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Carol Stuard's
Millennium Trip
on Amtrak and VIA Rail

From: Carol Stuard (

Millennium Trip on Amtrak and ViaRail 12/26/99 - 1/7/00

My husband and I left Ft Worth Texas on December 26,1999 on the Texas Eagle. It was on time coming and arrived in Chicago pretty much on time. We were greeted by Charles (Charlie) who had to be the very best way to start off a long train voyage! We knew immediately that we were in great shape. We had economy room 2 right across from where the supplies are kept so we saw a LOT of Charlie! 1st of all - after getting the luggage settled it was fresh coffee ALL THE WAY to Chicago. He also brought us bottled water, Slice, Pepsi, and had a basket of candy and gum which he kept refilling! Charlie was just plain NICE. One thing that I had never noticed before was that he vacumed every compartment as soon as he made them up. Never any trash on Charlie's car! We had the 7:00 seating and opted for prime rib (with red wine). All the salads are fresh and crisp on Amtrak plus veggie and choices for dessert. I had to pass, but I husband had the turtle pie which he enjoyed. We had a good night's sleep. In the morning Charlie has brought around a newspaper which we enjoyed after breakfast. We watched a movie in the lounge car and ate lunch down there as the dining room didn't serve lunch.

In Chicago we walked around a bit and boarded the Lake Shore Limited about 30 minutes before departure. The Met lounge in Chicago is a nice place to wait, but during that time of the year, it was always crowded.

The Lake shore Limited was the only train on the whole journey that was significantly late (around 2 hours); however the people we talked to that were regulars said that it was referred to as the Late Shore Limited! As a matter of fact, the Lake Shore Limited was our only (slightly) disappointing part of the whole train trip! We had the economy sleeper(Viewliner) which was the most expensive by at least two times than the other sleepers (Superliner) we had in the US and Canada. (5 nights) We paid $250 for 1 night economy (after the senior discount!) Of course that is upgrading from the rail ticket which was separate. The little compartment is fine, and does have an LCD screen on which 2 separate videos are replayed. Also there is luggage storage up overhead which was nice There is a toilet and a sink in the room and one of the seats is smaller to allow that configuration. Our room attendant (also a Charles) was pleasant and kept the coffee going and hot water was available too, (I'm a tea drinker, so I appreciated that). The dining car was a disaster! The whole crew in the dining car was unfriendly -bordering on rudeness. I always smile and am polite - no matter what! (sometimes I have to grit my teeth) but this was too bad. It seemed to start from the head guy down, he was disagreeable and in a bad mood - never a smile - and all of the employees were hostile too. For one meal we sat close to the "kitchen" area and could hear the employees yelling at each other! The waitresses were barely civil to the passengers. One sat a a table with her head down on it until passengers were seated. An old lady asked her something and she literally yelled at her. All the meals were served on McDonald plastic - no I think it was more flimsy that that actually - the first night I cut through the salad bowl cutting my tomato and broke the light weight plastic fork putting butter on my potato! The dishwasher was broken so we had the plastic for all meals and thin paper napkins! That was a first for me - it was the only train I have ever been on that didn't have nice silverware and cloth napkins. But that's not such a big deal, the unhappy servers do tend to set a different mood. The food was ok, but nothing like the prime rib I had just had on the Texas Eagle with smiling and pleasant employees (that I tipped very well!) Only one choice of desert, it was cheesecake or cheesecake!

We slept well that night also - the upper berth seemed roomier than the one on the Superliner. French toast and OJ for breakfast which we enjoyed watching the snow around Buffalo! We rarely see snow so that is one reason we chose this winter vacation. I had a corned beef on rye for lunch; husband had a cheeseburger.

We stayed right across the street at Hotel Pennsylvania for nostalgia and convenience! It was the most expensive lodging of our trip and we would not stay there again! About a 2 star at best. But they still have that world-renowned telephone number Penn 6 5000!

We had to be at the station early to catch the Adirondack because of the security check right before New Year's! After they checked our passport, we waited in the Met Lounge but probably shouldn't have been allowed to since we were leaving on a single class train. We sat on the right side and enjoyed the views along the Hudson River and also Lake Champlain. We saw some fisherman fishing through the ice! A lady sat with me who had lived in that NYC and pointed out many things as we passed. We did sit at customs for a long time as the custom people boarded the train and checked ID and asked questions. We were to make connections with VIA Rail at St. Lambert, Canada and that was the only iffy connecting on our trip! We had barely 2 hours to make the connection, but I didn't want to spend the night, and we had decided to take the chance. Neither Amtrak or Via will guarantee that connection! We arrived in plenty of time and waited about an hour for the Ocean to arrive from Montreal. It was a very long train with 3 locomotives and (I think)21 cars. That included 2 dome cars but only 1 dining car (buffet now). We were in a bedroom sleeper and had to walk all the way to the end to that dome car which was reserved for the 1st class passengers (anyone with sleeper accomodations) There were sandwiches for sale and complimentary tea and coffee and egg nog (!) because of the season I guess. The coach passengers also had a dome car which was located next to the dining car. Both coach and 1st class passengers could use the dining room.

