Grand Canyon Vacation insights and Scope of Membership/Forums

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Shirl B

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Hi, am admittedly newbie just discovering this forum. I live in the SF Bay area.

My son and I have taken Amtrak trips to Seattle and also cross country in past: we had great experiences both times, but that was before COVID.... and I was thinking of booking *more* vacations by rail tours in future in the hope that COVID will not always be with us. They are definitely pricey, but we liked not having to drive long distances in unfamiliar places, and also being able to "see the scenery" - which is the whole point of a train vacation for us.

We currently have a booked and paid for Amtrak Vacations by Rail RT to the Grand Canyon (with overnight in LA) coming up end of May, and I am beginning to be a bit nervous given that I am reading horror stories on some other travel sites and beginning to have some difficulty getting in touch with Amtrak Vacations personnel. I've been searching posts on the forums related to Grand Canyon already.

So my questions are: 1) would this be a good forum for someone like me to join in general (for learning how to figure out more rail-based travel planned in future) and (2) would it be OK to ask for info anyone else has about the Grand Canyon round trip experience?
 

pennyk

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Welcome to Amtrak Unlimited. Most of the members here generally plan their own trips, but I imagine a good number of members have used the Amtrak Vacations travel agency. From what I understand, Amtrak Vacations is not affiliated with Amtrak, but operates as a travel agency. I have had only one experience with Amtrak Vacations and it was not very positive. A friend meant to give me an Amtrak gift certificate, but mistakenly gave me an Amtrak Vacations gift certificate. I used it for rail travel, but I found that communicating with their agents very stressful. I certainly knew more about the Amtrak reservation process than the agents with whom I spoke.

America by Rail was an option until they went out of business last year due to COVID. I had booked a tour with them for May 2020. Although they canceled the tour, they were not providing refunds (whereas Amtrak was). I eventually received a refund by filing a claim with my credit card company. To say the least, I have a bad taste in my mouth regarding tour operators.

There have been threads from time to time in the Amtrak Rail Discussion forum about trips to the Grand Canyon. Hopefully some who have traveled to the Grand Canyon will see this thread and respond.

Here is a link to a recent thread regarding the Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon from Flagstaff?
 

me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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Have any questions about going to the Grand Canyon? Ask away! You generally will get some very "deep" answers. :)

My one experience with Amtrak Vacations was in '92 and it was very pleasant. The only bad thing was that my wife's father dies while we were on our trip (to NOL) and changes were impossible at that late time.

Planning on Amtrak by yourself has some very distinct advantages:
You can select dates where prices are much lower than others.
Changing is much easier and more flexible. With most tours, if you worry about having to cancel or change your reservations, you need insurance or you risk losing everything. By doing the planning yourself, Amtrak has some of the best cancellation policies and even hotels can be cancelled at no loss on fairly short notice. Local tour operators at your destination site often allow you to make changes in dates and are far more flexible than the whole-trip tour operator. You also don't lose any money on meals and local transportation if you don't use them because you cancelled or changed your mind.
You can select multiple roomettes, a bedroom or mixed coach and/or rooms to provide the best experience at the best price.
You can select your hotels, your tours, etc for price, convenience and interest.
You have lots of aids such as Tripadvisor local forums for asking locals questions to their ratings of restaurants and hotels.

The downside of DIY:
More work to do the train planning - but that's what your fellow AUers are here for.
You have to think about how to get around at your destination. Much easier now with Uber and Lyft as well as the internet.
It's harder dealing with unknown local tours from far away and may have to make multiple contacts and write down the specifics of how you get from where you are to where you have to be especially when you're running late.
Tours many times take you to extra places along the way on the bus that almost always is involved on train trips - places that would be inconvenient unless you had a car yourself. So you have to check out the interesting places on your route to see if it is worth renting a car.

I'd suggest you find an Amtrak Vacations tour and figure out what it would cost, what you see and how to do your own planning. I think you'll like what you find out about DIY.

For example, to do your trip to the Grand Canyon, you'd arrive in Flagstaff then have to get to Williams, stay in a hotel then catch the G.C. Rwy the next morning, make reservations at the Canyon for overnight, then back to Williams by G.C Rwy then get back to Flagstaff when you catch your return train. And what if it is very late?
 
S

Shirl

Guest
Thanks everyone! Unfortunately since I already paid a lot of money (More than half the cost of the expensive vacation) to Amtrak Vacations and they won’t give Any refunds except “credit vouchers” I guess I am stuck. I had been under the impression that I could get a refund of the money but it looks like not. I’ll call the hotels and connecting agencies that they say they set up to make sure I even have reservations and see what my options are if the trains are late. I think the last time we took the train I probably did book everything myself including through Amtrak. Fingers crossed I can confirm all the details On my own and have contingency plans. After this I will know to be my own travel agent for rail travel! I’ll also join and support this group so I can become more savvy.
 

caravanman

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While I can see that a company might not offer refunds because a customer has "changed their minds", I believe you should be entitled to a refund if the trip/service that you paid for is not provided? Consumer law is different here in the UK, but I think one can claim against the credit card company in case of default, assuming that one paid by credit card.
Hopefully you will still have a good vacation either way!
 

VAtrainfan

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Jan 26, 2017
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Portsmouth, VA
I've never had a good experience with a travel agency, so I am in full support of the DIY approach. It's a lot more work but for me half the fun is planning the trip 🤓 "Trip-planning mode" puts me in such a good mood 😁

The #1 piece of advice I have for trip planners is to leave some down time. Don't overstuff your vacation.
 
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