‘Training’ Myself for Rail Travel: Part Two 

This is the second in a two-part series on train travel Out West. It was written by a Travel Institute family member and focuses on dining on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Meals on the Coast Starlight are included for those choosing sleeping accommodations and can be purchased by others on a waitlist basis as the dining car has space. The observation lounge offers food, snacks, and beverages for sale. Some people do picnic and bring food along with them if they are in the seats.

SALES NOTE: When thinking about train food in the dining car, DO NOT think airline food. Portion controlled, yes; set menu for the entire trip, yes; but quality/taste controlled, no. Might the selection be more limited on longer voyages if the train’s pantry isn’t restocked, yes, but for the most part, all selections were available the duration of the trip.

Dining is communal, and, if you are traveling in parties of fewer-than-three, you get to make new friends (at least for the meal) because the company likes to have tables filled with three or four. For example, a lunch spent zipping across the agricultural fields of California was with a retired couple from Texas who were taking the scenic route to Monterey and Big Sur for golfing and shopping. Another meal, climbing through the Cascade Range, was spent with two single guys, another 50-something from San Luis Obispo who was going to check on his rental properties up north, and a 20-something, social-concerns activist (and train buff) from Denver. Train travel has a way of letting some people tell you their life stories. If you are lucky (like I was), you get to sit with talkers … and they will do all the entertaining, and I could slip back to my room as soon as the dessert was cleared and the waitress was tipped. (Yes, tipping is a good thing, even though the food is included in the fare. Standard land-rates apply.)

The meals were tasty and plentiful. I overheard many people commenting on how good the steaks were, for example – a real surprise, especially envisioning the tiny kitchen on the first level that was producing the entrees. For all meals, there were at least four entrees to choose from as well as a number of sides to personalize the plate. If you aren’t needing a full meal, snacks and easy meals can be purchased in the lower level of the observation car.

You might be wondering who was attracted to this departure. In my car alone were international visitors, non-flyers, a multi-generational family, train buffs, and other single travelers. A blind gentleman (and obviously a frequent passenger) was on the train, along with plenty of students and photographers taking it all in. I think you will find there isn’t any one type of individual, but there will be some who will surprise you when discussing travel options.

SALES NOTE: The key to selling extended train travel should be Manage Expectations. If your customers are buying train travel in hopes of experiencing travel in the style of the movies on Turner Classic Movies, they will be very disappointed. If you prepare them realistically, then they will be much happier with the total experience. This applies to all aspects of the train experience INCLUDING possible delays. Planning too many activities close to an arrival/departure may result in disappointments and bad impressions about the activity.

Extended train travel probably needs to be experienced to sell and communicate it effectively. I remember — after I had been to Disney World for the first time — how I sold that vacation was completely different once I saw and understood what the traveler would experience. The same would go for train travel because it is an experience, and it could be an awfully long, drawn-out one if the customer isn’t properly prepared.

We hope this light-hearted story, along with specific information, was informative to you.

For further learning, enroll in The Travel Institute’s North America destination course.