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Subject: Family Trip On The Empire Builder
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 1999 14:09:19 -0600
From: "William J Johnson"
To: TrainWeb Amtrak Travel Discussion List

TrainWeb Amtrak Travel Discussion List -

Milwaukee to Seattle - Amtrak Empire Builder - October 25 to 27, 1998

Day One - Leaving Milwaukee

We got to Milwaukee station just over a hour before the scheduled departure time. Had to check one large suitcase, took awhile to discover where to check it. The area is clearly marked "Baggage". It was dark and there was no one around. There was a train coming into the station, so I assumed that the baggage attendant was retrieving luggage from the incoming train. I waited about 10 minutes and the attendant appeared, and turned on the lights above the baggage counter. She asked me to wait until she handed out the luggage for the arriving passengers. She asked those claiming luggage for their "White claim checks. It took 15 minutes to hand out the luggage and then she accepted my suitcase.

About 20 minutes before boarding, several conductors walked around the waiting room and collected tickets. They gave us a card with car and sleeper assignments. Boarding was smooth, the car attendants were waiting on the platform, to provide directions to the sleepers.

My son and I, had a standard sleeper. My wife and daughter had a Deluxe room. It was exciting to see the rather compact size of the Standard room. Although the space is adequate for sitting and sleeping, the only storage is under the two seats, measuring about 30" X 7" X 30". Both my son and I had a gym bag and a backpack, that were almost full. In addition I had a laptop in a case. It was difficult to find room for everything, under the seats. We decided to keep both backpacks in the luggage rack on the lower level, leaving sufficient room for the gym bags and laptop case.

The deluxe sleeper seemed to have twice as much floor space and was laid out in such a way as to provide extra storage, and an easier environment for changing clothes. Of course the in-room sink, toilet and shower; are a definite advantage.

Shortly after boarding, we met Kathy, our car attendant. She informed us that she had made dinner reservations for 18:30. She explained about the controls in our sleepers and where the restrooms and showers were located. She informed us that we were to contact her, when we wanted our beds made up for the evening. She also told us that breakfast was on a first-come first served basis. The indicated that breakfast normally is available at 06:30, with an announcement made at 07:00.

We had dinner at 18:30. I had NY Strip Steak, which was OK, a bit fatty. Son had Salmon, which he said was very good. Wife and daughter had vegetable lasagna, which they described as average. We just started eating desert, when the lights went out. Announcement said that we lost a hose, and had to stop to replace it.

Upon returning to our sleepers, our car attendant, Kathy, had done her job and had prepared our beds. We retired for the evening at 19:30. I hoped to recharge the battery in my cellular phone, and went to plug in the charger/adapter, only to find that the outlet, above the seat, is recessed, and will not allow the adapter to plug in. Luckily, I fit if I turn the adapter, upside down. It would have been nice to have a small, grounded (three prong) extension cord.

The next challenge was to undress for bed, in the rather confined space of the standard sleeper compartment. It took some ingenuity and movement, but I we managed to get into the beds. My son and I, are both just over six feet in height. We both just fit into our beds, not more than an inch to spare. The comfort was a step or two up from camping in a sleeping bag, in a tent. My son fell asleep within minutes, it took me a long while. It was a lot noisier that I imagined. Earplugs would have been a welcome addition.

_ _ _

Day Two - Awake in North Dakota

Although my son slept all night long, I seemed to awaken every hour or two. I finally gave up at 05:30, when I smelled coffee brewing. I got up and took a quick shower, in the lower level. Once you realize that the water only runs for 20-30 seconds, you understood that you need to soap yourself up, and then rinse the soap off. Although at home it takes 15 minutes or so to shower, I was finished in 5 minutes. After the shower I found an unoccupied toilet and shaved.

Upon returning to the sleeper, I found my son awake. He took a shower and dressed. I went to waken my wife, to find her awake, showered and ready for breakfast. The daughter took a little coaxing, but she sprung to life and we went to breakfast. My son and I had biscuits and gravy, which were good, but not as spicy as I was used to. My daughter had pancakes, which she described as good, which I later finished and agreed that they was tasty. My wife had the traditional eggs and bacon, hash browns and toast, which she describes as standard fare.

