One of the trips in which Bill and I took advantage of credit card sign up bonuses was booking a Roomette on the Amtrak Empire Builder route from Columbus, Wisconsin to Whitefish, Montana using points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Our final destination was Glacier National Park and its sister park, Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. Having only ever taken the Metra and CTA trains in and around Chicago and the Underground and Metro in Europe, this was uncharted territory for both of us. A new and exciting adventure – and to one of the most beautiful US National Parks none-the-less!
Our room was quite small. Essentially two seats facing each other that folded down into a bed, with another bed that folded down from above. The room also had a large window, tiny closet, coat hooks on the walls, a small shelf, and doors out to the aisleway. This is where we stayed for much of the 40.5 hour trip. With the exception of meal times when we went to the dining car, and the one short visit we made to the observation car.
We met a couple who were about 20 years older than us during our first meal, and decided to continue making reservations with each other for several of the remaining meals on the trip. They were also heading to Glacier to meet up with their daughter. We had wonderful mealtime conversations together. I encourage anyone who is considering taking the Amtrak to do so – and to make friends with others on the train. It enriches the experience and makes even more memorable.
The food on the train is pretty amazing! I still remember the crab cake sandwich I had one day for lunch. I would almost take the Amtrak just to have that again. I would have to plan accordingly, however, as the food options vary from day to day.
Taking in the country’s cities and landscapes from the rails lends a totally different view of life. One that feels more carefree and less chaotic than the day-to-day goings on that keep us busy and in the hustle and bustle of coming and going.
Riding on the Amtrak was an experience I will cherish forever, but being on a train for that long is not something I would be overly excited about doing again. There was one time when an announcement was made that we would be stopped for several hours and could not get off the train. I was on the top bunk and started to get claustrophobic and had a mild panic attack. The thought of being stuck on the train in that tiny room for an extended period of time was frightening.
That delay was the result of a freight train ahead of us being stuck on the tracks and unable to move. I believe we may have been stuck waiting for around 5 hours or so. Thankfully that delay was in the evening and we slept through most of it.
There were several other times in which we would be forced to stop (in the middle of nowhere) and wait for a new conductor – as the conductors are limited on how many hours they can work at a time.
With all the stops and delays, we ended up arriving 11.5 hours later than our scheduled arrival time. Which meant we paid for one extra night at the KOA we had reserved. Not a huge deal, but do be prepared for stops and delays if you decide to book an Amtrak trip.
All-in-all this was a trip I will always remember. Would I do it again? Maybe. You never know where life may take you, afterall!