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Old Oct 18, 07, 12:27 am   #1
 
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Meals on Amtrak

I'm looking at an Amtrak trip from Oakland to Salt Lake City on the California Zephyr this winter.

A 'roomette' comes with 'free meals', according to the Amtrak website. Are these worth it...? Or are Amtrak meals so bad that you want to bring your own food...? :-) How do the free meals work? Do they give you a coupon for the dining car or something?
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Old Oct 18, 07, 6:59 am   #2
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A 'roomette' comes with 'free meals', according to the Amtrak website. Are these worth it...? Or are Amtrak meals so bad that you want to bring your own food...? :-) How do the free meals work? Do they give you a coupon for the dining car or something?
Well everyone's definition of "worth it" is different, so it's hard to say what you might think. I typically tell people to expect something on the order of Dennies. The food is filling, typically better than what is served in the cafe car, and some meals are actually quite tasty.

If you decide to bring your own food, know that you will have no way to cook anything, nor will you have a way to keep it cold. So you would have to bring things that will keep without refrigeration and that you can basically eat right out of the box.

As for how the free meals work, the crew will ask you to sign your guest check and to put down your car number and room number. Do not fill out your order though, they will do that for you. If they aren't sure if you came from the sleeper, then they might also ask to see your ticket stub just to prove that you are indeed in a sleeper.

Note that tip and alcoholic beverages are not included. Also all meals must be in the dining car, if you go to the cafe car you will be required to pay for anything you buy there.
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Old Oct 18, 07, 8:24 am   #3
 
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Food

I've been in the Sleepers several times.

I would rate the food much better then Dennies. It is not a five class restaurant but I would rate it better then average much better todays Airline meals. But, like Alan said, expect average food and you will find it better. Everyone is different.

They have a very limited choice and for the wine ( one white, one red ). The Beer in IMO is excellent Samuel Adams, but that is my taste.

The only bug I find, it is you have to sit with other people on the train on your table if your are not 4 in your group.

I don't mind it but I know some people do. I don't if there is a trick to avoid that?

Intravino

Last edited by intravino; Oct 18, 07 at 8:35 am..
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Old Oct 18, 07, 10:26 am   #4
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Originally Posted by intravino View Post
The only bug I find, it is you have to sit with other people on the train on your table if your are not 4 in your group.

I don't mind it but I know some people do. I don't if there is a trick to avoid that?
I don't think there's a trick to avoid that, but why avoid it? That's part of the fun of train travel: getting to meet other peope. There's a camaraderie with other passengers that you feel when you're on a train. (Especially when you're stuck all alone in a roomette, getting out and meeting people in the dining car is what makes the trip fun!)

Depending on the dish, food in the dining can be decent to very good. Don't worry about bringing your own stuff.
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Old Oct 18, 07, 10:31 am   #5
 
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Well everyone's definition of "worth it" is different, so it's hard to say what you might think. I typically tell people to expect something on the order of Dennies. The food is filling, typically better than what is served in the cafe car, and some meals are actually quite tasty.
That's a good comparison, except the actual selection for any given meal will be a fraction of what is offered at Dennys. On the other hand, unlike Dennys your view will be something better than the local freeway interchange.
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Old Oct 18, 07, 3:45 pm   #6
 
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would rate the food much better then Dennies. It is not a five class restaurant but I would rate it better then average much better todays Airline meals.

I have not been to Denny’s recently, but I’d bet one of their Grand Slam breakfasts are much better than an Amtrak breakfast. It would not be difficult for the burger at lunch to be better also. Nevertheless, ATK food is better than airline food (what is left of it) and is generally filling and edible. Dinner on Amtrak is the best meal, perhaps better than Denny’s, but certainly less than a TGIF type place. Service varies greatly.

BUT, and this is a big but… the uniqueness of being able to eat on the move and sit with other passengers and have a chat is part of the fun of train travel. Overall the diner is a pleasant experience 95% of the time.
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Old Oct 18, 07, 4:25 pm   #7
 
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I have not been to Denny’s recently, but I’d bet one of their Grand Slam breakfasts are much better than an Amtrak breakfast. It would not be difficult for the burger at lunch to be better also. Nevertheless, ATK food is better than airline food (what is left of it) and is generally filling and edible. Dinner on Amtrak is the best meal, perhaps better than Denny’s, but certainly less than a TGIF type place. Service varies greatly.

BUT, and this is a big but… the uniqueness of being able to eat on the move and sit with other passengers and have a chat is part of the fun of train travel. Overall the diner is a pleasant experience 95% of the time.
Great post. Brings back memories.....

On a multi day Amtrak trip way back in 1975, I was having lunch at the counter in the dining car, when the passenger sitting next to me called the counterman over and said "Excuse me, but there's a hair in my hamburger." The counterman reached over, took hold of the hair, held it between thumb and forefinger with both hands, moving his hands slowly apart 'til the hair was shown to be long and straight, about 6 inches long, and then said "Sir, there ain't a man working on this train with a hair like this." (The crew was entirely African-American). He then put the hair in the trash and went back to his duties. The customer next to me didn't know what to say! I turned to him and said "Case closed." We looked at each other, both shrugged, and went back to eating our lunch!
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Old Oct 19, 07, 12:33 pm   #8
 
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Bringing Your Own

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Originally Posted by dordal View Post
Or are Amtrak meals so bad that you want to bring your own food...? :-)
Agree with the others about the unique experience of the dining car. In my mind, the only reason to bring your own food would be to provide something fairly unique that you couldn't get on train.

