Real story on observation car...

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Joe1123

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Looking to do either SWC or CZ and get a roomette.

I've read some reviews and it seems observatory cars are always packed. I really don't want to sit in my room the entire time (minus dinner), so any advise on getting a seat or is it really not bad?

Tia
 

pennyk

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It may depend on the time of year. My first trip on the CZ was in August and the sightseer lounge was packed, but I managed to get a seat (at a table with others). My second trip was eastbound in early December the next year and I recall only two of us sitting in the sightseer lounge going through the Moffat Tunnel. I plan to travel westbound in early December this year and I am hoping it will not be crowded.
 

RSG

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Feb 13, 2012
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It really does depend on the time of year, as well as certain hiccups, like some group travel.

It also depends on awareness of train etiquette; some groups are notorious for believing that the train is essentially chartered by their group sponsor and therefore they have primacy over everything. In these instances, I've heard on-board staff not only encourage passengers to set self-imposed time limits in the observation car, but also mention the 'rules' for same, like not saving seats and setting a one-hour per session time limit.

Sometimes these are effective and sometimes the problem is self-solving (as when obnoxious passengers detrain at major stops). Other times I've seen them persist until the train reaches its terminus (eg, Chicago or Emeryville/Los Angeles).

Sometimes the crew will be proactive if they see a potential problem by mentioning the 'rules' for the observation car (and dining car, as well). But too often they only respond after problems develop and it's hard to curb particular behavior once it becomes established.

In general, if I wanted to plan a pleasant observation car experience, I would avoid holiday travel and known vacation periods, such as spring break and fall foliage season, and--unfortunately--most of summer.
 

Barb Stout

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If you're by yourself, you probably won't have a problem finding a single, even traveling in summer. However, you may have to say "Excuse me, excuse me," when needing to sit by either large people or man-spreaders. I have no problem engaging in that kind of assertiveness.
 

anumberone

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If you're by yourself, you probably won't have a problem finding a single, even traveling in summer. However, you may have to say "Excuse me, excuse me," when needing to sit by either large people or man-spreaders. I have no problem engaging in that kind of assertiveness.
I think it may be excuse me...EXCUSE ME, but hey, whatever works.
 

ehbowen

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Mar 22, 2011
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My experience WB on CZ, being seated in the SSL before one arrives in Denver is a good idea.
True! And eat breakfast before Denver if you want a good seat in the Lounge!
Good advice from both members, but when you're deciding exactly which seat to choose keep in mind that, in my estimation, the best scenery between Denver and Grand Junction is 80% on the south side of the train. Between Reno and Sacramento, I'd estimate it's 60% on the north side of the train. On the Southwest Chief, however, at least to the best of my recollection it's about a 50/50 split.
 

Dakota 400

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Good advice from both members, but when you're deciding exactly which seat to choose keep in mind that, in my estimation, the best scenery between Denver and Grand Junction is 80% on the south side of the train. Between Reno and Sacramento, I'd estimate it's 60% on the north side of the train. On the Southwest Chief, however, at least to the best of my recollection it's about a 50/50 split.
I recall the same. My favorite seat in the SSL is a chair in the rear of the car that "sort of" faces forward. I can easily see out of windows on both sides of the SSL, see forward as well, and am not sharing a seating space with someone else.
 

Sauve850

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Jan 9, 2014
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If I'm going west on the CZ from Chicago I have a bedroom and dont rush to get up early, have a quick breakfast to try and score a seat in SSL at Denver. Ive done this route a few times and I find as reported before that as a single I can usually find a seat. If no seat then I'm comfortable in my bedroom and will try later. Usually seats are available. If crowded I don't stay too long in my seat so I give others a chance and I come back later. Its a long ride over the mountains and all the way to California. I don't favor one side over the other as there are great views from both sides the whole trip. If you decide on this train its a good one.
 

neroden

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Another subtle point: people crowd the lounge for the "most touristic" segments of the route. If you head for the lounge in one of the periods where the scenery isn't Officially Famous, it probably won't be full.
 

BoulderCO

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Jan 26, 2015
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As stated by others, if you are alone you will probably have lots of time in the observation car and see lots of things. I've never had an issue getting a single seat if I watch and wait for 10 minutes or so for one to be vacated.
If you are traveling with a partner, just decide ahead of time that sitting next to each other all the time isn't a requirement.
 
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