It's back to the sleeper to start a day of reading and watching the country side, although it's very foggy. And at least for the moment, we can't see more than a couple of blocks. After an hour or so, the fog cleared, and it became very sunny. My son and I were in standard sleeper #8, which is on the left side of the train, as it traveled west. It was extremely sunny and very hot. So hot that my son decided to change into exercise shorts. Next time we travel west, I think I'll request a standard sleeper with an odd number, to get on the right side, which is not sunny.

As the day continued, I was disappointed that I didn't bring a CD player. It would have helped pass the time. In addition, I found myself craving for ice cold water. Next time I'll bring a large bottle.

We ate lunch at Noon. The dining car attendant announced lunch to all sleeper car passengers before the coach passengers. We got a seat immediately. On the menu was a salad with sliced chicken, hamburgers and a chicken pot pie. My son and daughter had a cheese burger, which was unusual for my usually vegetarian daughter. Both said that it was very good. I had the chicken pot pie, which was excellent. Shortly after lunch was completed, the dining car attendant announced that she would visit each sleeper car and then the coach section, to make reservations for dinner.

The dinner menu was the same as the previous night. My son and I had the salmon. My wife had the steak and daughter had Chicken Kiev. Everyone agreed that the food was good, although the salmon seemed a bit drive, which maybe due to the fact that we ate during the last shift of the night.

We switch rooms for sleeping. The girls took the standard sleeper, the guys took the deluxe room. I slept in the top berth, with the son on the larger bottom berth. We both slept most of the night, awakening only when the train stopped to pickup passengers, at three stops. The girls both said that they slept better in the standard room, although my daughter complained that she could not see anything in the top berths.

_ _ _

Day Two - We're in Washington State

We had an early start today. The dining car announced that they would be serving breakfast from 05:30 to 06:30, only. I arose at 04:15, and although I was in the Deluxe room that had a shower, I elected to use the larger shower, downstairs. This turned out to be a good move, as my wife appeared at the door to the Deluxe room to use the shower. By the time I finished showering and shaving and reappeared at the room, son was in the shower. The next challenge was awaking my daughter, so we could proceed to the dining car , when it began serving in a few minutes.

We appeared at the dining car at 05:32, to find it full. We were given a number (1) and told to return to our rooms until we are called. Thirty five minutes went by, before the announcement was made. We entered the dining car to overhear a fellow traveler complaining that the announcement woke her up. She was mad that the entire train was disturbed, just to notify someone, that they could eat breakfast.

We all ate a large breakfast, in fact too much. The pancakes were extra special, as was the bacon. After breakfast we hurried back to the sleeper to sit in awe, as we watched the beauty of the mountains and mountain streams, pass by. I was surprised to see the variety of colored leaves. Back home most tress were already bare.

Seems like we were able to pick up time, throughout the night, and will arrive in Seattle, on time at 09:50. After retrieving the suitcase we checked as baggage, it's off to the Hampton Inn to check in and dispose of all the luggage, before heading off for a day of sightseeing in downtown Seattle. It's been a great trip. Beautiful sights, good food, great time spent with the family. And most of all, very relaxing! _ _ _

Seattle to Milwaukee - October 29, 1998 Amtrak Empire Builder

Day One - October 29, 1998

It was a great day for sightseeing in Seattle. Sunny and warm. So clear we could see Mt. Rainier in the distance.

The train to Milwaukee, was scheduled to leave at 16:50. We arrived at King Street station, just few minutes before 16:00. As we unloaded the luggage from the trunk of the cab, my wife asked, "Who has the read backpack?". We all looked at each other, knowing that it must still be in the lobby of the hotel. Knowing that the backpack contained close to $200 in school books, I handed the train tickets to my wife, told here to check the large suitcase and take the train, along with my son and daughter, if I'm not back on time.

