Complete Novice Questions about Family Trip from San Jose to Tacoma

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Familyoffour

Guest
Hi all,

We are a family of four with a 5 and an 8 year old who is considering a one-way trip from San Jose to Tacoma (or vice-versa) on the Coast Starlight on a visit to family (we would fly the other way). This isn't something I've thought about before but looking at the Family Bedroom setup and knowing my kids at this age I think they might really enjoy it.

At this point I have a few question, but in larger part I don't know what I don't know so if there are other things I should be considering or good overall guides to read please let me know!

1. Has Amtrak announced anything about when things might be more normal covid-wise? Using the dining car seems like a big part of this experience and I probably would want to wait until that was part of things again.

2. Is wifi a thing on this train? I've read conflicting reports.

3. Looking 2-7 months in the future the price I've seen for the Family Bedroom is pretty consistently $1325 for this route. Is this a good price? Is there much variation in prices or do they tend to be pretty constant? Are there discounts I should be looking for?

4. Any insider tips for things we should do or that the kids would get a kick out of?

Thanks for all your help!
 

zephyr17

Conductor
Joined
Jul 22, 2009
Messages
4,497
Location
Washington State
1. Traditional dining should resume June 30th. The Sightseer Lounge with its downstairs cafe is open, though right now upstairs seating is subject to social distancing restrictions and masks are required whenever you are not in your room. No one knows when mask and social distancing requirements might be lifted. Per current Federal regulations, mask requirements will be in force through mid September.

2. Wifi is not provided on the Coast Starlight. If you want wifi, I suggest you enable a wifi hotspot on your data capable phone. Note that there is a long stretch without consistent cell coverage from approximately Klamath Falls to Eugene.

3. If that is the all-in fare, 2 adults, 2 family plan children (free) and accommodation charge, it is okay. One thing to bear in mind there are only 2, possibly 3 (if the Starlight is running a third sleeper, which it has in the past in the summer). Amtrak uses yield management and there are five yield management fare buckets for accommodation charges, the top bucket typically is in the neighborhood of twice the cost of the lowest. My guess is your fare is in the middle or mid/upper bucket. Departures 2 months out are unlikely to change and if they do it is likely to be upward . 7 months, maybe they'll drop, maybe not. Family Bedrooms are a scarce accommodation, 2-3 per train, versus Bedrooms, 10-15 per train, or roomettes, 26-39 per train, depending on if they are running 2 or 3 sleepers.

4. Have games and download movies to your tablets/laptops before you go. Don't depend on streaming.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
282
If you're only taking the train one way, I'd recommend taking it northbound. The most scenic part of the run between San Jose and Tacoma is in the Cascades of Oregon and in northernmost California. The southbound run covers a lot of this in darkness, particularly in seasons when the days are shorter.

Also, although the sleeping arrangement in the family bedroom is set up specifically for a family like yours -- two adults and two younger children -- you might still want to consider other sleeper room options. You could, for example, book two adjoining bedrooms ($1,749 on a random date I checked), and have the partition between them removed; this would give you two full-length lower bunks for the adults (the uppers are a tight fit with very limited headroom), two private toilets, plus larger windows than the family room, and you'd be on the upper level. Or you might consider two roomettes across the hall from each other ($995 on the same random date); these would have much less space overall but would still provide lower bunks for both adults, though you'd have to share the community bathrooms/showers.

The family bedroom is wonderfully spacious and, because it spans the full width of the car, it has windows on both sides. But the windows are smaller than in the roomettes and bedrooms, and it's on the lower level, which some of us feel provides a less commanding view. Like the roomettes, it also requires use of the shared toilet/shower facilities.

If you're not wedded to a specific travel date beyond sometime in the next year or so, definitely wait until full dining service resumes before booking. It's supposed to resume by June 30, but I'd want to see that it's actually happened and hear a few reports of how it's going before committing to a trip like this.
 
F

Familyoffour

Guest
1. Traditional dining should resume June 30th. The Sightseer Lounge with its downstairs cafe is open, though right now upstairs seating is subject to social distancing restrictions and masks are required whenever you are not in your room. No one knows when mask and social distancing requirements might be lifted. Per current Federal regulations, mask requirements will be in force through mid September.

2. Wifi is not provided on the Coast Starlight. If you want wifi, I suggest you enable a wifi hotspot on your data capable phone. Note that there is a long stretch without consistent cell coverage from approximately Klamath Falls to Eugene.

