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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Amtrak Lies

Don't ever believe those travel magazines that show Amtrak vacations are the way to go. They most definitely are NOT the way to go. The trip was a nightmare from the very beginning.
Tim and I had talked for a long time about taking a cross country train trip and since he had a business trip in San Diego, we decided to use that opportunity to take the long dreamed about train trip. With train reservations made, we planned our trip to coincide with Tim's business trip. Tim came out to San Diego a week ahead of me and the kids. The kids and I got our tickets to depart St. Louis on Thursday afternoon and arrive in San Diego on Saturday morning. I was really looking forward to it and to being able to see other parts of the country for the next couple of days. We reserved a roomette which included all of our meals. I got us to the St. Louis Amtrak station and the nightmare began right away.
Before I go any further, I have taken Amtrak previously with Jackie when she was 2 years old. We traveled to Dallas, TX and it was a very pleasant experience with Amtrak. Baggage check-in was available, the food was fantastic, the service was excellent, fellow passengers were very friendly. Most of the trip was overnight and it was made easier because we had a roomette. This made me look forward to another trip on Amtrak.
Okay, so we got to the Amtrak station on Thursday only to find that there was no baggage check-in for some reason. When I inquired at the ticket counter if there would be any help with baggage, I was told to just get in line to get ready to load onto the train. I went into a panic right away. I had 2 suitcases, 2 car seats, and a stroller that I had expected to check-in. Then the kids and I each had a small carry-on which together contained enough clothing for the next couple of days, some toys, the DVD player, my laptop, and other necessities. I could not believe that this man saw me with 2 small children and expected me to handle all of this baggage by myself. I was really counting on the baggage check-in. That was the first red-flag. If their baggage check-in equipment was not working, then Amtrak should have made accommodations for certain situations, one of which I was in. Thankfully, there were a couple of fellow passenger gentlemen who helped me take my luggage to the train. So, we got loaded and got on our way to Kansas City, MO for the Southwestern Chief where we had our roomette reserved for the next couple of days. This was supposed to be our only transfer before we arrived in Los Angeles. Little did I know of what was to come.
We arrived in Kansas City, MO on time and I was immediately greeted with a cart to help with all of our baggage. The kind lady, Linda, was so sweet to me and my children and she secured our belongings and took us up to the waiting area to wait until the Southwestern Chief arrived. It was during this time that Linda mentioned that we were going to be getting off of the train early the next morning in La Junta, CO to take a bus to Albuquerque, NM because a couple of rail bridges were washed out. What?! I could not believe what I was hearing. I was going to be responsible for transferring my baggage when we arrived in La Junta? On top of that, the train was running late that evening. I was ready to collapse from frustration and exhaustion while we waited in the terminal in Kansas City. I was at the point that I didn't care where the kids ran off to. Ben was climbing on the seats, climbing up the walls, rolling on the dirty floor, eating his dropped snacks off the floor, and I didn't care. I'm sure those sitting around me thought I was a bad mom and then I actually saw others laughing about Ben. At least, Ben was humoring them with his monkey antics.
The Chief finally arrived and we got onto the train sometime after 11:30 pm. I had to wait in the narrow hallway because our roomette was not ready and the attendant was just beginning to clean it and get it ready for us. The attendant got the bed laid out and as soon as she gave us the go ahead, I got the kids teeth brushed and laid them down. As soon as the train started rolling around midnight, the kids thankfully fell asleep. The attendant informed me that because we were going to be transferring to buses early in the morning, breakfast was to be served very early, too. She gave me a time of 6:30 am. So, at 6:30 am, I woke the kids and hustled them to the dining car where I was promptly told that the diner was full and that my name would go on a wait list. Fine. So, we went back to our sleeper car and waited for our name to be called. In the meantime, the attendant informed me that she could take my order and it would be delivered to our room. Really? Wow, why didn't she tell me that the night before when she informed me that breakfast would be at 6:30? I gave her our order which included french toast for me and for Jackie, a yogurt for Jackie, cereal for Ben, and juice for each of us. A few minutes after she took our order, I heard my name being called to proceed to the dining car for breakfast. Hmm, I figured I would take the kids over there and hopefully run into our attendant to let her know that I would rather feed my kids in the dining car. Upon arrival at the diner, I was greeted by a fiery red-head who rudely asked my name. I explained to her how our attendant took our order and that I could see that she was in the process of getting it together and that I would rather eat there in the diner. How difficult could it be to ask my attendant to just place our food at one of the tables? Instead, the fiery red-headed lady rudely asked me questions and other patrons started staring. I just told her to forget it and I immediately turned my kids back around and headed back to our room. A few minutes later, our breakfast arrived. I got Jackie settled with her french toast and yogurt and Ben with his cereal. I had also gotten an order of half grapefruit and as I was eating that, the attendant showed up and asked if I had received 2 orders of french toast. I told her that I received everything I ordered but she had this perplexed look on her face and I could tell that she must have messed up somewhere. Ugghh, I just handed her my order of french toast because she was obviously in distress that she messed up somebody else's order. I told her to please bring my juice that she had forgotten and that I would like some french toast. I never saw her again. Our trip wasn't even 1/3 of the way through and already I was hitting more snafus than I ever imagined.
