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Old Aug 22, 10, 7:04 am   #1
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Cascades v Coast Starlight

I'm looking at doing the PDX-SEA route at some point next month. I've read a number of reviews of the Coast Starlight here and I see the general opinion to save my money on Biz class and that it is one of - if not THE - the most scenic routes Amtrak offers.

Is it reasonable to assume that I'm getting the same views and mostly the same experience if I take one of the several Cascades trains that run every day versus the once daily Coast Starlight? I'm trying to squeeze the train in between a pair of transcons and the timing of the Cascades trains might be a bit better but I'm willing to be a bit rushed if the Coast Starlight is better.

Also, opinions on taking it northbound versus southbound are appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old Aug 22, 10, 9:09 am   #2
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sbm,

You are most certainly getting the same views with either train as they follow exactly the same routing. About the only advantage that the Coast Starlight has on the view is the fact that it offers a Sightseer Lounge car giving you bigger windows to see things.

If you do decide to opt for the CS, definately do it southbound. While things have improved considerably from a few years ago, it is still possible for the northbound to run late, which could kill your window of opportunity to even ride.

I'm also not sure that I'd call it one of the most scenic rides Amtrak has, but it is a very good one. But the Coast Starlight offers much better views further south in the mountains of Oregon and on the coast down in California.

As for business class, I don't know that I'd run away from considering that. You would get a single seat to yourself, you do get a $3 voucher to use in the cafe, and perhaps most important you have a much shorter check in line and you'll board first ahead of the coach passengers. IMHO not standing in a line of 20 people to get my seat assignment is well worth the few extra bucks for business.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 9:25 am   #3
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Thanks for all the tips. Does Amtrak not offer the kiosk check-in out on the west coast? That could be rather annoying and worth the $14 up-charge.

Timing wise I'm pretty much stuck with only getting to do the SEA-PDX run. The 22 hours to get all the way to SFO is too much for me at this point. I'll just have to deal with whatever views I get on that chunk of rail.

Thanks for the comments on northbound versus southbound. Looks like I'll probably end up on a Cascades train anyways based on the timings that are available and just go from there. But any significant delay is going to be a bad thing as I'm going to have a flight booked at the other end.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 10:23 am   #4
 
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Took CS from SEA-PDX last month; taking Cascades same city pair next month.

Agree with avoiding the Northbound Starlight, but found that the SB train worked well - lowest bucket roomette add-on was $50 - or $25 each since there were two of us traveling. Well worth the upgrade over Cascades business class, considering that we got sparkling wine, a choice of two lunch options (we did the traditional dining car), private room (which we really didn't use) and access to the Pacific Parlour Car.

Either are good choices, so I'd go with what works best time-wise.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 11:19 am   #5
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Originally Posted by sbm12 View Post
Thanks for all the tips. Does Amtrak not offer the kiosk check-in out on the west coast? That could be rather annoying and worth the $14 up-charge.
You can pick up your tickets from a Quik-Trak machine out there, just like you could back here.

However, the Cascades service is different from the rest of Amtrak in that prior to boarding the train there is a separate check-in that is required. At that check-in you will have your ticket taken from you, leaving you with only your stub and you will be assigned a specific car & seat by the conductor (BC pax also get their cafe voucher at this point). And that line can grow quite long for coach if the train is full.

Since the Cascades is sponsored by the States of Washington & Oregon, they set the rules and this is the procedure that they have settled on.

By the way the Cascades service has a pretty good on time record. Yes, occasionally things do go wrong, sometimes even badly wrong, but in general you should be ok as long as you've given yourself at least 2 or 3 hours of flexibility between arrival and the need to check-in at the airport.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 3:49 pm   #6
 
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I'm also not sure that I'd call it one of the most scenic rides Amtrak has, but it is a very good one.
One lasting memory that I have from taking this route a few years ago (mid-day, mid-week) was very, very heavy freight traffic sharing the line. Other than one lengthy unscheduled stop just outside Portland for an open suspension bridge, our Cascades train ran smoothly and on-time --- which I was amazed at given what seemed to be extraordinarily heavy usage of the line. For someone used to the N.E. Corridor (where freight traffic is typically segregated from passenger routes), it was quite a change.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 5:17 pm   #7
 
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The advice to not count on the NB Starlight is sound. As pointed out, it's not nearly as bad as in the past, but there's a good reason it has been nicknamed the "Starlate".

I personally find the Cascades trains more comfortable, as well, but wouldn't consider not riding in Business Class. My experience -- luck of the draw, of course -- is that if I'm in regular coach, there has always (no exaggeration) been a crowd of students, either high school or college, who either never learned or had forgotten the concept of an "indoor voice." At least the CS has one attendant per car to help keep order; on the Cascades, it's more like a British train, where there is one attendant and he or she completely disappears after collecting tickets.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 6:47 pm   #8
 
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I have taken the Coast Starlight southbound from Seattle to Portland and then back on the Cascade(s), and I'd do it again. The Sightseer Lounge on the Coast Starlight was terrific.

I've found that the ride quality higher up off the tracks is relatively better, and so the upper level of a Superliner car on the Coast Starlight, in my view, is a smoother ride than on the Cascade(s)- a low-level Talgo.
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Old Aug 23, 10, 12:13 pm   #9
 
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Regardless of which direction you travel, be sure to get a seat on the west side of the train (left going north, right going south). This gives you much better views of the Puget Sound and to a lesser extent the Columbia River. The mountain views on the east side of the train are fleeting, and depending on atmospheric conditions you may not see them at all.

That said, look for Mount Rainier as you approach the Olympia station northbound (or just after you leave, going south). There are other places you can see it but this is one of the best in terms of unobstructed views.

Also, look east as you cross the Columbia River for a good-ish view of Mount Hood.

One word about Biz Class...as others have noted it saves you from standing in what can be a very long line...be sure to "check in" at the counter, not at the gate...there is a dedicated biz class line at the counter in both Seattle and Portland.

A word about the food offerings in the Cascades Bistro car. In a word: forgettable. Don't order anything hot unless you like unevenly heated microwaved food. The cold sandwiches are certainly tolerable...on par with what you'd find in the cold case at a gas station. But avoid the hot entrees.
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