For example, you might bring a bottle or two of vintage red, cheese, and crackers for an informal happy hour.

One thing to remember is that you are not permitted to bring your own food into the dining, cafe, or observation cars. You would need to enjoy it in your roomette or a coach seat. (At this, least was my experience on the Coast Starlight).

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Old Oct 19, 07, 12:59 pm   #9
 
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One thing to remember is that you are not permitted to bring your own food into the dining, cafe, or observation cars. You would need to enjoy it in your roomette or a coach seat.
I agree - up to a certain point. You possibly could get away with eating something you bring at your seat, but the only place you can consume alcoholic beverages that you bring is in your private sleeping compartment. (Not in the dining car, lounge car or your coach seat.)
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Old Oct 19, 07, 1:04 pm   #10
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I agree - up to a certain point. You possible could get away with eating something you bring at your seat, but the only place you can consume alcoholic beverages that you bring is in your private sleeping compartment. (Not in the dining car, lounge car or your coach seat.)
Right--not even for a corkage fee. With Amtrak's very limited wine selection, they might do well to do something like this in the dining car. But then again, who wants to waste a nice bottle of Silver Oak 2002 Napa Cabernet on a convection oven-reheated burger or pasta?

(To the OP--the convection oven can actually do a decent job, so don't get scared away...)
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Old Oct 19, 07, 4:42 pm   #11
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You possibly could get away with eating something you bring at your seat,
There is no need to "get away" with eating at your seat. You are allowed to bring food and eat it at your seat.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 5:35 pm   #12
 
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Amtrak Meals

I always tell people that with the meals served on Amtrak, I wouldn't start a restaurant with it, but its not bad. If you are paying for the roomette, you are in essence paying for the meals so go for it! Bob Evans scramble is good for breakfast, The Angus Burger is good for lunch and the Country Fried Chicken or Roasted Chicken is a good selection for dinner. Your not going to rave about the food to anyone, its is average but I have had worse at restaurants and cafe's. Also, is it gonna kill you to sit with someone for 45 minutes, eat food, drink coffee, glance at the scenery and converse? To me, this is the best part of the train experience. You can meet alot of people then when you want some quiet time, retreat back to your roomette. Also, a roomette is SO small, I wouldn't want to be trying to lug food items, coolers, etc to the roomette. You will figure that out the second you see the roomette.
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Old Oct 19, 07, 8:13 pm   #13
 
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Also, is it gonna kill you to sit with someone for 45 minutes, eat food, drink coffee, glance at the scenery and converse? To me, this is the best part of the train experience. You can meet alot of people
I agree - that is one of the best parts of train travel (meeting others at meals or in the lounge car).

On a plane, you may have seat 12A. Although you may talk with the pax in 12B, I doubt that you are going to get up and go sit and talk with the pax in 23F. On a train, if you are alone, your breakfast companions may be the pax in (using plane seat #'s) 22A, 33B and 34D. For lunch, they may be 11C, 14D and 21A. For dinner, they may be 11A, 27E and 2C.

Many times I travel in Y on trains, but most times you'll find me in the lounge car! I've met many interesting people while sitting there, and if you find them boring, you can leave and go back to your seat or room! (I don't think you have that option for the next few hours - or more - if the boring one is in seat 12B on the plane! )
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Old Oct 20, 07, 6:45 am   #14
 
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Generally, if I were to rate the meals in order of best to worst:

Dinner would be best.

Then would be Breakfast.

Then would be Lunch.

I've never had a bad dinner on an Amtrak LD train, and I find there to be enough selection to still keep it interesting. You'll usually find one beef dish, one chicken dish (usually roasted half chicken), a fish dish (cod, catfish, or salmon), a non-meat pasta dish, a pizza selection, as well as a pair of other possibilities (lamb shanks, angus burger), and a "special" which in all but the holiday season seems to be Country Fried Steak.

Breakfast seems to offer less rotation among choices (i.e. more carryovers among all three of the rotating menus), and consists of an omlette (typically western or southwest), the afforementioned Bob Evans scramble (looks a little iffy, but tastes good), one of three quiches, Railroad French Toast, and a continental option which consists of fruit, cereal, yogurt...

Of the three meals, I usually find lunch to the most underwhelming, with little in the way of rotation - the selection seems to always consist of the Angus Burger, a Chicken Breast sandwich, Chicken Caesar Salad, whatever the Dinner Pizza is, and whatever the breakfast quiche is, as well as some sort of vegetarian option. The burger is pretty decent, but I found the Chicken Breast on the sandwich to be pretty small, the salad and the quiche not too filling, and a friend was not too impressed with the cracker type crust of the pizza.
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Old Oct 20, 07, 12:30 pm   #15
 
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Wine in Coach

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Originally Posted by the_traveler View Post
the only place you can consume alcoholic beverages that you bring is in your private sleeping compartment. (Not in the dining car, lounge car or your coach seat.)
Well, I don't know what the rule book says. The conductor didn't seem to have a problem in the train I was on. But these were good vintages. Perhaps if it had been the stuff in the tapper box he would have laid down the law.

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