Thursday, April 02, 2009

Riding the Train (Seattle to Portland)

Wow! How cool it is to ride the train. I could not get over how much more relaxing it is than flying or driving. Even though the train was full, there were no crowds or waiting except for the unfortunate seating assignment situation. There is no security process like when you fly and all the personnel I talked with were very kind. It probably helped I started every question with a big smile and, "This is our first time on the train..."

How to Get Tickets
I bought my tickets online at the Amtrak website. When you buy them, you print out a confirmation page with a barcode on it and take it when you go to the train station. I imagine you could check-in at the counter (where there was never a line) or you can do like I did and scan your barcode at the kiosk and get your tickets printed. You sign your tickets and then hang onto them until seating assignments are made (see below)

Checking Baggage
Check the Amtrak site for info on weight and size limts. If you get to the station in time (30 minutes before departure they say), you can check your bags. Ours were small enough that we could have carried them on but we went ahead and checked them so we would not have to deal with them. There was no line there either and it was very quick, you just show your tickets and they tag your bags for your destination. We put our small bags in the bins above our seats so we could get things out during the ride. But only small backpacks or briefcases really fit up there. Anything else you carry-on goes in the bins at the end of the car, and those bins looked pretty full. We had no trouble picking up our bags very quickly after we got off the train.

Seating Assignments
So you can buy your ticket in advance online, but you cannot get your seating assignments until you are at the station. Look around for the sign that says seating assigments. This is where people will line up and the train conductors with pass out the assignments. Note that only one member of the party has to stand in the line. I did that with the tickets while my husband was entertaining the kids in the station.

They start assigning them about 30 minutes before the departure time, but you may want to line up sooner. In Portland, we were there 15 minutes before that time, and the line was already quite long, so long that we did not get the kind of seats we wanted. Next time, I will plan to be there to line up 45-60 minutes before departure because I want to have my choice of seats (see below)

Where to sit
From Seattle to Portland we sat in 4 seats around a table (so 2 seats were backwards) It was so awesome. It was perfect for our family. Eating the lunch we brought from home was so convenient with the table and if we would have gotten a chance it would have been great for playing cards. The kids did a lot of drawing and coloring with the items they packed in their carry-ons and it was so nice to have the hard surface. If your kids are littler than mine (3.5 and 6), you may prefer the 4 facing seats without the table. Then they can climb in and out of your lap etc without the table in the way. The four seats together was so nice because both parents were able to engage with the kids and one did not get stuck with the kids while the other focused on driving.

From Portland to Seattle we set in two adjacent rows facing the same direction. That was not nearly as nice as it was hard to communicate and pass things over the high seat backs. Of course, you are not confined to your seat so it wasn't so hard to move around and get the things we needed. Next time, I would ask for 2 seats with the other 2 across the aisle instead of behind. I think that would be easier.

Just make a request when you get to the front of the line, they did seem to want to accommodate if possible.

Length of Ride
Our train trip was scheduled for 3 hours and 40 minutes. There was some variation depending on which train you scheduled to take. On the way down to Portland, we had to stop several times for maintenance on the tracks, so it took an additional 45 minutes. On the way back, we ran pretty much right on time. Even so, I don't think it takes quite that long to drive it.

Plus we walked about 30 minutes (fairly slow as the kids were on foot) to the bus stop and then took the bus about 20 minutes to the train station. So if you add up our transit time from home to hotel, it was quite a bit longer than driving.

The views from the train were breathtaking. I could have spent the whole time looking out the windows at the mountains and water, other trains, trucks, cranes and all sorts of things. The kids attention span wasn't so long but they did enjoy the barges and tugs and trains we saw.

We packed our own lunches for the train. On the way there, we brought it from home and on the way back we picked some things up at Whole Foods and a bakery. There is food available on the train but it is all prepackaged stuff and did not look particularly appealing. We did notice there was a bit of a line right at lunch time but it did die down a bit later.

Comfort on the Ride
We thought the seats were very comfortable and enjoyed the ride. You could definitely feel the train moving, especially when you were walking around or trying to use the bathroom. The kids enjoyed exploring the train but did have a little trouble walking around as the train rocks and bumps a bit. I was a bit concerned before we went, but we did not have any trouble with motion sickness. The air felt a lot fresher than on an airplane and I did not feel as confined either.

Well, every parent wants to know the bathroom situation. The good news is that the bathrooms were plentiful on the train. There is one bathroom in each car (I think about 36 passengers per car). So there were no lines for the bathrooms. You could always walk to the next car if yours was occupied. Plus you are never confined to your seat so you can go whenever you need to with no pesky seatbelt signs! The bad news is that the bathrooms were tiny, just like airplane bathrooms. Not the most fun to try to squeeze into with a little one, but definitely do-able. My tip is don't back up to the sink to try to allow your preschooler to squeeze in as well or you may possibly get the back of your pants wet from the sink. Just a thought ;-)

Getting to and from the Station
The bus stop (5th and Jackson, or 4th and Jackson) is very close to the King Street Station in Seattle so it was totally easy to transfer from the bus to the train, even in the rain! We did not look into the bus routes in Portland, so we walked several blocks to the streetcar stop at 11th and Glisan and took it down to our hotel. Alternately, you could probably walk to the light rail too. You are in the fareless square at that point so you can just hop on either without buying a ticket.

Please let me know if you have any questions about riding the train.

*Note: I have written a bunch of posts about Portland so if you want to read more, click on the Portland Label at the end of the post, and you will see all the Portland entries.

No comments: