Help needed for Amtrak California Zephyr Trip

Old May 5, 12, 11:37 pm
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Lightbulb Help needed for Amtrak California Zephyr Trip

We are seriously thinking about taking the California Zephyr (chicago - sfo) for our 'vacation' trip. Family of four. Kids (6 and 4) are train fans and they literally beg for a train trip. As I have more than 40K points in AGR (chase cc converted to amtrak), we are thinking of doing it. I read a lot about it on the forums, but has some newbie questions. Appreciate advise. (sorry for long list; we've never been on long distance trains)



(1) 40,000 miles is all you need for a 'Room' on Zephyr ? or is that only for the room and you have to pay more for your 'seat' ? Asking because, it appears its costing about $2500 if we are paying cash for the same.

(2)Will they accomodate 4 of us to a non-family room ? I prefer non-family because it appears family rooms are in the lower level. Also, non-family has restroom with in it.

(3)Is lower level a real concern (compared to upper level) with regard to noise, view and common restrooms nearby ? I understand you can always enjoy the view from the upper viewer car

(4)Is there any size limit on the carry-on luggage ? prefer to travel without checking bagage. It seems there is a luggage room on the lower level. You just keep your locked bag there with all others or there are big lockers there ?

(5)How about in-between snacks/soft drinks? Better to pack it or you can grab it for free ?

(6)How many suplerliner cars on a daily Zephyr ? (it seems there is only one family room in a car) When i try some mock redemptions on AGR website, it says 'Only one room available, Hurry' irrespective of the day I pick. Does it mean, there is only one AGR redeemable room on any given day ?

(7) If you book and decide to change the dates or cancel an AGR redemption booking, how it will work ?

(8) We plan for a day tour (before noon) on SFO the next morning. Any recommendations?

(9) Better time to take the trip ? Is mid august ok ? Prefer to see some snow en route.

Appreciate any advise/tips/experience.
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Old May 6, 12, 8:46 am
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
We are seriously thinking about taking the California Zephyr (chicago - sfo) for our 'vacation' trip. Family of four. Kids (6 and 4) are train fans and they literally beg for a train trip. As I have more than 40K points in AGR (chase cc converted to amtrak), we are thinking of doing it. I read a lot about it on the forums, but has some newbie questions. Appreciate advise. (sorry for long list; we've never been on long distance trains)



(1) 40,000 miles is all you need for a 'Room' on Zephyr ? or is that only for the room and you have to pay more for your 'seat' ? Asking because, it appears its costing about $2500 if we are paying cash for the same.

yes i think...i only ever used points for a sleeper...

(2)Will they accomodate 4 of us to a non-family room ? I prefer non-family because it appears family rooms are in the lower level. Also, non-family has restroom with in it.

if it says the room will hold 4 then you will be fine...squishy, but fine...

(3)Is lower level a real concern (compared to upper level) with regard to noise, view and common restrooms nearby ? I understand you can always enjoy the view from the upper viewer car


IMO no...but others will disagree...you'll have to go up the stairs to go from car to car...i think it is 'quieter' people-noise-wise there....

(4)Is there any size limit on the carry-on luggage ? prefer to travel without checking bagage. It seems there is a luggage room on the lower level. You just keep your locked bag there with all others or there are big lockers there ?

there are shelves on the lower level....people will bring large suitcases and stick them there....as for what will go in your room? the smaller, the less space. i have only had roomettes and have stashed my 20-ish inch carry on atop the 'step' thing next to the seat...and i usually have a laptop and camera bag...tight, yes but if you are creative....

a regular bedroom will have more room, BUT not that much when the beds are made up, when you take into account all the people....(does that make sense?)

(5)How about in-between snacks/soft drinks? Better to pack it or you can grab it for free ?

bring some snacks...you can always get coffee/water/ and OJ in your coach..but other than that...no. HOWEVER i have, on occasion, been in sleepers where the attendant leaves fruit or some other snacky things, though i do not think this is a normal thing

(6)How many suplerliner cars on a daily Zephyr ? (it seems there is only one family room in a car) When i try some mock redemptions on AGR website, it says 'Only one room available, Hurry' irrespective of the day I pick. Does it mean, there is only one AGR redeemable room on any given day ?

no clue...sorry....(well they are all superliners...i guess you mean sleepers...i think it may also depend on time of year...but AFAIK there is only 1 family room per sleeper car)

(7) If you book and decide to change the dates or cancel an AGR redemption booking, how it will work ?

it is a PITA! You need to call....a human..when they are there...it isn't THAT hard as long as you haven't printed the tickets..i had a hard time once...and then other times it was easy...i think it depends on who you talk to...and, though they aren't supposed to...ONCE..i had an agent in a station (I THINK LA) who was able to change it for me...(might have been PHL too..can't remember...and i have no idea HOW they did it....)

it should NOT be that hard....but you do need to call them when they are there...(someone will correct me if i am wrong..)

