Monday, August 17, 2009

Planning a Family Train Trip

I’m preparing for the last family trip of summer. It will be a short trip, but I am really looking forward to it. Last Christmas my wife gave me a train trip as a Christmas gift. My wife knows that I love to travel by train, so she told me I could plan a family train trip for sometime in 2009.

Here is the trip I planned: We leave on Wednesday afternoon from Seattle on the Amtrak Empire Builder route (Seattle to Chicago). The next morning we wake up in Montana and get off the train in East Glacier Park. We spend two nights at the historic Glacier National Park Lodge. Then return home by train, leaving East Glacier Park on Saturday afternoon and getting back to Seattle Sunday morning.

On the train, our family of 4 will be sharing what Amtrak calls a family bedroom. It has two large bunks for adults and two small bunks for the kids.

The goal in planning the trip was to make it long enough so that it was a true adventure, but keep it short enough so that we didn't all go stir crazy on the train. Before my wife and I had kids we took the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle; that's a 36 hour train trip, a little bit much for my kids first real train trip. Traveling out of Seattle you only have 2 major train train routes: The Coast Starlight and the Empire builder. The scenery on the Coast Starlight is amazing South of Portland Oregon, but much of Washington doesn't ofter much in see. However the scenery on the Empire Builder is incredible from the moment you leave the station.

On the Empire builder you leave Seattle, cross the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, then head up to Everett Washington along the waterfront. In Everett the train turns East and heads into the Cascade mountains. Through most of Eastern Washington an Idaho it is night. Morning comes just as you are about to head into the Rocky mountains skirting the Southern border of Glacier National Park. Arriving at East Glacier Park late in the morning and right in front of the Glacier National Park Lodge!

We'll bring plenty of snacks and probably a laptop with us for the girls to watch movies on the train if they want. However there will be no wifi, and probably no cell service though much of Glacier National Park. Although there are numerous shuttles and buses to get you around the park, we chose to rent a car in East Glacier to give us a little more freedom to get around and be able to stay on track with my youngest daughters nap times.

I have described our planned vacation to anyone who would listen, and everyone has given me the same response, "Sounds like so much fun, but I am going to be very curious to hear how it goes". This could be an incredible adventure, or trapped in a train with two stir crazy little girls who can't sleep on a train.

Several years ago, before my youngest daughter was born, my wife, older daughter, and I did a short train trip from Seattle to Portland (a little over 3 hours). We stayed the night in Portland and returned the next day. The thing that made that train trip so great was that my daughter and I could get up and walk around and explore the train, we look out the windows at the scenery going by, or go get a snack whenever we wanted. And the seats on the train were plenty big enough for us to stretch out for a nap. When you are travelling by car or plane you stuck in your seat, you eat only when you are served or when you stop. When you travel by pane you have to deal with the craziness of getting though security and having to show up 2 hours early (20 minutes is fine for the train). The downside to train travel in the USA is that it is often more expensive than flying or driving and takes longer to get to your destination than flying (and often takes longer than driving). However when you travel by train, the trip is part of the joy of the vacation!

Sometime next week I hope to have a report on how the trip when.

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