3. If that is the all-in fare, 2 adults, 2 family plan children (free) and accommodation charge, it is okay. One thing to bear in mind there are only 2, possibly 3 (if the Starlight is running a third sleeper, which it has in the past in the summer). Amtrak uses yield management and there are five yield management fare buckets for accommodation charges, the top bucket typically is in the neighborhood of twice the cost of the lowest. My guess is your fare is in the middle or mid/upper bucket. Departures 2 months out are unlikely to change and if they do it is likely to be upward . 7 months, maybe they'll drop, maybe not. Family Bedrooms are a scarce accommodation, 2-3 per train, versus Bedrooms, 10-15 per train, or roomettes, 26-39 per train, depending on if they are running 2 or 3 sleepers.

4. Have games and download movies to your tablets/laptops before you go. Don't depend on streaming.
Fantastic, thank you! Streaming is far from essential, we just wanted to have an idea of what to expect.
 
F

Familyoffour

Guest
If you're only taking the train one way, I'd recommend taking it northbound. The most scenic part of the run between San Jose and Tacoma is in the Cascades of Oregon and in northernmost California. The southbound run covers a lot of this in darkness, particularly in seasons when the days are shorter.

Also, although the sleeping arrangement in the family bedroom is set up specifically for a family like yours -- two adults and two younger children -- you might still want to consider other sleeper room options. You could, for example, book two adjoining bedrooms ($1,749 on a random date I checked), and have the partition between them removed; this would give you two full-length lower bunks for the adults (the uppers are a tight fit with very limited headroom), two private toilets, plus larger windows than the family room, and you'd be on the upper level. Or you might consider two roomettes across the hall from each other ($995 on the same random date); these would have much less space overall but would still provide lower bunks for both adults, though you'd have to share the community bathrooms/showers.

The family bedroom is wonderfully spacious and, because it spans the full width of the car, it has windows on both sides. But the windows are smaller than in the roomettes and bedrooms, and it's on the lower level, which some of us feel provides a less commanding view. Like the roomettes, it also requires use of the shared toilet/shower facilities.

If you're not wedded to a specific travel date beyond sometime in the next year or so, definitely wait until full dining service resumes before booking. It's supposed to resume by June 30, but I'd want to see that it's actually happened and hear a few reports of how it's going before committing to a trip like this.
That's great advice on the Northbound/Southbound idea. I'll certainly keep that in mind!

I think there's quite a bit of value for us in keeping everyone together so I'd probably pass on the roommettes. The two adjoinging bedrooms would be nice but we're already on the splurgy end of our budget for a trip like this so I don't think we'd go that route. Since it's only one night and I don't expect to sleep terribly well anyway I'm sure we'd find a way to make it work.

As far as booking goes, since these there aren't too many sleeping cars is there a generally accepted amount of time in advance that you need to book to get what you're looking for?
 

zephyr17

Conductor
Joined
Jul 22, 2009
Messages
4,497
Location
Washington State
Agree on waiting until the actual return of traditional dining before making firm plans. While I feel this is actually a pretty good date, there have been several "return" dates that have come and gone, so I won't believe any return date until the service actually returns.
 

fdaley

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 25, 2020
Messages
282
As far as booking goes, since these there aren't too many sleeping cars is there a generally accepted amount of time in advance that you need to book to get what you're looking for?
I'm afraid there isn't general agreement on this, in part because Amtrak appears to be changing its pricing practices of late, and also because its revenue management decisions are by design somewhat opaque. It used to be that if you booked 11 months in advance, when reservations first opened, you'd get a better deal, but now Amtrak appears to be starting out with mid-range to upper-middle-range pricing for sleeper rooms and might possibly lower those prices at some point along the way if bookings lag behind expectations. Almost certainly if you wait till within a couple months of your departure date, you're likely to pay top dollar or simply not be able to get what you want. There might be a sweet spot 3-6 months out where you'll suddenly find a bargain, but you have to be checking Amtrak's site frequently -- and over a range of dates -- to find these. And there is a better chance of finding these at lower traffic times -- e.g., early November or February -- than in the summer or holiday seasons.

Given that there are only 2 or 3 family bedrooms per train, the chance of finding a bargain on these is also lower than for other types of rooms. If the starting price for a particular departure is $1,325 and they sell one of the rooms at this price, the price for the remaining family room(s) will likely increase to something a few hundred dollars higher.

So one strategy, if you can be flexible and are willing to put in the time with Amtrak's rather tedious website, is to pick a week within which you'd like to travel, ideally at a low-traffic season, and keep checking five or six departures within that week. As long as all the family room prices stay at $1,325, keep waiting, but if you see any departure jump to something higher, just book one of the remaining days at $1,325. At least that way you don't wind up paying more, and if you're lucky you maybe find the price go down if rooms aren't selling well.

Otherwise, if that's too much of a project, or if you want to go at a peak time, and if you're committed to getting a family room, the price is probably going to be $1,325.
 
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