(8) We plan for a day tour (before noon) on SFO the next morning. Any recommendations?

wow.....can't help you there...SOOOO much to see and do. will you get off the train at EMY and take the bus?? it is easy and stops, among other places, next to the Ferry building.....that's what I did...(there are some great little food vendors inside the Ferry building..i bought a hot baguette, a coffee, and somehow found some jam...that was my breakfast before i left!!!)

(9) Better time to take the trip ? Is mid august ok ? Prefer to see some snow en route.

I don't remember when i went, but it was not in summer...prob fall/winter.....I think it's a great ride...and you will see wonderful things regardless

Appreciate any advise/tips/experience.
I took a shot at the questions above....i am not the queen of AGR point redemptions so hopefully someone else knows..(i only travel myself and i only used points..didn't pay for a "seat" too...so it should be the same...sorry, i need more coffee..)

hope it helps....LOVE taking the train...and you will be able to use the Metropolitan lounge in CHI (you prob know that) as a sleeper guest...so you can store luggage, have a soda or something, walk through the station and get reading material...whatever...i like that station!!)
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Old May 6, 12, 8:59 am
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1. Yes, 40K points will get you a one way, two zone redemption on the zephyr from CHI - San Francisco. You will take the train to Emeryville and then there is a bus that will take you over the bridge and into San Fran. 40K points includes you and your family for the one room, no additional payment necessary.

2. no, you will need the family room if you have two adults and two children. You will NOT fit into a regular bedroom. A regular bedroom is ideal for two and possible with three, but not really four. Another idea would be to get two roomettes. You could get two roomettes for 40K points as well. They could be upstairs and if you can get them across the hall from one another that would be ideal. The family bedroom has four beds but two of them are "child sized." If your kids are only 4 and 6 they should be sufficient.

3. Some people prefer lower level and osme people perfer upper. Its really a matter of personal opinion. The view is not as good, but don't forget that the train has a sight-seer lounge car that you can sit in at any point and relax and get excellent views. There is less traffic on the lower level b/c to connect between train cars you must do so on the upper level. There is also a restroom/toilet room on the upper level, so the only reason people go downstairs is to a) get something out of their luggage or b) shower.

4. YOu will need to pack your own snacks or soft drinks, or you can purchase items from the cafe/lounge car. There will be complimentary coffee, juice & ice in the sleeper car, but no soda. Once on the CS there was a free fruit bowl in the sleeper but I don't think that is standard. As you know the meals in the diner are free/included but that generally is only one soda per person per meal.

6. There are generally 3 sleepers on the zephyr, which means 3 family bedrooms. That is why you are generally only seeing one available, because they go quickly! As long as a room is available on the train, however, you can book it through AGR. There are no capacity controls (yet) with AGR.

7. It is super easy! Whatever you do, don't print your tickets. As long as your tickets have not been printed, a simple call to AGR is required to make changes. You also need to call AGR to make your initial sleeper reservation. Sleeping car accomodations cannot be booked online for reward redemptions/awards. I find the AGR staff to be fairly nice and easy to work with.

8. no idea.

9. IF you want to go in mid-august, try to secure your space now with AGR because as I menionted there are only a few family bedrooms on each train and tehy go quickly.

