Riding the Rails - Amtrak re-visited

An oft-overlooked vacation style, Amtrak. Although the Golden Age of Train Travel passed decades ago, there is still much to recommend using Amtrak for your next vacation. I have taken the Amtrak's Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to Orlando) round trip, the Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles) end to end and the Texas Eagle (San Antonio to Chicago) end to end.
I have also ridden partial routes from LA to Oregon, St. Louis to Kansas City, and New York to D.C.

One thing about a train: It is both transportation and destination. The train ride itself is faster than driving, the seats are more spacious than airline first class, and the sleepers are quite comfortable. And besides your personal seat/sleeper there is a Bar Car with a snack bar, a good place to hang out and talk to people or play cards, the Observation Car, which is mostly windows, another great place to meet and get to know your fellow travelers, as well as watch some great scenery slide past, and finally, the Dining Car with better meals than you might expect (and lower prices), served on linen table cloths with real cutlery and crytal to boot.

Most Amtrak routes combine city sights with lots of wide open spaces. Even the East Coast routes are very scenic, and the Coast to Coast routes all have amazing scenery.

As well, when you are on the longer routes, you develop a camaradiery with your fellow passengers, much like on a cruise ship. Cocooned away from the rest of the world, in your own little moving universe, friendships develop, and stories get swapped. It is really quite a fun break from the everyday.

Personally, I don't mind driving, but to really enjoy the trip I prefer the train. It leaves you free to walk around, talk, gawk and snooze, without endangering the other passengers.

Also, as a way to get from here to there, the Amtrak is, as I said, faster than driving, and the Train Stations tend to be in the middle of town, rather than 10 miles out in the 'burbs, like airports, so generally there are hotels and tourist areas within walking distance of the station.

I said earlier the sleeper cars are pretty comfortable (and when you book a sleeper, all your meals are included). Besides the little rooms one generally thinks of, Amtrak also has Family Suites, and Wheelchair Accessible Suites. The Family Suites, which will sleep two adults and two children, stretch all the way across the car, giving a window on both sides.

The Wheelchair Accessible Sleeper also stretches across the car, and is located on the lower level, making boarding easy. The only downside is that the rest of the train is not accessible without climbing stairs. There are some stations where wheelchairs can be boarded to the upper level, but it takes careful planning, because you are then stuck until the NEXT such station, to reboard on the lower level of your room. The good part is, it not only includes all your meals, but there is room service.

Both Family and Wheelchair Accessible Accomodations are limited, and generally sell out early, so you need to plan well in advance if you need them. Other sleeper and regular coach seats are usually available right up to the last minute.

Of course, we here at www.daveholmantravel.com can help you with all the arrangements.


Knott's Berry Farm Hotel and Resort

I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by this hotel. If you are going to Orange County on vacation, this would be a good place to stay. Located on the park property at Knott's, and just a short drive to Disneyland, it is a good location for exploring Southern California.

While the rooms were kind of small, the property boasts a great pool area, with some fun stuff for the kids, tennis courts, an on-site pro shop to make golf arrangements and a good restaurant. Also on the Knott's property is a T.G.I.Fridays and, of course Mrs. Knotts Chicken restaurant, which has been there since 1934 or something, and is still kicking out that great fried chicken. While I did not stay in the Snoopy Rooms (being the youngest in our party at 46), I did see the corridor, separated from the other wing, and done up in Snoopy themed decor totally different from the rest of the hotel. If I had kids with me I would pay the extra.

The most impressive thing about the hotel, though, was the level of service. It can only be compared to a cruise ship. I have stayed at hotels from W to Bellagio to the Waldorf in the last few years, and honestly, this was the best. The front desk was manned by people who apparently like their job. When I went out to get ice, a housekeeper grabbed the bucket and got it for me, and brought it to the room. I don't think I opened a door for myself the whole two days I was there. The guy in the Parking Booth saluted crisply. And every time I walked thru the hotel I saw people polishing brass and cleaning glass.

I have stayed at the Disney Resort, and while the properties there are larger and glitzier, they are not any cleaner, and the service, while good, was not at this level.

I heartily recommend your next O.C. vacation be headquartered at the Knott's Berry Farm Hotel and Resort in Buena Park, CA.

And on a personal note, I would like to thank every staff member there for a job well done.