The cab driver know I was in a pinch, so we hurried back to the hotel. Enroute, I called the front desk, and asked that they look around for the backpack. The front desk clerk replied, that he was looking at in laying on the floor in the lobby, next to a chair. He said he would hold it for me at the front desk.

It took 10-15 minutes to get back to the hotel. I ran in, grabbed the backpack, and hurried back to the taxi. We sped back to the train station. The driver told me not to worry, we would be at the train station, with time to spare. He was right, $20 later, we arrived at 16:30. I found the family in the waiting area. The train boarded, ten minutes later and departed on time at 16:50.

My son and I had a standard sleeper, #4. My wife and daughter shared the sleeper B, a deluxe room. The car attendant, Am, introduced himself and asked if we needed instructions on the room. We told Sam that we were familiar with the train. He told us the Dinning car attendant would be along shortly to make dinner reservations.

We ate at 18:30.Same entrees as the trip out. We all had salmon, except my daughter, who had a baked potato and vegetables. Food was good. We talked about asking Sam to prepare the bunks at 21:00, as we were all tired from walking around Seattle, most of the day.

_ _ _

Day Two - October 30, 1998

I had the top bunk in the standard sleeper. I was able to fit all 6 foot 3 inches of my 48 year old body in the bunk, although with little room to spare. It took little effort to fall asleep, although I awoke when the train stopped in Spokane, to add cars. Once we started moving again, I was once again asleep, at least until 05:00, when I awoke and decided to read for awhile. At 06:00, I went downstairs for a shower. When I returned, my son was ready for breakfast. We awoke the girls, and ran into Sam, our car attendant, who offered to deal with the beds. We went into the dining car and found all tables full. We were given number eight and told we would be summoned, over the public address system. It was close to 07:30 before we were called. We all had pancakes, which were served on paper plates with plastic knives and forks. The food tasted good. As we were eating breakfast we were traveling through the Glacier National Park area. It was breathtaking scenery.

After breakfast we planned to head to the lounge/observation car, to enjoy the scenery, only to find that due to mechanical problems, there was no lounge/observation car on the train. This meant we needed to stay in our sleeping compartment or find an empty seat in coach. We returned to our sleeper to read and watch the breathtaking scenery.

The time sped by this morning. Before I knew it, lunch was being served. My son and I decided to try the Big Sky burger with bacon and cheese. The girls begged Larry, the server to get a grilled cheese, for a change of pace. We all loved our selections. After lunch, we return to out seats to continue reading and homework. Not much to see outside, we are know traveling through the flatlands of North Dakota.

The afternoon went by very slowly. I dozed off, several times. My son slept most of the afternoon. We decided to have dinner at 19:00, which came quickly. When we came together at the table, we commented that it seems that we are eating constantly. I suspect that I gained several pounds, based on the tightness of my pants. My son and I tried the chicken Kiev, which had a very rich, butter sauce. My wife had he steak with fresh sauteed mushrooms, which she said was excellent! My daughter had the chicken nuggets, which were, acceptable.

Shortly after 21:00, we retired, after switching sleeping rooms. Tonight my son and I get the Deluxe room. I slept on the lower bunk. I had to lay diagonally, in order to fit all 6 foot 3 inches on the bed. My son had the top bunk, which had plenty of room for his 6 foot length. E both slept well. In fact my son was so comfortable that he decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. Knowing that he loved the pancakes and bacon, we brought an order back to the room.

We are only a few hours from home, just passing through Red Wing, Minnesota. A lot of water in the area. We suspect that we are traveling alongside the Mississippi river. Quite scenic, with rivers and colorful bluffs. Nearing the end of the trip, we commented that we enjoyed the trip on Amtrak. My wife and I agreed that we would do it again sometime, perhaps on the California Zephyr. My said that she thought that two nights was the most she could handle, without a change of pace. My son and daughter said it was OK, but they weren't excited about doing it again, soon. _ _ _

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