For a non-RV adventure, we decided to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight from San Jose to Seattle to visit family in Washington State. We’ve always wanted to take an epic train trip and this was the perfect opportunity.
Train 14 San Jose to Seattle
Train 14 departs at 8:23 PM and arrives in Seattle 8:12 PM which means we will spend nearly 24 hour on the train. We arrived at the San Jose Dridon Station two hours before departure and were lucky to find a parking spot in the free lot south of the terminal.
It was a short walk to the terminal so we spent some time checking out the place.
Train 14 arrived on time so we boarded, dropped off our bags in the room, and headed to the dining car for some dinner.
The dining car has community seating so we ate dinner with two total strangers. This is where we met Cindy and Ron from Santa Barbara and we hit it off. They were heading to Portland so we hung out together for the trip north.
After dinner we headed to our Roomette in the sleeper car. It’s a great private room with two comfortable seats, and two beds. It was the perfect place to enjoy a 24 hour train trip!
Later that evening, we headed to bed. Gianna got the top bunk and she installed the strap that’s supposed to keep her from falling out of bed.
The next morning we met Cindy and Ron in the dining car for breakfast and shared stories about how badly we all slept.
Exploring the Train
After breakfast, Gianna and I walked the length of the train to get an idea of the layout. The train is configured in this order: Engine, baggage car, sleeper cars, parlor car, dining car, Sightseer Lounge car, and the many passenger cars. The sleeper cars and parlor cars are reserved for first class passengers only and the dining car is where all passengers can meet and mingle.
The Pacific Parlour Car
One of the perks of being in first class is the parlor car. Since this car is only for first class passengers, and most of them are relaxing in their rooms, this mostly empty space is a great place to hang out. It has a movie theater downstairs, a bar/restaurant upstairs, and lots of comfy chairs to relax in.
Hanging out in the Roomette
I can’t say enough good things about the roomette (except for the poor sleep). The small rooms are super private and they are a great place to watch the scenery. We kept the door open most of the time and the curtains drawn. This gave us total privacy but we could still hear all of the train and people noises.
The best part of the trip was between Chemult and Eugene northbound where the train crosses the snowy Cascade Mountains in the daytime.
Some of the stops were longer than others, presumably to let people take a smoke break. We took advantage of these stops to get out and stretch our legs.
In Portland we said good bye to Cindy and Ron. Surprisingly, they will be taking the same train as us back to San Jose so we will meet them again in 4 days.
We made it to the beautiful King Street Station in Seattle around 9pm. The station underwent restoration a couple of years ago and it was gorgeous.
We needed to get to the Seattle-Tacoma airport to rent a car so we took the Transit Link Light Rail. The light rail station is only one block away from the Amtrak station and took just 36 minutes to get to SEATAC airport!
Hanging out with family at Thanksgiving. Nothing could be better!
Train 11 Seattle to San Jose
Now we get to do the whole trip in reverse.
Heading south we decided to splurge by getting a Superliner bedroom. It comfortably seats 2 (4 people can easily fit), it has a bigger bottom bed, and a private bathroom and shower. The walk down the hallway in the bedroom area is tight because the rooms take up almost the entire width of the train.
Between Seattle and Portland, we had lunch in the dining car and met a nice mother and daughter traveling for Thanksgiving.
Since it was light out and we were on the right side of the train, we enjoyed hours of beautiful views of the Puget Sound.
Later that evening we talked with our car attendant and he told us that the Sacramento ‘smoke break’ stop will be 35 minutes and we had enough time to walk down the street to the Starbucks. We picked up some fresh coffee and some cocoa for Cindy and Ron.
We arrived in San Jose around 9am due to some freight traffic on the line. The trip exceeded our expectations. Would we do it again? Yes! The trip is very slow when compared to air travel so when we have lots of time to get from Point A to Point B, this is the most relaxing way to travel!
Things we learned
- Just like with plane, booking your travel early can save you lots of money on your room reservations. One couple we met paid half as much as we did because they booked their trip 2 months in advance.
- When parking in the free lot in San Jose, make sure to get a parking pass from the station attendant so you won’t be ticketed or towed.
- You need to make reservations for each meal seating. In the sleeping cars, the attendant will come to your room and take your lunch and dinner reservations. No reservations are needed for breakfast.
- You can make lunch and dinner reservations in the Parlor car. The meal selection is limited but it’s a more personal dining experience because it doesn’t have community seating.
- There are many perks in the sleeper cars: Wi-Fi, all meals are provided, bottomless coffee, free bottled water, and showers.
- Make sure to bring an electrical extension cord, ear plugs, and lots of snacks. Bring shower shoes if you want to take a shower.
- The sleeper cars have roomettes on the top and bottom levels. The top level is where people walk between trains so it can be a bit nosier. The bottom level is much more private but there’s more noise from the train’s wheels on the lower level.
- Be aware that the rooms cannot be locked. We left valuable items in our room when we went out for our meals and there was no problem with security or theft.
- Day and Night / Left or Right? – Due to the train departure times, it was dark during the time when the train travels up the Sacramento River valley. Chris, our attendant, told us a secret about how to get a room with the best views. Just reserve an odd numbered room on the even numbered train and vice versa.
- November 20, 2016 – San Jose to Seattle
- November 25, 2016 – Seattle to San Jose