5.
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Old May 6, 12, 9:19 am
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
(1) 40,000 miles is all you need for a 'Room' on Zephyr ? or is that only for the room and you have to pay more for your 'seat' ? Asking because, it appears its costing about $2500 if we are paying cash for the same.
Award tickets include rail fare. Cash tickets separate rail from accomodation
(2)Will they accomodate 4 of us to a non-family room ? I prefer non-family because it appears family rooms are in the lower level. Also, non-family has restroom with in it.
If they allow booking it as 4, it will be quite cozy. There are several restrooms downstairs (and a couple of showers) so they are usually available.
(3)Is lower level a real concern (compared to upper level) with regard to noise, view and common restrooms nearby ? I understand you can always enjoy the view from the upper viewer car
You might not have the best view from the lower level, you shouldn't have much people traffic and it will put you closer to your luggage.
(4)Is there any size limit on the carry-on luggage ? prefer to travel without checking bagage. It seems there is a luggage room on the lower level. You just keep your locked bag there with all others or there are big lockers there ?
No size limit. There are luggage racks downstairs. I haven't seen any lockers. Locked bags should be fine there.
(5)How about in-between snacks/soft drinks? Better to pack it or you can grab it for free ?
Water, coffee, and juices are usually available in the sleeper cars. No free sodas/snacks, but the cafe car is available during the day.
(6)How many suplerliner cars on a daily Zephyr ? (it seems there is only one family room in a car) When i try some mock redemptions on AGR website, it says 'Only one room available, Hurry' irrespective of the day I pick. Does it mean, there is only one AGR redeemable room on any given day ?
not sure
(7) If you book and decide to change the dates or cancel an AGR redemption booking, how it will work ?
Got to call. Inventory can change often
(8) We plan for a day tour (before noon) on SFO the next morning. Any recommendations?
Arrival times can vary greatly so plan accordingly. The bus transfer to SF does work, but a transfer to BART at the Richmond station is painless.
(9) Better time to take the trip ? Is mid august ok ? Prefer to see some snow en route.
Don't expect much in the way of snow in August.
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Old May 6, 12, 4:00 pm
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Thanks a lot for each of you who took your valuable time to share your knowledge. Appreciated.

amamba, your suggestion of 2 roomettes across the hall sounds pretty good. (I never thought about it because I was thinking that even roomettes cost 40K points each). Now I need to explore more.

It seems family room is about 50 sq.ft and a roomette is 23 sq.ft. So, techically, family room gives roughly 4 sq.ft more space. Two questions I have then is ,

(a) the windows on them ? Both Family and Roomete has windows postioned on the same location or one has better positioning of windows ? (I beleive the advantage of having windows on both sides of Family room is equalized by having roomettes across the hall on either side)

(b) Noise from the track on lower level ? is it a concern that you cant sleep at night ? or the trains are well insulated that it wont matter.

Thanks again.
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Old May 6, 12, 4:35 pm
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
Thanks a lot for each of you who took your valuable time to share your knowledge. Appreciated.

amamba, your suggestion of 2 roomettes across the hall sounds pretty good. (I never thought about it because I was thinking that even roomettes cost 40K points each). Now I need to explore more.

It seems family room is about 50 sq.ft and a roomette is 23 sq.ft. So, techically, family room gives roughly 4 sq.ft more space. Two questions I have then is ,

(a) the windows on them ? Both Family and Roomete has windows postioned on the same location or one has better positioning of windows ? (I beleive the advantage of having windows on both sides of Family room is equalized by having roomettes across the hall on either side)

(b) Noise from the track on lower level ? is it a concern that you cant sleep at night ? or the trains are well insulated that it wont matter.

Thanks again.
can't help with the windows...but here is food for thought...

when i get ON the train (regardless of time) i ask for my bed to be set up as soon as the SCA has a moment...and i ask it to be put BACK up as LATE as possible before arrival...THUS...i have no trouble sleeping....

(not sure i would call the trains well insulated..but you'll hear some noise anyplace....i would call MYSELF a professional sleeper...that would be ONE reason that i can't help much with scenery...i really do sleep...A LOT...on the train...)

if you are a light sleeper as a rule, bring some earplugs....
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Old May 6, 12, 5:34 pm
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
We are seriously thinking about taking the California Zephyr (chicago - sfo) for our 'vacation' trip. Family of four. Kids (6 and 4) are train fans and they literally beg for a train trip. As I have more than 40K points in AGR (chase cc converted to amtrak), we are thinking of doing it. I read a lot about it on the forums, but has some newbie questions. Appreciate advise. (sorry for long list; we've never been on long distance trains)

Appreciate any advise/tips/experience.
Have they done a short trip yet? --- even just to the next station -- if not I recommend doing that first.

Then, if that works you can plan....

Bob H
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Old May 6, 12, 7:52 pm
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Some people find that they hear track noise on the lower level. Personally I am a super light sleeper so I always just bring ear plugs. Problem solved - and it also helps with the random rattlings or hearing others talk.

In regards to the windows, the family bedroom goes across the entire width of the car so you do have windows out both sides of the car. This can be very cool. If you get two roomettes (across the hall) you would also have that. But I think you already know this so I am not sure that I fully understand your question about window positioning.

