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My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Minneapolis...
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2 posts
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My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

I'm taking the Empire Builder from St. Paul to Chicago with a friend. We're both used to flying but we wanted to try something different. I just want to know what to expect at the station and on the train.

20 replies to this topic
Chicago, Illinois
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71 posts
120 reviews
1. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

If you are traveling in coach, you will probably be put on the coach added at the end of this train in St. Paul.

Caveat:

-depending on how crowded your train is, you may not be able to receive lunch service in the dining car. Instead, you will be referred to the Sightseer Lounge to purchase gas station level sandwiches, snacks, drinks.

-the eastbound train can be hours late; be sure to check its arrival with Amtrak on departure day. Suggest eating a hearty breakfast.

-to ensure your comfort, bring your own pillows, neck braces, etc.

-be advised you can certainly bring on your own coolers for food, drinks, "adult beverages," etc.

-if you sit on the left side departing St. Paul, good views of the Mississippi River.

Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
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18,459 posts
140 reviews
2. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

The Empire builder goes through St.Paul,at 8:00am. Even if the train is running late you will be able to have lunch, probably breakfast too. When the dining car staff announces lunch, go to the dining car and get your name on a wait list if the Lead Service Attendant has one. The cafe car is counter service and is in the lower level of the observation car. They sell fast food, drinks (including alcohol) and snacks.

You won't need pillows or neck braces for a 9 hour day trip.

You may bring your own small cooler with your own food and soft drinks. Be aware that you must keep it at your assigned seats. Don't bring a huge picnic chest. Personally, I bring a 6 pack of Coca Cola because Pepsi has the national Amtrak account. You may NOT drink alcoholic beverages in a coach car whether you bring it on or purchase it in the cafe / observation car.

The scenery between St.Paul and past the Wisconsin Dells is quite beautiful. You'll probably spend most of the trip in the observation car.

Edited: 06 August 2018, 09:04
Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
71 posts
120 reviews
3. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Just so you know, the way Amtrak is set-up, compared to how the railroads used to operate, the dining car is for the priority of the sleeping car passengers. That is why it could be hit or miss for lunch eastbound on #8.

Also, you may wish to bring on board your own pillows and neck pillows simply because they are not provided by Amtrak.

If you are discreet, there should be no issues with what you pack in your cooler, as long as it is not a golf cart; you are not loud and obnoxious with your beverages.This is especially helpful given that the Sightseer Lounge could be packed on this leg of the trip. If you dislike Pepsi as I do, be sure to bring Coca Cola products with you.

3 posts
4. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Re: alcohol

Just be aware the policy for transporting alcohol on board any Amtrak trains is while you are allowed to transport that in your cooler, you CANNOT consume your own alcohol you bring in your cooler if you are sitting in coach. You are ONLY allowed to consume your own alcohol, if you're in a sleeping car.

Just mentioning this policy, so no Amtrak employee gets upset at you and(for whatever reason) you get kicked off the train. So just remember if you're in coach that while you can transport alcohol you bought elsewhere to your final Amtrak destination, you can't consume any of your own alcohol in coach. The exception to the Amtrak rule of not allowing customers to consume their own alcohol, is if you're in a sleeper.

Edited: 09 August 2018, 01:09
Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
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5. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Thank you Al M for defining that. Some of the info given has been wrong.

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
71 posts
120 reviews
6. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

FYI--this particular site of Trip Advisor is afflicted by those extremely resolute towards their belief that they should have the last word on anybody's comments that diverge from their fixed opinion as the "expert." Like anything else, always look closely at any statement being made, just as you discovered the reality of seat numbers above the coach seats.

With that, please know I have double-checked with people who actually work the trains, and are knowledgeable, as I am. The only policy consistently enforced is if a passenger is caught smoking, or outrageously drunk, anywhere on the train. Repeatedly, we have witnessed people with their coolers discreetly consuming a beverage in coach, and even in the Sightseer lounge. Most on-board crews are so lackadaisical they do not want to bother pulling out the rule book to quote chapter and verse.

Of course, the choice is yours. For the record, I only travel in a compartment and I am a well published national pundit on rail transportation, constructively critical of how Amtrak operates. Others may be hobbyists and "foamers" who will accept any level of service just to ride "their" trains.

Wales, United...
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for Bargain Travel, Cruises, Swansea, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Neath, Port Talbot
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7. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

I think you have a point, SuperChief, at least about alcohol being brought aboard and consumed. I've seen it happen myself, although not recently as it's been some years now since I travelled on Amtrak.

So while I can't say for sure, I doubt things have changed. It's exactly like many policies that are not consistently or rigourously enforced, such as carry on baggage sizes when travelling by air. I always like to quote the rules, and advise others not to break them, but the reality is that people can sometimes get away with doing things that they shouldn't be doing. Personally, I wish it were otherwise.

Chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
71 posts
120 reviews
8. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Agreed; thank you.

What we generally say about Amtrak is the only consistency about Amtrak is its inconsistencies.

Chester,England
Level Contributor
1,537 posts
73 reviews
9. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

Train travel in Europe is so much more civilised, you can bring your food, and drink what you like with it, beer, wine or even a spirit.Not sure about Coke or Pepsi though, drinking that may get you thrown off a European train!

Virginia
Level Contributor
2 posts
20 reviews
10. Re: My first time traveling on Amtrak. What to expect?

We recently booked an Amtrak sleeper from Washington DC to Seattle, via Chicago. A disaster! the roomette was uncomfortable. One of our checked bags went missing at the Chicago stop, and the Amtrak staff appeared to be poorly trained as to how to handle that. Then, the Chicago to Seattle leg was cancelled due to "track issues" and there was no immediate alternative to getting to Seattle. It took us quite a while on the phone to get a refund on the cancelled portion of the journey. A couple of positives: the service and food on the Washington DC to Chicago leg were good.

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