The Great Rail Experience: An overland journey with Amtrak Vacations

October 26, 2018

The romance of overland train travel has never looked so good. Train travel has come a long way since the days of uncomfortable sleeping, packed lunches and overloaded passenger carriages. ATAS accredited Amtrak Vacations is the leader in all-inclusive rail packages for experiences across USA and Canada and is your one-stop holiday shop.

Amtrak knows why their customers love travelling by rail. Recent first-time rail holiday riders, Pam and Jim from New Jersey, share their experience of exploring North America from coast to coast on an epic 14-day journey. Destinations on this holiday included Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. 

As this was their first Amtrak train experience, and although they weren’t travelling for any special occasion, it was the perfect opportunity to tick off a few bucket list destinations. Did you know that more than 64 percent of Amtrak customers are first-time riders? It’s true. First-time riders also frequently book a long-distance, overnight train holiday to discover the best that North America has to offer.

The couple departed from New York City’s Penn Station and arrived in Chicago to begin the Grand Rail Experience. During their trip, they stayed in both a Viewliner Roomette and a Bedroom onboard the train and travelled on six Amtrak train routes, with the majority of them being the most popular and scenic routes in North America, such as the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.

While a train journey across the USA means something a little different to every traveller, one thing is for sure: Pam and Jim made memories that will last for years to come!

What was your favourite part of the Grand Rail Experience?
Our favourite aspect of the entire trip would have to have been all the landscapes and ever-changing scenery we had the opportunity of experiencing onboard the various train routes! Another thing worth mentioning is that this train holiday was so easy!

Which destination(s) did you enjoy most? Why?
In Seattle, we visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit as that has been on my radar since I spotted it from afar during my last trip to the city. I loved the street musicians in New Orleans and the Monuments by Moonlight tour in Washington, D.C. was incredible. We felt like kids staying up late!

Did you go on any of the included sightseeing tours?
Yes, in Los Angeles we enjoyed the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing city tour, though we didn’t get off the bus as we were limited on time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use the included CityPASS. If there was more time, we would have enjoyed plenty of attractions.

Which train or route was the most memorable leg of your journey?

  • Lake Shore Limited: Although this particular route features views of the Great Lakes and the iconic Erie Canal, our journey was during the night so we didn’t see much of anything.
  • Empire Builder: This was an interesting route! The vastness of the Great Plains and then the beauty of the Cascade Mountains were certainly highlights.
  • Coast Starlight: Quite suspenseful experience onboard as we waited for our first sights of the Pacific Ocean! It was interesting riding alongside the back of the Vandenberg Air Force Base. It felt special … very X-Files.
  • Sunset Limited: We were disappointed the first stretch of this journey was at night and we didn’t get to see much of Southern California or Arizona. However, New Mexico and Texas were both fascinating in terms of the landscapes we watched go by onboard. I loved how Texas went from its golden West to its vibrant, green East. This was a long stretch but seeing as we weren’t in a hurry, the entire experience was interesting, especially stopping at all the old stations.
  • Crescent: Wow! Travelling over Lake Pontchartrain in South-eastern Louisiana was a highlight! It seemed as though there wasn’t any land beneath the train because you cannot see the track. It appears as if you are gliding over the water.
  • Northeast Regional: As you can see, we started and ended our Grand Rail Experience in New York City, close to where we live in New Jersey. This was simply a commuter train for this portion of our journey home.

Any other destinations you want to visit by train in the future?
I’d like to travel by train across the middle of the US!

Did you share your Amtrak Vacations experience with your friends and family?
Constantly. I also had plenty of people following my train holiday on Facebook. They loved the videos!

Rail travel now offers so much more than just a means to get from point A to point B. Take a seat, slow down, and enjoy the journey. Skip the long airports queues and nightmare traffic jams. Consider a holiday with ATAS accredited Amtrak Vacations.

ATAS accredited agents are the experts in holiday planning. Let them take the hassle out of planning. They’ll manage your booking from start to finish to ensure you are all set for your next holiday abroad.  

Book with an ATAS travel agent – experience you can trust.


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