Amtrak Coast Starlight
Thanksgiving Travel November 26 - 29, 1997
Travelogue and Photos by Steve Grande
Amtrak Coast Starlight Travelogue of our family
over the 1998 Thanksgiving Holiday.
Before I started this trip, I expected to take a break from taking
notes, writing up a travelogue or taking any pictures, except maybe
a few of my family enjoying themselves over this Thanksgiving holiday.
However, a few things happened along the way to change all that!
Listening to the radio while we were getting ready to leave, I heard
that there was a severe storm watch for the Santa Barbara - San Luis Obispo
area for late morning. Our train was scheduled to go through that area
from noon until 3pm! Looked like we'd be heading right into it! As it
turned out, I think we must have run just a bit behind the storm. We
got some rain, but it looks like our home area got much harder hit than
anything that we encountered along the way.
We had to take an Amtrak San Diegan at about 8AM into Los Angeles
where we would catch the Coast Starlight at 9:30am. That train arrived
into Fullerton about 20 minutes late. Being the day before the holiday,
the train was very full! Nonetheless, we did manage to get seats,
all-be-it, not quite together. The rain did start coming down pretty
hard as we approached Los Angeles.
I carefully looked for the Coast Starlight as we approached Los Angeles
Union Station. It would either already be in the station or be on the
tracks approaching the station. I wanted to find out as soon as possible
if our train would have one of the newly remodeled Pacific Parlor Cars.
The Coast Starlight was already at the platform as we started to pull in.
We passed by the head of the train first and the sleeping cars. I started
to look for our sleeper, car number 1431. First we passed the crew dorm
car, transition sleeper car number 1410. Then we passed the first sleeper,
car number 1432. As I was looking at the door to our sleeper, car number
1431, who should I see but Ashley Woullard! Ashley was the Car Attendant
on our very first Amtrak journey! She was also my Car Attendant on my trip
to Texas last summer and was the Car Attendant on the car next to mine
on my recent trip on the Sunset Limited.
After getting off the San Diegan, we headed to the left on the platform
toward our Sleeping Car. It was pouring rain but the platform is covered.
Rain was leaking through in torrents in a few spots. Ashley was getting
some other passengers settled in and didn't notice us until we were almost
on top of her. When she did notice us, she gave each of us a big hug! She
had seen me a couple of times in the last few months, but the last time
she saw my children was more than a couple of years ago when we were on
our very first Amtrak trip and she was meeting my wife for the first
time on this trip.
We settled in pretty quickly in the family room. In no time, my kids
already had a game out and were playing away! I only wondered for a
moment if any coffee would be ready, but then I remembered that our
Car Attendant was Ashley. Of course there would be coffee ready! I went
upstairs without a doubt in my mind and, sure enough, the coffee and
accoutraments were ready.
On many prior trips on the Coast Starlight, I had gone to the Pacifc
Parlour Car as soon as I boarded the train knowing that pastries and
muffins would soon be available. However, on most of those travels,
nothing was available until we were well underway. I made the mistake
of waiting this time as everything was out and being served long before
the train even left Los Angeles Union Station. By the time my family
got to the Parlour Car, most of the Chocolate Chip Muffins, my kids'
favorites, were gone! But, they still had plenty of other muffins,
pastries, fruits, coffee and juices. I was very pleased to see that
the Pacific Parlour Car was ready and serving as people boarded even
though we made the mistake of waiting. That is a change that I had
always thought was needed.
Later, I found out that it is a new policy of the Pacific Parlour Car
to be open and serving as soon as passengers are allowed to board. I
think this is a major improvement of the service.
As I write this, I'm in the Pacific Parlour Car heading toward horseshoe
curve just north of San Luis Obispo. It is dusk right now because the
trian is running about 2 hours and 20 minutes late. This is the very
reason why I recommend that people travel north on the Coast Starlight
as their first experience. Otherwise, they end up going by 2 hours of
beautiful surf pounding the coastal cliffs of California in total darkness
if the train runs the least little bit late during winter!