We did have some gorgeous winter weather with some snow (finally) as we got into Nova Scotia - we got off the train and had someone take our pictures with snow falling on us! The lounge/dome car was great and people were friendly and very surprised that we had come all the way from Texas for New Years without knowing a soul!

We got in about 45 min late and were met at the station by a lady who managed the Inn where we would stay for 3 nights. After a WONDERFUL stay at the inn, we were taken back to the station and reboarded the Ocean for the trip back to Montreal.

Coming back, I checked twice on the consist and it was 3 locomotives, 11 ELEVEN! sleeping cars, 1 baggage car, 2 dome cars, 1 dining car and the rest were coach. for a total of 23 units. It was the longest train I had ever been on! They needed another dining car to say the least. At dinner the line extended between 15-25 people - enough to discourage us and buy some sandwiches in the lounge/dome car. By the way, coming back (Jan 2/3) there had been a freight train derailment at Montreal, so they detoured us on freight tracks (7 hr detour) that the crew (who I asked) said they had never been on before. It was in Quebec and some of the best scenery and beautiful snow scenes on our trip! We missed our VIA 1 Rail connection from Montreal to Toronto (along with 300 others!) so they had another train together for us which left about 40 minutes after arriving in Toronto. That was not so much fun; we were supposed to have gourmet food with wine served at our seats in Via 1 and had to settle for a tuna fish sandwich!!! But when we arrived in Toronto we had hotel reservations right across the street at the Royal York so we were soon in our room for a 2 night break. I would recommend staying there by all means! It was a great room, great food, and we splurged with room service a couple of times. My husband had picked up a bad cold/fever/aches so that was a great place to break our trip and get him back on his feet again. We took the International from Toronto to Battle Creek MIchigan. Again we sat on the train for a long time as the US customs people checked us all over. When they looked at my passport, I had stuck a stub there from a flight to Paris about 8 years ago. He asked me questions about that - since it had a date (Nov) but not a year! He had already noted that we were in England this last November. I guess he decided we were legit as he finally moved on.

Here comes a gripe! Some clown from the States had a bunch of Cuban cigars he was trying to smuggle in. So they took him and his wife off the train and kept them over an hour; at that time, they let them reboard and we finally continued. WHY didn't they just keep the smugglers (!) and let the train go on? I didn't get that. But we were less than an hour late getting into Battle Creek where we spent another night and visited briefly with relatives.

We took the Lake Cities from BC to Chicago, where we connected with the Texas Eagle for our trip back home to Ft Worth. This time we lucked out with Darryl - another gem of an attendant. We were not happy with our 9:00 dinner reservation that was our only choice and lo and behold, about 7:00 our name was called and we were invited to the dining car! What a nice way to remember our last night on the train. Darryl made that happen! Great dining car personnel - boy the LSL could sure learn something from the Eagle! We were made to feel welcome and special when we were in that dining car! Another great trip arriving ON TIME! Way to go, Eagle!

Had a funny thing happen!! As we were sitting in our sleeper car, we noticed an aroma creeping over the car. Someone was smoking and it sure wasn't regular cigarettes! Soon the announcement came over the speaker reminding everyone that smoking was not permitted in the sleeper and what they were smoking was not permitted anywhere and the next stop could be their last! Soon some air freshener was evident and that was the end of that matter. We knew who they were. They were both drunk and complaining when boarding the train and spent most of their time in the lounge or the smoking car up in the middle of the train.

About tips: We tipped our room attendants well - they did an excellent job - we did not tip that rude dining room staff on LSL at all while the other dining room people were left between $2 and $4. We have fixed upon what works for us about tipping. If the employee tries *at all* to do a good job, we tip well. If they don't - we don't. Actually that's about what we do off the train too. I really think that rude wait people might get the idea if they were not tipped.

Hints that work for us: I also packed packages of homemade carmel corn and "trash" and candy and pistachios in individual plastic bags. Since it was right after Christmas and some of the staff hadn't been home yet, I wanted to spread a little holiday cheer. We also start our trip with about 6 paperbacks and as we read them, we leave them on the train with the attendant. The attendants seem to be well read and know which books are worth reading.

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