As a fan of train travel, I often choose a ride on rails over a drive or flight, especially in Europe, where I always relish the high-speed trains. In Tokyo, I once appreciated a speedy, efficient and easy-to-understand experience; but, speed isn’t the only appealing aspect of train travel. From Venice to London, on the Venice Simplon Orient Express, we traveled through the coastal cliffs of the Cinque Terra and dined in formal opulence; from Whistler to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer, we sipped tea while viewing the spectacular scenery.
In the States, I often travel via Amtrak. Last year, my daughter and I took a journey from New York to the end of the Vermonter line, in St. Albans, just south of the Canadian border. In California, I’ve repeatedly boarded the Pacific Surfliner at the glorious Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles traveling to San Diego, especially when I’m headed to a spa, where a car is superfluous. And, I’ve promised myself never again to drive from L.A. north to the Central California coast; instead, I’ll ride the same Pacific Surfliner to Cambria, and rent a car when I arrive.
Mostly, I travel the Northeast Regional from New York to visit friends, sights and museums in Philadelphia, Washington and Charlottesville, Virginia. We’ve loved traveling the New York–D.C. route on the faster and fancier Acela train, though more expensive.
Here’s what Amtrak train trips have in common and why I travel by train, especially with family in tow.
Red Cap Service
Take advantage of the Ticketed Waiting Area and seating near the always friendly Red Caps. The complimentary service is especially helpful when traveling with children, older relatives and anyone with difficulties. A uniformed Red Cap handles luggage from the waiting area to the seat; one leads us to the train before it’s posted and before the waiting throngs descend and asks about seat preference: Quiet Car? Café Car? Near luggage rack? In Washington, D.C., where a Red Cap in a golf-like cart met the train, I hopped on and he drove us through the bowels of the station right out front to where the taxi stand is located. Amtrak offers accessibility services for the disabled (not something always available in European stations) and anyone is eligible to use the complimentary service; tips are appreciated.
Enjoy comfortable seats, whether in coach, business or first class; they recline and there’s ample space between rows. Kids of all ages play board games, text and — where general bandwidth WiFi is available on select routes and stations — take advantage of the internet.
Relax and enjoy the view of the Washington monument, the Hudson River and the Pacific, mountains in the distance, or farm animals near the tracks. I drive myself crazy trying to capture the view on my iPhone and can’t, but love the ever-changing scenery. So do kids, who often get a bit antsy staying in one spot in cars and planes.
Time and again, conductors help folks of every age; many carry luggage — even bikes — on and off the train. I’ve spoken with parents traveling with youngsters enjoying the civilized trip to Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and they claim cars are a nuisance in those center cities and cost a fortune to park.
Choose first- or business-class seats, sit in a Quiet Car, spend time in the café or, in some cases, Dining Car, bring a bike and don’t fret about baggage — each passenger is allowed two personal and two carry-ons. In certain instances, checked baggage services are available and baggage storage for a daily fee. I’ve met families in New England who hike or bike in one venue, then travel by train to another scenic destination. The train trip is intrinsic to the adventure.
Rail transportation makes good sense to airports (JFK, EWR, BWI), too, by avoiding tolls, parking fees, traffic and tension.
Check out the promotional fares for youngsters, students and seniors, vacation packages to popular destinations and reduced Share Fares for six passengers traveling together. When computing prices, also consider gas, tolls, parking rates and drop-off fees on car rentals.
Try train travel with the family; you may find getting from here to there can be a pleasure instead of a hassle.
My youngest daughter and I arrived from Barcelona on the high-speed AVE train (in less than three hours) and entered Westin Palace Madrid in time for the Sunday Opera Brunch — which takes place under the stained-glass cupola of La Rotonda, where daily breakfast and cocktails are served. I’d heard about this event on several occasions when I toured the hotel in 2015, and when my granddaughter and I stayed there in 2017.
With technology advancing faster than ever, children globally are becoming attached to devices. Adults too. Our Netflix queue and ever-expanding inbox call our names even when we’re on vacation. We carry distractions with us everywhere, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to truly connect with your loved ones.
The 1985 song “One Night in Bangkok” mentions many of the overindulgences of this city. One of them is massage parlors. Today, however, a Thai massage is considered an activity that improves one’s physical and mental well-being. The city has shed its former reputation as a place of wild nightlife and decadence, over the past few decades emerging as a major center for international commerce, wellness initiatives and tourism.