtrak experience so much that we decided to have our England wedding in March 2012 as the theme of Amtrak. We are having sapphire blue bridesmaids dresses and accents on the tables, and yellow flowers to be similar to a dining car. The venue even has windows similar to a dining car overlooking the South Downs. Each table will be a different Amtrak train name — our table being the Empire Builder since that was the first train we took together. The seating chart will be a destination board with the different table names as the train names, the times being the table number, and the destinations being the people’s names at the tables. The tables will even be rectangular. Finally, we have some Amtrak memorabilia which we will display in the room, which will be flooded with blue light. I have even designed my own invitations which look similar to Amtrak tickets.
For my family, we are having an American Wedding in mid-July 2012, and we are planning to take another Amtrak train across the country as part of our honeymoon. We just couldn’t imagine not incorporating more Amtrak into our celebration. Hopefully, before we move to England in October 2011, we can fit a train or two more into our travels.