The Sleeping Car Attendant is responsible for providing all services for passengers ticketed in Sleeping Car accommodations, including room preparation, luggage service and any assistance necessary to ensure a comfortable journey.
The name Coast Starlight is derived from the names of two former Southern Pacific trains, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight.
The Train Attendant is responsible for providing service for passengers ticketed in coach on long-distance trains. This includes seat assignment, luggage service and any assistance to ensure a comfortable journey.
This year, our "big" family vacation was a train trip to Seattle aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight. Our family's train travel experiences up to this point were limited to Mom's grungy student days schlepping through Europe on a Eurail pass and the boys' childhood jaunts through zoos, city parks and the like. We thought this would be a great opportunity to experience the beauty of the West Coast in a family friendly way.
We were rewarded with a vacation experience that was both fun and memorable. Let me say, up front, that if your vacation is tightly scheduled and delays will impact upon your plans, choose another means of travel. My research of the Coast Starlight and our own personal experience indicated that the train is subject to frequent delays. We began our journey in Sacramento and were scheduled to depart at midnight. We drove from Fresno and arrived in the Sacramento train station around 10:30 pm. Parking was ample, well lit and steps away from the station. The check in process was quick and smooth, taking approximately ten minutes. At no point was there any security screening, x-rays to walk through, IDs shown or shoes removed. (For some reason, I found the absence of those a little unsettling — isn't that horrible?).
The Sacramento station is expansive with long wooden benches and clean restrooms, but very few food choices other than vending machines during the late hours. Since our train did not actually depart until close to 2 am, we made use of the free wireless internet and the boys took a nap in our parked car just outside the station. Be prepared to wait — bring food and entertainment for the station.
When finally did get on the train, we were thrilled by the set up. We were greeted by our train car's steward (porter?), who had made up our sleeping cars and welcomed us personally. We had booked two sleepers, facing one another. The accommodations are a bit tight for the person who draws the short straw and has to sleep in the top bunk. The bottom bunk is spacious and has a window. Both bunks have reading lights, clean linens and bottled water. If you tend to be easily chilled, bring an extra blanket since the train blankets are relatively thin. Towels are provided for the train shower and the restroom facilities are numerous and well maintained.
After a great (but short) night's sleep, we took time to explore the train. If you are susceptible to motion sickness, you will want to take provisions with you to ensure that you are comfortable aboard the train. There is a great deal of movement, swaying and even occasional jerking. Older and younger passengers need to take great care when walking, especially when the train is moving at high speeds.
Our Sleeping Car accommodations entitled us to "first class" treatment on board the train. We were served three complete, delicious meals in the trains well appointed diner car and had access to the lovely Parlour Car with its panoramic views. Meals are served by reservations made in advance when you board the train. The food was delicious and served by a staff that is both prompt and friendly. If you are "sleepers," all portions of your meal except alcohol and wine are included in the price of your ticket. Water, juice, coffee and tea are freely served throughout the day to be enjoyed with free newspapers. If you're still hungry (which is hard to imagine), there is a Cafe Car where items can be purchased.
Your Sleeping Car reservation also entitles you to a free digital entertainment console which contains ten movies, television shows and games. We were so busy exploring the train, enjoying the scenery and eating that we did not really use this feature, but it would be great for those traveling with younger children who may need a "movie break."
For me personally, the highlight of the trip was enjoying the stunning views along the route from the comfort of the Parlour Car. If you can't let go of your work for the day or are traveling on business, there are outlets everywhere to plug in your laptop computer and cell phone access seems available at most points on the route. I enjoyed chatting with our fellow passengers, many of whom had traveled the Coast Starlight multiple times. We met one charming woman who does it several times a year, simply riding from Seattle to Los Angeles, spending one night near the train station, and then immediately jumping back aboard the train. "It's like a cruise," she shared, "but more beautiful and safer."
In the afternoon, we gathered with fellow passengers for a wine tasting party hosted by the staff. Four local varietals were served with cheese and crackers. Our teenage sons loved roaming the train and managed to find quiet space to play their musical instruments and stretch out far away from mom and dad. We felt comfortable giving them a bit of space, knowing they were safe and secure on the train. They even performed an impromptu concert for fellow passengers. All too soon, we had arrived at our destination in Seattle, but we had the return voyage to anticipate and it did not disappoint — we experienced the same comfortable accommodations and excellent customer service.
All in all, I would strongly recommend the Coast Starlight as an excellent way to travel. If you're in a rush or have meetings and deadlines at your destination, fly or drive. But if you want to take in breathtaking scenery, enjoy family meals served by helpful and courteous staff, and just take time to savor the journey, then consider taking your family on a train trip soon.