It’s been a great summer of travel here for our family. We didn’t do any epic overseas trips like we did last year, but we did enjoy several shorter jaunts to various places around North America. Overall we saw five states, two provinces and many wonderful cities and towns.
One of the highlights of the summer for us was the overnight train trip from Seattle to San Francisco at the end of July. I booked the train instead of a flight because we had the time and it just looked like a fun new experience. At the time I was a little hesitant about the idea of spending 24 hours on a train with a five and a six year old, but it turned out to be great fun overall and I’d recommend the experience to anyone looking for a bit of adventure.
The experience started in the King Street Station in downtown Seattle. Our train left at around nine am so we had stayed at a hotel in Seattle the night before. We woke up early and took the light rail link downtown, then walked a couple of blocks to the cavernous old rail station. It was definitely a different experience that checking in for a flight. There were rows of old high backed wooden benches that looked like something from an old movie and it seemed odd to have people just wandering in and out without having to go through security or have their bags checked.
We got onto our double decker Superliner sleeper car about half an hour before the train left and spent a bit of time exploring our family bedroom suite. There are only one of these cabins on each car and they span the width of the train on the lower level with windows on each side. During the day it’s made up with a bench seat along it’s length plus one single seat facing the bench by one of the windows. There was plenty of room to spread out for four people, although there were only two tiny tables, one on each side.
The family bedrooms don’t have their own bathrooms, but there were three shared toilets plus a shower down the hall. We found this was fine for us for one night but I don’t know if I’d like the arrangement for much longer than that. The bathrooms were always clean but I did hear one group complaining that there had been no hot water in the shower in the morning. There were slightly fancier rooms on the upper level with their own tiny bathrooms if that’s a must for you, but they only sleep two so the cost for a family of four would have been about double what we paid.
The train itself was about ten cars long with three sleeping cars, a vintage parlour car, a dining car, an observation car and several regular cars with reclining seats. We walked the length of the train several times and my son never got tired of pushing the buttons between cars which opened the doors with a dramatic “whoosh”. The connections between the cars were actually on the upper levels so to get to the other cars from the family bedroom you had to climb a tiny winding staircase in the middle of the car. This was nice in that it decreased the traffic near our bedroom, but it would have been challenging to move around the train with babies or toddlers, or for anyone with a mobility issue.
The sleeper car fare included meals and the kids really seemed to enjoy trooping down from our bedroom to the dining car to eat our meals while watching the scenery pass by. The food was pretty basic with about five options on the menu each meal and the service was a wee bit slow at times but it was far better than eating on the airplane! When we first got on our attendant asked us for our preferred dining times for lunch and dinner so we never had to worry about waiting for a seat.
There was also the option of lounging in the parlour car which had a bar area and an observation lounge and was reserved for sleeper car guests. The other observation car, which was available to all travelers, had a speaker at certain parts of the trip who pointed out various sites and explained some of the history of the area. It looked like an interesting option, but our kids were a little too young to be interested in staying.
After supper, our attendant made up our room for the night. Since the room was about ten feet by just under five feet it was made up with the bunks in an “L” shape with two adult bunks across the width of the car and two child bunks at a right angle to them. This presented a bit of a problem for us since both children desperately wanted to sleep on the top. Fortunately, this was one more time where being vertically challenged (I like to think of myself as “fun sized”) came in handy. By angling myself diagonally across the lower child bunk, I was just able to fit into it, freeing up both top bunks for the kids. They were a bit narrow with only a sort of a loose guardrail made of webbing, which made me a bit nervous, but the exciting day plus the gentle rocking of the train put the kids to sleep very quickly and they barely moved all night.
As for me, I think my favourite part of the trip was the last few hours of daylight after the kids had gone to bed. We had spent the day going down the length of Washington state and northern Oregon and after dinner we turned inland and stared climbing into the mountains between southern Oregon and Northern California. From the train window we could see no roads or power lines or any other sign of civilization; just mile after mile of trees and mountains and lakes. We each stretched out by a window with our books, enjoying the scenery and the quiet time together.
We woke up the next morning to a completely different world with the farms of the central California plains spreading out in all directions. We got up early for breakfast and by eight am we were off the train in Emeryville and getting on a bus for the quick transfer across the bridge to our final stop in San Francisco.
So, would we do it again? I think I’d definitely do another overnight train trip with the kids if the opportunity arose. My husband and I agreed that if it was just the two of us we’d probably be willing to do more than 24 hours, although I don’t know if the kids would be happy to do too much longer. It was a great experience and I’ll be looking for the opportunity to do it again some day.