Let me know if you have more questions - happy to keep answering them!
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Old May 6, 12, 7:56 pm
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
(a) the windows on them ? Both Family and Roomete has windows postioned on the same location or one has better positioning of windows ? (I beleive the advantage of having windows on both sides of Family room is equalized by having roomettes across the hall on either side)
Aren't the windows on the Family Bedroom pretty small, compared to the double window in the Roomette? This seems to more than negate any advantage.

I think they are the square ones on the lower level of the foreground in the attached image, and I think the floor plan confirms.

Maybe it's me, but I wouldn't care what the windows are like. I can't understand why you wouldn't want to spend the whole day in the diner/Sightseer Lounge/cafe, especially with kids.



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Old May 6, 12, 8:17 pm
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My question about windows were based on the size and location of them. As nerd mentioned, it appears the family room windows are relatively smaller in size than the roomette's windows. Also, I think the standard room windows give outside view even to the person on the upper berth. It does not look like roomette's windows are big enough for that.

Originally Posted by amamba View Post
Some people find that they hear track noise on the lower level. Personally I am a super light sleeper so I always just bring ear plugs. Problem solved - and it also helps with the random rattlings or hearing others talk.

In regards to the windows, the family bedroom goes across the entire width of the car so you do have windows out both sides of the car. This can be very cool. If you get two roomettes (across the hall) you would also have that. But I think you already know this so I am not sure that I fully understand your question about window positioning.

Let me know if you have more questions - happy to keep answering them!
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Old May 6, 12, 8:23 pm
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Nerd, thanks for those pictures and illustration. Though I had seen it before, I was having a hard time finding it again.

Spending the whole day in the diner/Sightseer Lounge/cafe is the ideal plan. But with kids, if they want a nap or tired ..or whatver ..they may want to be in the room. just want ot get an idea how the scenery will be from the room.

Originally Posted by nerd View Post
Aren't the windows on the Family Bedroom pretty small, compared to the double window in the Roomette? This seems to more than negate any advantage.

I think they are the square ones on the lower level of the foreground in the attached image, and I think the floor plan confirms.

Maybe it's me, but I wouldn't care what the windows are like. I can't understand why you wouldn't want to spend the whole day in the diner/Sightseer Lounge/cafe, especially with kids.



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Old May 6, 12, 8:57 pm
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
Nerd, thanks for those pictures and illustration. Though I had seen it before, I was having a hard time finding it again.

Spending the whole day in the diner/Sightseer Lounge/cafe is the ideal plan. But with kids, if they want a nap or tired ..or whatver ..they may want to be in the room. just want ot get an idea how the scenery will be from the room.
At least you won't miss much with an afternoon nap. The scenery the first afternoon through the midwest is so-so, as is the ride through the CA central valley the third afternoon.
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Old May 7, 12, 7:00 am
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Originally Posted by ftbargain View Post
Also, I think the standard room windows give outside view even to the person on the upper berth. It does not look like roomette's windows are big enough for that.
Nope, one can only see out the windows in an upper berth when in a viewliner sleeper (as opposed to a superliner sleeper) which is the single level car that has a second row of windows at the top.
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Old May 8, 12, 7:55 pm
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Originally Posted by amamba View Post
Nope, one can only see out the windows in an upper berth when in a viewliner sleeper (as opposed to a superliner sleeper) which is the single level car that has a second row of windows at the top.
In the Superliner bedroom, the bed is placed in such a way that the occupant of the top bunk can look out the window and straight down onto the railbed. To actually look out, the top occupant must lean partially off the bed and crane his or her neck to look out.

In the Superliner roomette, the occupant of the top bunk can't even do that, since the bed is directly above the window lengthwise.

I normally like Superliners, but when it comes to sleeping accommodations, the Viewliners--even with their lower height--are definitely superior.
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Old May 9, 12, 7:49 am
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I booked two roomettes yesterday. They are 7 and 8.

After booking , I read more through the forums and saw comments by few members (including nerd) that roomettes in the center of the car is considered better. It appears like 5 and 6 are the ones right in the center of a car. My question is, is 7 & 8 comparable to 5&6 OR 7&8 may have some noise/shake issues (due to wheels ?) ?

(Family rooms were sold out , so it was an easy decision. They had 9&10 available but the lady said 5&6 are not available when I booked)
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