Empire Builder with my Sister

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Maglev

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
1,159
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
When I first got the idea of this early November trip in June, Roomettes for one person from Seattle to St. Paul and back were $437 each way. Bedrooms were over $1,500. When I bought my tickets at the end of July, Roomettes had gone up to $602, Bedrooms were nearly $1,900, but the Family Bedroom was only $817. I booked the Family Bedroom both ways, but continued to watch the fares. For the return, Bedrooms at one point were over $2,200, then sold out. For the outbound leg, I one day saw a Bedroom available for $860 so I immediately called and snagged it.

My wife was not joining me for this trip, but since I had a big room both ways I invited my sister to join me. She bought an Open Sleeper ticket for $238 each way, and took a Cascade up from Portland to join me in Seattle.

Due to uncertainties of the Washington State Ferry system, I decided to travel to Seattle a day before we were catching the Empire Builder. I visited the Museum of Flight on the day before, and found it very enjoyable. I took a guided tour of the oldest aircraft, then got to walk through the 707 Air Force One and the first 747 and 787. Unfortunately, the Concorde was not open. The Embassy Suites at King Street Station was my hotel for the night.

Before boarding the train, my sister and I visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park two blocks from the station. It's a fairly small museum, but has great exhibits and we saw an informative film.

When the train pulled into the station, I was glad to see that we had a Superliner I with our Bedroom C on what I considered to be the best side. I also thought our couch was facing forward, but as we boarded we were told to use room B because of a bed problem in the room we originally booked. Our Sleeping Car Attendant was courteous and efficient, although I handled our own berths. My sister was impressed with the quality of the food and the comfort of the room, and almost immediately began planning a trip with her husband.

On our return, we had the Family Bedroom. The small windows restrict one's view, but it's sure enjoyable looking out them. I had bought a power strip with a ten foot cord, and it worked perfectly sitting on the shelf above the trash can with the cord not even blocking the closet door. Our Sleeping Car Attendant had a tool which I had never seen an SCA use before, although as a professional housekeeper I consider it essential: a toilet brush! Yes, those disgusting Superliner toilets were actually clean!

There was a Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety car between the locomotives and the baggage car on our return train. Also, it had one of the refurbished coaches. They look nice, but I am skeptical that plastic is more comfortable than cloth. Regarding the new pillows and blankets, I am still glad I brought my own feather pillow and down throw blanket. The new blanket is too slick and synthetic-feeling for me. My sister had a lot of trouble with the new pillows, and ended up putting one of the blankets in a pillow case.

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View from my hotel room in Seattle of two ferries and a water taxi.


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Glacier National Park. Our view was restricted by fog and dirty windows.

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Montana


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Minot, North Dakota


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Builder's plate not stolen


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Grain train in Montana


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Cascade Mountains
 
Last edited:

willem

Maintenance
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Aug 17, 2014
Messages
1,164
Location
in the depths
Thank you for the report and the pictures.
[...] I also thought our couch was facing forward, but as we boarded we were told to use room B because of a bed problem in the room we originally booked. [...]
Isn't that the way?

If I had been in your place and feeling nervy, I might have asked if the attendant could open the door between B and C so I could sit facing forward on the couch, since C wasn't in use anyway.
 

Hans627

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 15, 2019
Messages
54
Thanks for the nice report. I've never heard of an Open Sleeper Ticket. Could someone explain?
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 6, 2011
Messages
13,168
Location
Delaware
Thanks for the nice report. I've never heard of an Open Sleeper Ticket. Could someone explain?
Once you buy a ticket for a room you cannot add another passenger to your reservation. If you want to add someone to your room later, you/they but what's called an open ticket - one that is connected with your reservation. This ticket has to be mailed or picked up at a station. It is like the pre-eTickets in that it is printed on ticket stock and it is treated as cash - don't lose it.
 

Maglev

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
1,159
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
Once you buy a ticket for a room you cannot add another passenger to your reservation. If you want to add someone to your room later, you/they but what's called an open ticket - one that is connected with your reservation. This ticket has to be mailed or picked up at a station. It is like the pre-eTickets in that it is printed on ticket stock and it is treated as cash - don't lose it.
Before the trip, one of the little worries that kept going over and over in my mind was that the agent in Portland who issued my sister's tickets didn't do it correctly. Well, sure enough, the day before I left my sister called and said, "Help! My ticket is wrong!" The agent had her leaving Seattle for Portland the same day we left St.Paul (not two days later). When we got together in Seattle, we went to the ticket counter and had her SEA-PDX ticket changed, and also changed her "Open Sleeper" ticket to reflect that we had a Bedroom instead of a Family Bedroom (I had upgraded after she bought her ticket).

