When Sophia, my sister, casually suggested taking the train for our San Francisco to New York trip in February, I could not shake the idea out of my mind. I began researching online—blogs, reviews, forums, news—and discovered Amtrak’s California Zephyr, the train which experienced travelers say is the most beautiful train trips in all of North America.
San Francisco • Salt Lake City • Denver • Chicago
The California Zephyr takes you from the City by the Bay, the High Sierras, the Utah Desert, Glenwood Canyon, through the Continental Divide, over the front range of the Rockies to Denver, and across the American heartland through Midwest’s Windy City.
Scheduling intentionally placed the trains in the grandeur of the Feather River and Rocky mountains during daylight hours, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night. This practice allowed passengers the most breath taking views of the route during the daytime.
“Two days in a train!” Most people we know thought it was a crazy idea. Some of my friends wondered how a couple, who has been married since forever, could survive being in tiny space for so long. “Why not just fly?” they’d say.
Taking a flight is definitely much cheaper in comparison to the California Zephyr ticket that we booked. An aircraft will also transport us to our destination in just a few hours. But how much of mainland America will we be able to see from the sky?
On Saturday, March 19th, 1949 the California Zephyr made it’s only appearance in San Francisco proper (because its station is located in Emeryville, CA). The first eastbound run began at 9:30 am PST the following morning on March 20th, 1949 and was immediately splashed by the railroads as “The most talked about train in America”.
Every female passenger onboard was presented a lavish corsage of orchids flown in from Hilo, Hawaii for the occasion. To add to the festive atmosphere, the Western Pacific Employee Band was present to supply music for the departure. Thus a legend in passenger train history was born.
One Way Fare: San Francisco to Chicago
It has taken me several weeks to make up my mind before allowing Masood to finally purchase the ticket. One day I’d tell him to go ahead and book the train tickets, the next day I’d tell him to wait while I think about it some more, and yet the following day I’d give him a list of reasons why splashing on this trip was worth it, trying to convince myself more than I was convincing him. We had to take the Superliner Bedroom, there was simply no other way we were going to do this, and it costs much more than an economy direct flight — $1961 vs $500!
The fare also includes checked baggage service for 2 Bags – 50 lbs each, and meals.
The Superliner Bedroom
The two main reasons for booking the Superliner Bedroom are privacy and comfort.
California Zephyr has double-decker cars providing a better view of the passing scenery. All Bedrooms are located on the upper level of the double-decker Superliner train cars, the rooms being 10-plus feet above the platform means no one at the station stops can see into your room so you can keep your curtains drawn.
I wear the hijab so the privacy of the bedroom allowed me to remove my headscarf and travel comfortably. The room has a door with curtains and a lock so those are also plus points. And there’s a private bathroom. You can easily and quite conveniently made wudu and offer salah.
Unlimited Juice and Coffee – While Supply Lasts
Dress Rack, electrical outlet and switches:
A tiny sink with mirror (and lights!) and the door to a bathroom with shower:
The lower berth:
The sofa converts to a nice and spacious bed. The upper berth is narrower and climbing the ladder is tricky if you have a large body frame. Masood slept on the upper berth and said it was okay for him. The lower berth, being wider, was very comfortable.
The pillows are flimsy so if you can, bring your own pillow. And the blankets are, well, scratchy. So if you can, bring your own blanket as well. But if you’re an international traveler like us, don’t bother with the additional luggage and make do with what Amtrak provides.
Also, the partitions between the bedrooms are paper-thin, therefore, anything but a very subdued conversation can be overheard by whoever is in the adjacent bedroom.
Fresh towels, toilet paper and soap are provided. The bathroom is the same size as those in the aircrafts, except that Amtrak provides a shower head as well. The width of the bathroom wall is shoulder-to-shoulder, so imagine the talent and skill required to take a shower in a moving train. But I’ll forever be grateful for a private bathroom for such a long trip and will be willing to pay for it.
The bedroom is generally a safe place to leave stuff, but I think it’s still not a good idea to leave valuables lying around. Remember, the door locks from the inside but not outside.
You can find videos on Youtube should you wish to see the room and amenities in more detail.
As a hijabi Muslimah, I would say that the Superliner Bedroom is definitely worth the money, specially if you’re taking the entire west coast to east coast trip.
Being able to stretch your legs and sleep comfortably during your journey assures that you reach your destination fresh and well-rested.
Also, it’s worth noting that even at premium prices, these bedrooms are still very popular and if you want one, especially on more popular trains such as the California Zephyr, book well in advance!
In the next posts I’ll share my thoughts about the dining car, the inclusive meals, Amtrak’s customer service, pros/cons, tips, etc.