Friday, October 5, 2012

All Aboard!

We're working backwards through September, here. The weekend before Stella's birthday, we had a wedding to go to in Seattle. Now, Seattle is a lovely town, but we just visited there not long ago and had a great time seeing all the sights then. So, we decided to make this trip all about the journey instead of the destination. We opted to take the train. Mr. Frisby has always wanted to take a train ride - I mean a real, overnight, sleeper car train ride. And, I thought it might be fun. So, we booked ourselves a roomette on Amtrak's Coast Starlight and we were all set.

The Coast Starlight goes from LA to Seattle with stops all along the way, including San Jose. When boarding in San Jose, it's an approximately 24 hour ride to Seattle. When riding the train, you have the option of just purchasing seats in Coach for the ride. However, for our comfort and because we had an almost-one-year-old with us, we decided to upgrade to a private roomette with two beds in First Class. With our upgrade to the roomette, all of our meals aboard the train were then included in our ticket price. We were pretty excited for our adventure. Amtrak claims that the Coast Starlight is its most beautiful route, so we were expecting some amazing scenery.

My biggest concern with this method of travel was how the roomette (which sleeps two adults) would work when adding in Stella for our sleeping arrangements. What exactly is a roomette, you ask? Well, I would say it is precisely what it sounds like. It's not big enough to be considered a room. Really, it's a tiny room. A "roomette". In the daytime, the "roomette" is set up with two seats facing each other with a foldout table between them. At night, those seats fold out to make a bed and then a second bed is folded down from the wall above. The "roomette" is the length of the beds (probably about 6 feet) and a few inches wider than the width of the bottom bed ( maybe 3.5 feet total - and that's generous). Between the wall with the door and the bed, there were a couple steps to climb up to the top bunk and a miniscule closet. With the beds folded out, the only floor space was a small square large enough for one person to stand up on between the door and the bed. The plan was for Mr. Frisby to sleep on the top bunk and for me to sleep on the bottom bunk with Stella sleeping at the foot of the bed. I informed Mr. Frisby that we had best just plan on getting no sleep that night. Then, if we actually did, it would be a nice surprise. There were several restrooms to be shared among the passengers in our car and there was even a shower if we chose to use it (we did not). There were other options than just a roomette. They have family rooms which sleep two adults and two kids and they have larger rooms that sleep two adults, have a private bathroom, and another chair. Those options would have been nice, but they were considerably more expensive and, we thought, more than we would need, so we went with the roomette. It's only 24 hours, right? In addition to our private roomette, as First Class passengers, we were entitled to wile away the time in the "Pacific Parlor Car" whenever we wanted. Basically, this was a lounge car with comfy seats, big windows, a small dining area (which we could eat in instead of the dining car if we so chose), and a movie theater room on the bottom floor. It's only open to First Class Passengers. We were also entitled to roam around all of the Coach sections of the train, including the Observation car.

So, here's how it all went down. The train was scheduled to pick us up in San Jose at 8:39 pm on Thursday. That's just a little past Stella's normal bedtime, so I thought we would just get on the train and put her to bed right away. We quickly learned that train travel is not like airline travel. In an airport, there are monitors all over and gate agents everywhere to let you know if planes are early, late, or on time. Getting through security is also horrendous. When we arrived at the train station, security was a breeze - there was none. We just walked into the train station and sat down to wait. And there are no monitors to tell you the status of your train. Amtrak recommends arriving at the station half an hour early. So, we were at the train station just after 8. As it got closer to our scheduled departure time, I overheard a fellow passenger asking a ticketing agent if the train was on time and the ticketing agent responding that it was two hours late. I wanted to be sure I heard that correctly, so I asked the passenger and she confirmed that the agent said the train was running two hours late. Mr. Frisby and I then jumped on our iPhones to find out if we could track the train. Indeed we could and I even downloaded Amtrak's app so we could track it even easier. The tracking jumped around over the next couple of hours as we waited, getting our hopes up one minute, then dashing them the next. Finally, after over two hours of keeping the little one busy and entertained while she was growing increasingly tired, our train pulled into the station around 10:30 pm. We were more than ready to board and get the little tyke to bed.

We found that train rides are a bit like a cruise, except you're on land and it's waaaay less luxurious. When we walked over to our car, we were greeted by our car attendant who would be with us the entire journey to make up our roomette when needed and help us with anything we needed. You know, sort of like a cruise ship room attendant. She set up our roomette as beds before we boarded, so once we got on and got our luggage settled, we immediately got Stella to sleep. She was one tired girl.

We were actually pleasantly surprised at the roominess of the roomette. It was in no way, shape, or form roomy, but it was much better than we expected from what we had read and seen online. Since it was much later than it was supposed to be, we just got ready and went to bed as well.

As expected, we passed a horrible night. Maybe I shouldn't say horrible. It was sleepless. Some might consider that horrible. Stella slept great. She didn't wake up at all during the night. Mr. Frisby and I were not so lucky. I would've given anything for an oil can. There was a squeaky hinge on the upper bunk. It was, apparently, right next to Mr. Frisby's ear. And, therefore, it was directly above mine. And it squeaked whenever the train went over any sort of bump. Which was pretty much all the time. I don't think it would've woken me up, but it kept me from going to sleep. For a very long time. Of course, when I finally would doze off, then I would get woken up when the train stopped and new passengers got on and talked loudly to the attendant right outside our door. Oh well. We expected to sleep very little and our expectations were fulfilled. When morning came, the train was still running two hours behind. This proved to be a fortuitous circumstance because it allowed us to get a good view of Mt. Shasta. When on schedule, the train goes by Mt. Shasta around 5 am, when it's still dark outside. Since it was about 7 am when Stella woke up and we got ourselves ready for the day, Mt. Shasta was perfectly visible, so we headed to the Pacific Parlor Car (hereafter referred to as PPC) to check out the view. While looking out the windows and otherwise familiarizing ourselves with the train, we overheard the waitress in the PPC telling another passenger what the breakfast menu was in that car. The egg and cheese breakfast sandwich sounded good to us, so we opted to eat there while enjoying the view as we rolled by.

We had a little station guide for the Coast Starlight route that mentioned the landmarks of interest along the way. We looked for the landmarks and enjoyed the very beautiful scenery throughout the rest of the day. At one point, we decided to venture to the Observation Car to check it out. A few minutes mingling with the peons of Coach was enough and we headed back to the PPC and the lap of luxury. We pretty much switched off between our roomette and the PPC throughout the day. Stella didn't nap well on the train and, therefore, neither did we. But, for most of the day we kept the lower bunk in bed form, so it provided a fairly large area where Stella could crawl and play. When she got bored, we would take turns taking her to different areas of the train for a change of scenery. We decided to have lunch in the PPC instead of the dining car since it was a little more laid back and quiet and, with an almost-one-year-old to wrangle, that was a good thing.

As promised, the scenery was spectacular and did not disappoint. We enjoyed gorgeous views throughout the day in all three states we went through. I think my favorite part, though, was going through the Cascade Mountains. It was absolutely stunning.

I think Stella liked it, too.

Throughout the day we gradually made up time and began to have high hopes that we would indeed pull into the Seattle station near our 8:45 scheduled arrival time. There were a few stops throughout the day that were called "fresh air stops". That simply meant that the train would be stopped there for several minutes, so all the passengers could get off and stretch/smoke/breathe/etc, etc. We made use of one of those, but I don't remember which stop. Somewhere in Oregon, I think.

For dinner, we decided we better try out the dining car. The tables in the dining car seat 4 people, so if your party doesn't have 4 people in it, they seat you with other people to fill the table. They counted us a party of 3 since we had Stella with us and seated us with a very nice, albeit eccentric, young lady from Australia. She was touring America and thoroughly enjoying herself, though she had been spending more than she planned, so she was trying to curb her spending so she would still have money left by the time she made it to NYC (She was not taking the train all the way there - just to Seattle). She was kind enough to take this picture for us as Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" was running through my head.

We continued to enjoy the scenery and Washington welcomed us with a beautiful sunset.

But, as we rolled by the Puget Sound and we knew we were getting close, we started to get antsy and were ready to pull into Seattle.

We finally arrived in Seattle at 8:44 pm on Friday, one minute ahead of schedule. So, our 24 hour train ride actually only took 22 hours. All in all, it was pretty fun. Stella didn't seem to mind it and she did pretty well. It was nice that we could walk around with her and keep her entertained. But, the train was dirty and people would leave stuff around, so we had to constantly watch her so she wasn't crawling through anything nasty or picking up garbage/crumbs that were left around. The plane ride home was easier just because it was so much shorter. If Stella were a little older, I think she even could've enjoyed it for what it was.

My sister and her husband picked us up from the train station and took us to our hotel. We were really excited to take showers and wash the train grime off. After we got cleaned up, we were excited to sleep in a nice, comfy bed with no squeaking. It was delightful.

We got up bright and early the next morning and headed to the temple for the wedding. Considering it was Seattle, the weather was amazing! It was nice and sunny and after the morning chill, it warmed right up.

Holly and Tim looked lovely.

Mr. Frisby and Stella looked lovely.

The temple looked lovely.

My sister's corsage looked lovely.

And we had a great time.

After the sealing, we headed to the reception where we took no pictures because it was too dark. But, it was fun. Though, by the end, Stella was super tired. She took a nice little nap in my arms while Mr. Frisby helped with clean up after it was over. After the reception and clean up, we headed to the airport. It was a very quick trip. We were actually in Seattle for less time than it took us to get there. But, it was an adventure! And, maybe someday, we'll do it again. Though not with an almost-one-year-old.


LJ, DC and ML said...

I bet it was absolutely gorgeous. This is on our list of "we should do that sometime!" things. Someday!

The Yuan Fam said...

How fun!! Reading this post makes me wanna do it. What an adventure and what a beautiful bride and groom!

Dalene said...

This is NOT on my list of things to do, but we're so glad it went well for ya'll. What beautiful pictures!