When we boarded in Seattle, the person scanning tickets scanned my ticket, scanned my sister's ticket, then had to scan my ticket again.

When we boarded in St.Paul, the person at the gate said my sister was not on the list of sleeping car passengers, but he looked at her ticket and let her on anyway. I don't remember if our SCA expected two of us or not.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
23,646
Location
Austin Texas
Before the trip, one of the little worries that kept going over and over in my mind was that the agent in Portland who issued my sister's tickets didn't do it correctly. Well, sure enough, the day before I left my sister called and said, "Help! My ticket is wrong!" The agent had her leaving Seattle for Portland the same day we left St.Paul (not two days later). When we got together in Seattle, we went to the ticket counter and had her SEA-PDX ticket changed, and also changed her "Open Sleeper" ticket to reflect that we had a Bedroom instead of a Family Bedroom (I had upgraded after she bought her ticket).

When we boarded in Seattle, the person scanning tickets scanned my ticket, scanned my sister's ticket, then had to scan my ticket again.

When we boarded in St.Paul, the person at the gate said my sister was not on the list of sleeping car passengers, but he looked at her ticket and let her on anyway. I don't remember if our SCA expected two of us or not.
Hopefully they won't run out of Food in the Diner if you're running Late and she will get to eat without having to go to the convienence store, er Cafe.
 

Maglev

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
1,159
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
Hopefully they won't run out of Food in the Diner if you're running Late and she will get to eat without having to go to the convienence store, er Cafe.
We were very pleased with the food in the dining car. But we had a major disappointment when the cafe at St. Paul Union Depot closed at 4 pm instead of its usual 8 pm on the day we arrived at the station at 5 pm for a 10:20 pm train. We were early because I wanted to avoid city driving at rush hour or in the dark. Anyway, we made do with my emergency supply of mixed nuts and granola bars from the vending machine.

A couple years ago, I had a disappointment when the cafe on the northbound Coast Starlight closed before we got on in Emeryville at 10:20 pm. So when we boarded the Empire Builder hoping for food from the cafe, I was prepared to be disappointed. Sure enough, there was a cardboard trash can with "Cafe Closed" scribbled on the top blocking the stairs. I looked, and saw the attendant sitting at a table using his cell phone. I asked if he was going to be re-opening, and he jumped up, moved the trash can and said we could come in.

My first choice was the Artisan Turkey Sandwich, but he was out of those. I didn't want an Amburger, so I got the Buffalo Chicken Wrap. It was partially frozen, so the attendant heated it a little (parts of it were still frozen when I ate it). My sister got a hot dog.
 

John Santos

Service Attendant
Joined
Jun 24, 2018
Messages
232
I don't know if it is still there, but I discovered a very nice cafe (the Black Dog Cafe) about 2 blocks east of SP station. My EB EB (East Bound Empire Builder) was about 4-5 hours late, so I spent the morning there, nice breakfast and then drinking about a gallon of coffee... Google maps says it's a 4 minute walk, 308 E Prince St. It is also open for lunch and dinner and has live music in the evenings, which is either great or horrible depending on whether you like that or hate it :) Very quiet and low key in the morning.
I don't know if they just felt sorry for me, but when I arrived at the station and discovered I was 4 hours early, I asked if there was anywhere I could leave my luggage and they just said "We'll take care of it", no charge. Lots of Amtrak stations charge $5 or $10, or don't do that at all. (I guess the only rule is there are no rules.)
 

Maglev

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
1,159
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
I don't know if it is still there, but I discovered a very nice cafe (the Black Dog Cafe) about 2 blocks east of SP station. My EB EB (East Bound Empire Builder) was about 4-5 hours late, so I spent the morning there, nice breakfast and then drinking about a gallon of coffee... Google maps says it's a 4 minute walk, 308 E Prince St. It is also open for lunch and dinner and has live music in the evenings, which is either great or horrible depending on whether you like that or hate it :) Very quiet and low key in the morning.
I don't know if they just felt sorry for me, but when I arrived at the station and discovered I was 4 hours early, I asked if there was anywhere I could leave my luggage and they just said "We'll take care of it", no charge. Lots of Amtrak stations charge $5 or $10, or don't do that at all. (I guess the only rule is there are no rules.)

One of the reasons we didn't walk to another restaurant is that I didn't want to pay $50 to store our five pieces of luggage. If I had known it was going to be free, we might have decided differently.

I had three meals on this trip at 13 Coins outside King Street Station. My night at the Embassy Suites I came downstairs and had a wonderful steak with crab topping. The next afternoon, my sister joined me for lunch and we both had spinach salads--the waitress strongly discouraged the entree salads, and the side-order salad was plenty big. Then when we got back to Seattle at the end of the trip, we had burgers that were very good.
 
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