With the short amount of time left before arriving in La Junta for the buses, Jackie met a little friend across the hall who was the same age as herself. Hannah and her mom, Kim, were heading back to California from New York. They had taken a round trip vacation on Amtrak and Kim said that the trip home was the worst Amtrak experience. Our kids enjoyed playing together until we arrived in La Junta where we had to load the buses.
Once we arrived in La Junta early Friday morning, Kim and I helped each other keep an eye on each other's luggage as we unloaded them from the train. Initially, we were able to get onto the same bus and get seats near each other. Everything seemed to work out okay until this old lady got on and started looking around and complaining that somebody took her seat. She looked at me and instead of defending myself, I just decided it wasn't worth fighting. So I grabbed the kids and got off of the bus. If we couldn't get on any of the other buses, I had pretty much decided that we were going to just head back home to St. Louis. I was beyond fed up at this point. Thankfully, one of the other bus drivers took pity on me and the kids and helped us move our luggage to his bus and get us a front seat. Thanks, Al! Once everyone was loaded onto the buses, we continued to wait and wait and some wondered aloud what the hold-up was. Finally, it became clear what was holding us up from departing for Albuquerque. Amtrak was kind of enough to order lunches from Subway and as soon as the boxed Subway lunches arrived and were passed out, we got on the road for the 6-hour ride to our next destination. Thankfully, I was seated near some very kind people who helped to entertain and watch out for my kids. Less than an hour down the road, Ben finally fell asleep and napped for 2 hours. Soon after he fell asleep, all of the buses started pulling over out in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, a lady on one of the buses was in distress and needed her medication which was packed in her luggage. (Common sense should tell you never to pack your medication in your luggage whenever you won't have immediate access to said luggage). Somebody tried to find her luggage but apparently it was buried on one of the other buses and could not be immediately located. There was a nurse on another bus who tended to the sick lady while several people tried to call 911. There was no cell phone reception so all the buses got back on the road to drive further down until reception was detected. Finally, 911 was contacted and the sick lady's bus was instructed to pull over and an ambulance was sent out. I found out later that the ambulance transported the lady to the local prison's medical facility. I really hope everything turned out okay for her, though. A couple of hours later, the buses pulled over at a rest stop somewhere in New Mexico. It was a nice time to stretch out and for the kids to burn off some energy for a little bit. We finally arrived in Albuquerque where we had to quickly grab our belongings off the buses and head toward the train. Initially, I had no help with our belongings and there were no carts or even Red Caps available to help me. Another friendly passenger finally saw me struggling and helped me out. We finally got onto the train and caught up with Kim and Hannah. We made dinner reservations together and enjoyed a nice meal. After dinner, we took the kids to the observation car for a bit before we took them back to our rooms where the kids enjoyed watching a DVD for awhile before falling asleep. It sounds crazy but I thought the bus ride was the best part of the day. The kids and I had a front row seat where we had a nice panoramic view of the scenery outside.
The kids slept surprisingly well that night. The attendant informed me the night before that the diner car would open for breakfast at 5:30 and close before 7:00. He was kind enough to take my breakfast order that evening to bring to my room at 6:00. It was around that time the kids started to wake up. The train arrived in Los Angeles around 7:30 (Pacific time) where we had to transfer to another train. This was originally supposed to be our last transfer but once again, we were forced to take another charter bus in Irvine because Amtrak decided to do rail work somewhere between Irvine and San Diego. Thankfully, I had a redcap help me unload in Los Angeles and then help me load onto the train to Irvine. Once in Irvine, I had no help whatsoever but the kids were so good and stayed in one spot where I could watch them while I unloaded everything from the train and then loaded onto the bus. The bus ride ended up being 2 hours instead of the promised 1 hour. I was really starting to lose it because I was exhausted from lack of sleep, from all the transfers, from dealing with the kids, everything. I was fed up! I'm pretty certain that those around me on the bus thought that I was short a fuse but I just did not care at this point. When we finally arrived in San Diego, once again, I had no help unloading my belongings off the bus. I finally just took the car seats and put them with the trash can in front of the bus loading/unloading area. I just could not take anymore and decided that I would take my chances without car seats even with the very strict California laws. The law enforcement officer that witnessed all this finally took pity on me and helped me by bringing the car seats inside the terminal where I waited for Tim. By this time, I was in such a state of exhaustion that I actually started to hyperventilate. Tim finally showed up and got us situated in the rental car and took us to Aunt Glen's house in Coronado.
After I emerged from a 3 hour coma, Glen had a nice meal prepared after which Tim and I took the kids for a walk to one of the beaches. It was a beautiful evening and it was neat to see all the lights around the bay. There was a really long (and high) bridge that looked so pretty lit up at night. I remarked about it to Tim and he said "yeah, I was surprised you didn't freak out about it when we drove over it earlier today." Gee, I must have been really out of it if I didn't remember going over it already. I usually direct Tim to keep his eyes on the road as we go over such bridges.
So after this ordeal, we will never, ever do an Amtrak vacation again. Do not believe the travel magazines that tout Amtrak vacations. They lie.

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