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TrainWeb Visitor Travelogue

My husband and I took our twin sons, Bryan and James, on our first family vacation in September of 1998. We planned the trip in February, and it was only our good fortune that Northwest Airlines was on strike at the time! Had we planned the trip by air, we would have stayed home.

We live in Grand Forks, ND, and rode to Seattle. The westbound Empire Builder is scheduled to depart GF at 5:30 am, but by calling ahead I learned of a 2-hour delay - good news for my kids, who got to sleep in their own beds a little longer! They were thrilled about the trip - being big fans of "There Goes a Train" and Thomas the Tank Engine, they knew more going in than most 4-year-olds. Tom and I had travelled by train before, so we were able to tell them what to expect. I thought they would explode with excitement when the train whistled and pulled into the station, just as the sun was coming up.

We had a family sleeper, which was a delight. I was pleasantly surprosed at the amount of room under the seats for stowing gear, of which we had plenty. Knowing we would spend 30 hours on the train, we brought tons of toys, puzzles, books, etc. to pass the time. There isn't a whole lot to see out the windows in ND and eastern Montana! Because we were running late, our car attendant had gotten us on the waiting list for breakfast - a welcome surprise, since it took us a while to get settled into the room, and we were all hungry. Because of the airline strike the train was packed - over 400 passengers - and while extra cars had been added, there were no extra dining or lounge cars, so it took a long time to feed everybody. I thought the service attendants did a great job keeping up.

Our kids were delighted by the whole experience - especially walking from one car to another. They had to take turns pushing the buttons, and sometimes held up traffic waiting for the door to close, so they could push the button (but no one seemed to mind). The most useful toy we brought was a tape player and a large assortment of stories and books - they listened for hours, without disturbing anyone else in the car. One of the highlights of the trip was the old steam locomotive on display in Havre, MT. The food was good, and the boys were especially impressed with the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! We made good use of all stops that allowed us out of the train, counting the cars and engines, waving at the engineers.

We all slept fairly well on the way out, though Tom and I both woke up in Spokane. The boys slept very well, and didn't even argue about who was going to sleep in the top bunk. By morning we had made up much of the delay, and we arrived in Seattle on time.

After 11 wonderful, sunny days in the pacific Northwest, we returned home on the train. It was great to have that carrot for the children - it was much easier to think about the vacation being over when we had the train trip to look forward to. I think the conductor was a little startled when he came to collect the tickets, and James asked him "Is there a Genesis engine on this train?" (there were 2). We were on time all the way home. Because we had so much room and stuff in our room, we mostly stayed out of the lounge car, which was pretty crowded. We met the other passengers in the lower compartments of our car, and were delighted when several of them commented on how good our boys were, even after we'd been on the train together for 24 hours!

The whole trip was a treat. One of our goals was to spend a lot of time with our kids, which we could do much more peacefully on the train than we could on an airplane. When people asked why on earth we would travel that way, I claimed I would rather spend 30 hours on the train with my children than 4 hours on an airplane, and now that I've done it, I still believe it! The fare was less than we would have paid for airfare out of Grand Forks (though by the time we tipped service attendants for 8 meals, I don't think we came out ahead).

Steve, I made great use of trainweb when I planned this trip, and I have you to thank, in part, for its success. For your information, we did tip at least 10, 15, and 20% for our meals, and we were treated VERY well on each successive trip to the dining car, so I got the distinct impression that this was not the norm! I didn't have the opportunity to observe other passenger's habits, since we were herding kids in and out. Especially on this trip, with very heavy traffic though the dining car, I felt they earned every penny. We also tipped the car attendant $20 each way, which appeared to be pretty generous (except for making up the beds, we were low-maintenance passengers). I do have a great photo of the boys shortly after we boarded, grinning from ear to ear - if I can get near a scanner, I'll send it to you! Thanks again for your help, and for your efforts maintaining a fun and useful site!

Ann Henderson
Grand Forks, North Dakota

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