Amtrak Empire Builder - Chicago to Portland/Seattle
Is a long distance train ride on your bucket list? If so, or if you love all modes of travel as much as we do, read on to learn all about our experience on Amtrak’s Empire Builder!
After pandemic restrictions lifted and getting our double jabs, we realized we had absolutely tons of airline miles and Amtrak points to burn! To our surprise, we could score TWO first class tickets on Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland/Seattle in a Superliner one bedroom for under 50,000 points! Highlights from this 2,200+ mile trip across the country from include the Mississippi River at sunset; every traveler’s favorite, Glacier National Park; and the beautiful and dramatic entrance into Portland (on our trip) via the Columbia River Gorge with snow capped Mount Hood greeting you to the Pacific Northwest!
On the day of departure from Chicago’s Union Station, we arrived early to check out Amtrak’s complimentary and spacious Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers. One tip is to go upstairs once you access the lounge as it was practically empty and felt very luxurious and private. Regular boarding announcements are made in the lounge, and Amtrak escorts the sleeping car passengers in a small group from the lounge directly to the train. So far so good! The process up until this point was very easy and smooth!
As we approached the first Amtrak attendant by the train, they were splitting passengers by train number. Later, we realized the train numbers were associated with continuing service to Seattle or Portland, as the train splits on the final night of the journey. Seattle bound passengers were directed to the sleeping car at the front of the train while Portland bound passengers were directed to the rear sleeping car on the train.
As we had our tickets pulled up on the Amtrak app, we realized we had no idea which train number was ours nor which car number or bedroom letter. Eek! They were nowhere to be found on the app! We just assumed the bedrooms were assigned on arrival at your sleeping car. We quickly pulled up our confirmation email to see if we did in fact have all of this information, and thankfully, the pdf version of our ticket contained all of this required information. As such, be sure to print out your pdf ticket of have it handy on your phone to show your sleeping car attendant versus relying on the app.
Once we arrived at the correct hsleeping car, Larry, our super friendly and helpful sleeping car attendant, directed us to bedroom C. