We arrived into Chicago early last night, which was nice - everybody made their connections, and I would have made 354 with enough time to grab dinner. Though I wasn’t riding 354 - I had planned to stay overnight due to this not being guaranteed and the opportunity to ride new Venture cars on 350 (or so I thought). Was a really quick walk from the Union Station Adams St entrance to my hotel (the JW Marriott), and that entrance happened to be right by McDonalds and Dunkin’ (something I noted for tomorrow, as I would need to grab a quick breakfast before boarding unless I wanted to wait for the cafe car).
After checking in, walked down to Giordano’s for dinner, which was just a couple blocks. Walking there, I passed the Quincy station on the L - not only was I close to Union Station, I was close to the L as well. Though I wouldn’t be riding it - I had an early night and just wanted to relax. Got some cheese bread and a personal-size deep dish pizza - I’ve been having some stomach issues so haven’t had any in quite a while (and starting slow). Dinner was good - a nice change from the train menu (which was the same every night, unlike the Canadian which rotated).
Went back to the hotel and checked out the pool and hot tub, a rarity in downtown Chicago and part of why I changed hotels. I had been at the Hilton Garden Inn Central Loop, which had opened recently and was an even shorter walk to Union Station, but didn’t have a pool. Just getting off a long train with an early departure tomorrow, I felt like relaxing rather than exploring Chicago - and the last-minute deal I found was not that much more (actually about the same, though I had used Hilton points for part of the previous booking). That was pretty nice, and I stayed until it got a bit too crowded/noisy. Decided to try out the large bathtub in my room, and then went to bed early to be up for 350.
Woke up at 5:25am, which is when I sent my alarm for - the goal being to be at the station at 6am. Ended up missing that goal slightly - getting ready took me a little bit longer than planned, and there was a slight delay at the front desk as someone had a complex issue (though I was able to drop off my keys and leave when I asked). Made it to the station around 6:10, and headed for McDonalds - Dunkin’ was not yet open (which seems silly given it was after 6am in a busy train station). There was no line, and I got my breakfast quickly (and just in time, as a line formed right afterwards). Then I made my way towards the Amtrak boarding lounges, and asked where the Wolverine boarded - was directed to Gate C. Then, a small line had started to form -wondered if it was just business class, but got in anyway. It soon became a big line as they made the boarding announcement, so that was good thinking - I had timed it just right. They did start boarding with business class (during which I thought about how it would stink to pay more money to sit in an older car - or so I thought), and then eventually got to coach.
Once we made our way to the track, I was greeted with a surprise - Horizon cars. Not just BC and cars for boarding at the end of the consist, but every car was a Horizon car. Ugh - had I known I’d have chanced 354, particularly when they started allowing multi-city booking with the Empire Builder. Disappointed, I boarded at the car I was directed to for Ann Arbor (I had been worried they would direct me to a Horizon car in a mostly-Venture consist and I’d have to plead to ride the new cars, but didn’t think they would withdraw Venture cars entirely). It was at least a refurbished Horizon car (which looked in better shape than the Superliners I had been on), and I was able to nab a prime window seat with no one next to me. Probably would have been worse crowds on 354, though I would have likely tried to get business class there.
Once on board, I ate my breakfast, and we soon began our journey out of Chicago Union Station. Passed a lot of Norfolk Southern freight (the bane of many an Amtrak train into or out of Chicago’s existence), stopped at Hammond-Whiting, and then paralleled the South Shore Line (to which I hope this train is moved in the near future). Got through that stretch without an issue, and then switched to the Amtrak Michigan Line and sped up. Passed the now-shuttered Michigan City station (which still has an Amtrak sign), and then entered Michigan (and Eastern Time) and stopped in New Buffalo. Aside from Chicago, that is the main stop I get off at west of Ann Arbor, as it is the only stop on the Wolverine in Michigan adjacent to Lake Michigan (and I like visiting Lake Michigan). The cafe car made its opening announcement (having finished my breakfast I may get a coffee), and we quickly reached the stop at Niles after that - hoping the rest of this trip is uneventful.
(As a side note, it would be nice to have more options to get to Lake Michigan without a car - obviously St. Joseph’s station is lake-adjacent too, but it would require a day-long backtrack to Chicago to connect. Holland is close, but Has the same backtrack issue and there is no easy transit option (or even readily available Uber/Lyft) connecting the beach and downtown - there may be dial-a-ride, but it is limited to weekday daytimes and still says it’s for essential trips only. Maybe if the Wolverine re-routes to the South Shore Line we’ll get Indiana Dunes as another option, and maybe if the Pere Marquette re-routes using the Michigan Line to New Buffalo we’ll get better connections in the future. Ideally, we‘d also have a Holland-Grand Rapids/Lansing/Ann Arbor/Detroit train and there would be some kind of shuttle connecting downtown Holland and the beach, though that’s perhaps farther off)