We left Omaha in the middle of the night, boarding the California Zephyr a few hours later than expected. Previous hesitations over dropping the extra dough for a sleeper car quickly dissolved into gratefulness for our foresight. Our train attendant, Linda, had already turned down the beds in our “Roomette” so we simply had to decide who would take the top bunk (Kai did – thank you honey!). Soon after crawling into our respective bunks we fell asleep, swaying to the sounds of the train.
We awoke to the sun rising over a spectacular landscape slowly slipping by outside of our picture window. It was magnificent. The views would continue to astound us over the next 40 hours, the time it would take us to reach our final destination of Sacramento. The California Zephyr is one of the most scenic train rides in the United States, passing through the states of Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Meals are included with the purchase of a sleeper car, along with other amenities, like a consistent supply of coffee and juice, daily newspapers, and, our favorite, access to showers and clean towels. We were both looking forward to experiencing such a luxurious, stress-free, way of travelling.
Trying to decide whether or not to splurge on a room on Amtrak?
Cost of the rooms can go up or down depending upon the train’s current loads. So, if you have a flexible schedule, use the online calendar to check pricing for a variety of days. If their are more seats and rooms available, you can get a much cheaper price. For example, Sunday’s price for the same roomette was literally HALF of what we would have paid for a Saturday departure!
And don’t forget that full-length beds, showers, and meals are included in the price. We spent less than what we would have on a plane ticket to California and had a much more pleasant travel experience.
An added benefit to our having meals included was that we had a reason to go to the dining car, where a community-seating policy is implemented by Amtrak. Four people to a booth, we were paired with two other people on the train each time we had a meal, which allowed us to meet a handful of other travelers with which we had many interesting conversations. We couldn’t help but think of how great it would be if we implemented a community-seating policy in other public settings, allowing us to build friendships and a sense of community that otherwise would not have existed.
As we rolled along the tracks, we were stunned by the scenery and how quickly we were passing through it. Pangs of regret over not being able to cycle through the States hit us, especially when we saw two folks with bicycles standing outside their tents in the middle of Nevada, holding their steaming coffee and waving to us as we passed. “Oh, we could be them!” we moaned, but we knew our hearts were racing toward California, Mexico, Central, and South America, and that the pleasantness of that route would be determined by our ability to exit California by the end of December. “They did look awfully cold,” we commiserated, following it up with a promise to ourselves to leisurely cycle through Canada and the States on the flip side of our trip.
A video of our time on the California Zephyr route:
Music By: The Head and the Heart, “Down in the Valley” (Album: The Head and the Heart)