We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Leicester
Level Contributor
40 posts
3 reviews
Save Topic
A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Well after months and months of planning I've finally started to book things, and I have a few things I'd appreciate help in clarifying (after finding Amtrak's international customer service not so helpful):

I have used a rail pass for most of my travel but it runs out before my trip ends. As a result I will need to purchase a Eugene, OR-Portland, OR ticket and a Portland- Seattle, WA ticket. How near the time could I leave these purchases? It would be particularly useful to have some flexibility to buy a ticket for the second trip while actually in Portland in case I wanted to change plans.

Would people recommend the Cascades or Coast Starlight for these last two journeys? Might that make a difference to my above question about booking in advance?!

For one leg (NYC-NOLA) I am overnighting in coach: can you check luggage or does it all go with you (I am likely to have a BIG bag or suitcase plus overnight bag as am travelling for a month in all)?

FINALLY I have a 5 hour layover in Chicago between trains (schedule willing of course). If that actually comes off, is there anywhere in Union Station to leave my big bag (or can it be checked-in, airline style?) so I can do a little bit of sightseeing?

Thanks in advance for any help with these questions!

Chicago
Level Contributor
6,613 posts
1 review
Save Reply
1. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

I don't know about checking the bag early at Union Station, but the Amtrak area where people pick up their bags is the only area that in fact has luggage lockers.

Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
Level Contributor
15,287 posts
110 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

first: Chicago. There are storage lockers in the baggage claim area. Your big bag may be too large for the lockers. You may also leave your baggage with a red-cap and they will lock it up and tell you where and when to meet them to claim it from them. Tip them $1 per bag/$5 minimum. You mention a pass so I assume that you're traveling Chaircar on a 15 day Amtrak Pass. If I'm wrong and you are traveling sleeper, you can leave your luggage in the Metropolitan Lounge - (sleeper car passengers only facility). If you're traveling chaircar then Amtrak will want you to check your bag "airline style". The baggage check is at the far end of the ticket counter in the lower center of the station near the escalators. Re: Portland/Eugene - Seattle. Take the Cascades. Go to http://www.amtrakcascades.com/schedule.htm and look at the schedules. You will see that they are more convenient than the Coast Starlight. You can purchase Cascades tickets at the stations before train time whereas seats on the Starlight are reserved/long distance so you would have to purchase them in advance. Speak to the ticket agent in Eugene and Portland when you arrive. They should tell you that if you have a ticket for the 12:15 but make the 2:50 it will be honored. The Coast Starlight also starts in LA so there is a probability/possibility that the train could be late through Portland. The Cascades only travel in the States of Oregon and Washington so don't have to contend with a train traveling a 1500 mile journey from Los Angeles. Re: the Southern Crescent from NYC to NO - you will have to check your big bag. You may take a carry-on size and a personal bag with you in the coach cars.

Limerick, Ireland
Level Contributor
154 posts
2 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

1. You can book your tickets at the station, or a few days beforehand. No huge demand for the tickets, and most Yanks buy their tickets at the station. Also prices change very little with Amtrak.

2. Go on the Coast Starlight. I’ve done my research, and it is consider one of the best trains trips in the world. Widely renewed for its beautiful scenery onboard, the Coast Starlight has become one of the most popular train journeys. Daily trips from Seattle to Los Angeles. Scenic highlights include the Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains and the Big Sur (California Coast). Also free Wifi onboard

3. Sorry but what do you mean by NOLA??? Normally overnight trains have checked in luggage services. So it prop wont be with you..

4. Yes Chicago Union station have storage lockers. Check out www.chicagounionstation.com/lockers.html

Bucks County...
Destination Expert
for Philadelphia, Train Travel, Bucks County
Level Contributor
8,769 posts
94 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Shallow_Shoals is correct- use the Cascades for the reasons mentioned, not the Coast Starlight. The route and scenery are the same as the CS.

Leicester
Level Contributor
40 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Thanks for lots of great info so far- 5 minutes on Trip Advisor has achieved what a lot of time on Amtrak site could not!

Oh and NOLA is New Orleans, Louisiana. Sorry, been spending too much time on the destination forum where it's used constantly.

Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
Level Contributor
15,287 posts
110 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

I hate to disagree with Trainrider but if you are traveling on one of our long distance trains you need reservations as far in advance as you can book them. As the availability of space goes down the price goes up. The price can very a lot, especially in high season (summer). You get the best deal booking as far out in advance as you can. The Empire Builder, San Francisco Zephyr, Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight are always full in high season. With the high and going higher price of petrol over here Amtrak is expecting high ridership this year and are scrambling to put on more cars. If you're traveling on a regional (the Cascades) and/or commuter train (The northeast corridor between Boston and WashingtonDC, Metra in Chicago) then you can buy tickets at the station at the time. The Cascades and the Coast Starlight use the same tracks in Oregon and Washington so the scenery is a wash. NOLA is understood.

Leicester
Level Contributor
40 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

It's really useful to have the information about the Cascades using the same tracks - seems obvious so don't why I didn't realise! And will allow is the flexibility of buying tickets when we finalise plans, rather than trying to predict what we'll want 3 months in advance.

Just one more question: coming from the UK, which has very little tipping culture, I am eager not to make any faux pas on the trains. Is it expected to tip, e.g. in the diner car or sleeper cars (I have one leg when I am travelling coach but three when I've shelled out extra for the sleeper). Thanks!

Oregon/Washington
Destination Expert
for Portland, Sunriver
Level Contributor
10,864 posts
91 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Another vote for the Cascades. Most of the time you can purchase tickets last minute. Weekends though, especially between Portland and Seattle, are busier and tickets do sell out. My DH does this route weekly. Holidays can factor in too, so just double check your schedule. Even with weekends, there are usually seats available a day before a trip. I just wouldn't wait til the day of to purchase. Also, the fares are much less if you avoid the heavy travel times. You can go between Seattle and Portland for $30 if you avoid Fridays and Sundays.

Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Train Travel
Level Contributor
15,287 posts
110 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

Tipping is nice. You're thoughtful to think of it. Even when traveling sleeper and having your meals included you can judge your tip by the price on the menu. So many people forget to tip the staff because they never see a bill. My rule of thumb is $2 lunch and $3 dinner for one person: $3 for lunch and $5+ for dinner for two. Tipping your car attendant is directly influenced by the assistance he/she gives you. Average tip is $5 per day per person. I've give more for excellent service and less for bad service. Tipping in the cafe car depends, again, on the service. The attendant will have a tip jar on the counter if you are so inclined to be generous. Loose change usually suffices since you tend to visit the lounge car more than once for semi-self service. Have a good trip and enjoy your visit.

Oostburg, Wisconsin
Level Contributor
270 posts
56 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: A variety of Amtrak questions for a cross-country trip

My experience has been the earlier you buy your ticket, the lower the fare. Check the Special sales on the Amtrak site.

Eugene <==> Portland. There are both buses and trains on this route (I have taken both).

Portland <==> Seattle I would book early. They offer "business class" for some $14 more. I wish I had chosen it over Coach. The boarding process seemed much easier with business class as I found that both the Portland and the Seattle (King Street) stations were crowded, with long, snaking boarding lines.