Friday, November 8, 2013

Bucket list adventure: Traveling across country by train

Getting on the train, I knew we made the right choice. When we first decided to take a train to visit my husband’s family this past summer, I was excited but nervous. I hadn’t been on a train longer than an hour before, so 24 hours seemed a bit daunting. Had we packed well? Were the pillows and blankets we brought going to be sufficient?

I’m a nervous flyer and I find traveling by car can get stressful. So this seemed like a great solution. Our kids are finally old enough to be helpful when we travel, so off we went.

One of the first things I noticed was how easy it was to get on the train. Unlike airports, you are not going through line after line of security, checkpoints and cranky people. Most of the people I saw were relaxed with their luggage and ready to go.

Now, if you are the kind of person that needs everything to be on time, this may not be the form of travel for you. Our train was about 20 minutes late to pick us up, but seemed to make up the time on the way. But I’ve heard of others who were a couple of hours late, so don’t take a train if you have an urgent appointment.

But we weren’t in a rush, so this worked fine. We brought our own snacks on board in a rolling cooler. We had almonds, chips, cheese sticks , apples, bananas, juice boxes, beer and cider. (The beer and cider were for the grown-ups, of course.) We figured that a 24-hour train trip required some good snacks.

The first night we opted to eat in the dining car. It was a pleasant experience–the food was good and the service was nice. I will say, though, that we had a little sticker shock. For the four of us, we ended up spending more than we expected and the kids didn’t finish their meals. We decided that on the way back we’d stop at a grocery store and pick up Lunchables and sandwiches. We’re glad we had the dining car experience, but doubt we’ll do that with kids again. Maybe when they’re older. There is a better-priced cafe available–but if you plan correctly, you can bring your own food on for much cheaper.

After dinner and hanging out in the observation car, it was time to sleep. Quiet time starts at 10 p.m. and ends at 7 a.m. No stop announcements are made and people are encouraged to talk to each other in the observation car so others can sleep. One regret I do have is that we didn’t get a sleeping car. We had heard that the seats recline all the way back, but in actuality they weren’t. Think recliner about two clicks before it’s fully reclined. And while the kids had no problem with the sleeping arrangements, I had a crick in my neck for the rest of the trip.

But that said, the seating was spacious. I had plenty of leg room and that includes the bags I placed at the foot of each of our seats. The chairs were comfortable. One word of caution: Make sure the foot rests work when you choose your seat. My daughter ended up switching seats with me when I realized the foot rest didn’t work and the trip started becoming uncomfortable.

Each seat had two plugs available for our electronic devices. We used our phones to access Netflix and the kids had the opportunity to watch Netflix guilt-free.

The kids also loved the observation car. They were able to get up and walk around, sit in a chair and watch the scenery, and we were able to play games at the tables. People spoke with each other and on our train home two guides were available to share interesting information about the landmarks we saw.

We had a blast on our trip and I’m glad we opted for the train. We learned a few things about what we want to differently next time, but overall it was a success. One thing off our family bucket list!

Reace Alvarenga-Smith is a Mom of two in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

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