The Parlour Car is pretty full right now and has been that way most of
the day. We had no problem finding one of the 6 tables empty each time
we arrived in the Parlour Car, but all 6 tables have been full most of
the time that we have been in the car. This car is much more popular
after the remodeling. I have to say the difference between the old
Parlour Car furnishings and the new is like the difference in the decor
between Denny's and the Velvet Turtle.
Well, it has happened again! The above part of the travelogue was
written while I was traveling on the Coast Starlight during my travel.
This part is being written on January 5, 1998, well over a month later!
Things got a bit busy traveling with my family and I didn't get a chance
to write as much as I would have liked during the trip. I'll try to
write a few of the highlights from memory, but my memory usually fades
pretty fast after a trip. I did take quite a bit of video and I will
post a number of stills from that video below. Actually, my oldest
daughter, Jodina, took most of the video and selected the highlights
from it to be show here.
The service onboard was supurb in all parts of the car. There was no
doubt that it would be in our Sleeping Car with Ashley Woullard as the
Car Attendant. Her normal route is the Sunset Limited, but she was
substituting on this trip for someone that was out sick.
We greatly enjoyed the wine tasting on the way up. We liked the red
Zinfandel so much that we purchased two bottles of it. Both bottles
were opened and finished at the Thanksgiving Dinner. There was a
large gathering of family at the house of my wife's sister, so there
was only enough for one glass for each person. On our return trip
back south, they still had that wine available and we purchased two
more bottles to take home with us!
I met Brian Rosenwald, Product Manager of the Coast Starlight, for the
very first time on this journey. Unfortunately, since he was his family
and I was with mine, we only got about 10 minutes to talk. I saw him a
number of times in the Parlour Car relaxing and talking to passengers
later in the day. Unfortunately, I had some urgent business with my
family and didn't get another chance to talk with him (such as helping
my daughters with some school work due on Monday! That always tends
to put a little crimp on the enjoyment of a rail trip.)
We had the same train and exact same crew coming back home as we had
going up. The timing just worked out that way. We took the Coast
Starlight on Wednesday out of Los Angeles to arrive that same evening
in San Jose. The Coast Starlight would then travel on to Seattle by
Thursday night, leave Friday morning to head back south, and pick us
up in San Jose again on Saturday morning!
The train was so busy on the way north because of the Thanksgiving
holiday that we didn't get our customary gifts when we left the train.
But, we got all of our gifts for both the north and south segments
before we left the train at the end of our southbound segment!
I can't remember a lot of what happened on the trip after 6 weeks, but
I do know that we had a very enjoyable time which was greatly enhanced
by the newly remodeled Pacific Parlour Car. I did play a number of games
with the children on the large tables in that car, enjoyed a cocktail
with my wife in the bar type seating area, and watched a movie with my
kids in the new theater downstairs that seats 19.
Entertainment on the Amtrak Coast Starlight is provided under contract
by ZEBRA Entertainment. The Magician on our trip handed me a card that
read on the back: "David Skale, Magician, Clown, Entertainer and a really
nice guy." Also on the back was Brian Rosenwald, General Manager of The
Coast Starlight, contact information. The front of the car reads:
"Clowns & Characters -- more than 100 available!
Singing Telegrams, Outrageous Gorillas, Magicians, Bands, D.J.'s, Karoke,
Carnival & Company Picnics. $10 off with card. (818)906-3809" The
entertainment on the Coast Starlight is usually pretty good, so if you
are in need of any of the above, you might want to contact them.
Brian D. Rosenwald, General Manager of The Coast Starlight,
can be contacted at: National Railroad Passenger Corporation,
810 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, (213)683-6950, (ATS)761-6950,
Fax (213)891-3588, or by E-Mail at:
If you have been influenced at all by the information and photos
provided by TrainWeb to travel on The Coast Starlight, I'd
certainly appreciate a mention of that in any feedback that you might
send to Brian Rosenwald!
Below are links to pages of photographs that were taken on this
journey that have been filed into different areas of TrainWeb. After
reviewing each page, use the "BACK" button on your web browser to return
to this page. These pages do not have an explicit link back to this
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