Winter Holidays 2021
Days 3-4: Denver-Reno
I’ve traveled on Amtrak just along the East Coast, from Norfolk to Washington DC and Baltimore. I’ve traveled by overnight train both on Eurail and on the Indian-Pacific Rail across Australia.
I looked forward to seeing how the California Zephyr between Denver and San Francisco would compare. Our first leg was a 24 hour trip from Denver, CO to Reno, NV.
Boarding the California Zephyr
Union Station, Denver
Our morning started with a showy sunset from the balcony in our room at the Warwick Hotel. We arrived at Union Station and waited in a long line to board the train, which had arrived from its original destination, Chicago. Eventually the line was divided into those traveling in coach and those traveling in the Sleeper Cars, also considered “First Class.”
I had a long list of things I had planned to accomplish during the journey, but the entertainment of the changing landscapes out the window was a welcome distraction to my planned productive activities. I can’t imagine a better way to see the Colorado Rockies and beyond. Much of the trip hugged the Colorado River, and we passed through over 30 tunnels, many times emerging to a completely different view. On stops that lasted 10 minutes or more we were permitted a fresh air break, with strict instructions on when to re-board the train.
We played a point-based bird-watching game (I won, not that it’s important, but worth noting), with bald eagles far outnumbering ducks and hawks.
Both First Class and Coach passengers had access to the Observation Car, which included both tables and lounge-style seating arrangements. We were able to find seats during most of the trip, and had we been in Coach we would have probably opted to spend a lot more time there.
Amtrak Sleeper Car
Our Roomettes were located on two different floors on opposite sides of the same traincar, which actually worked out well to provide views out of both sides. All three of us fit snugly to sit in one car, and with the table down we could play games and enjoy snacks and drinks.
If you are in a sleeper car, you are permitted to bring and consume your own alcoholic beverages. If you are in Coach you are required to purchase them from the cafe.
- The sleeper cars blocked outside noise incredibly well when the doors were closed, and felt very private.
- Four restrooms were available and we never found a wait to use them. They were clean and about twice the size of an airplane restroom. There was one shower with towels available that was separate from the bathrooms, but the hot water wasn’t working in our car.
- Our car had a devoted attendant, who would assist with luggage, answer questions, provide turndown service for our beds, and (most importantly) make coffee for the car first thing in the morning. Amtrak attendants both in the cars and dining areas do accept tips, so make sure to bring cash to thank them for exceptional service.
All meals are included with Sleeper Car accommodations.
Prior to 2020, Coach Passengers could also dine in the Traditional Service Dining Car, but during our trip only those in First Class were permitted. Because First Class was fully booked, there were often waits for a table, and the dining attendants would call parties’ names over the speaker when a table was available. At breakfast, we had the choice of four meals, all vegetarian with meat options on the side. We could also preview what would be offered for dining for our next meals.
The food was surprisingly fantastic in the Traditional Dining Car. As a vegetarian, the options would have become redundant after more than a day, but I found plenty to enjoy during our 24 hours. The three desert choices were available at both lunch and dinner, and we overindulged.
One glass of beer or wine is also included at dinner. While seating was based on arrival for breakfast and lunch, for dinner the attendant visited our car in later afternoon to take the order for our first course and reserve a specific time to dine. Many of the sleeper car passengers also opted for to-go meals to eat in their Roomettes.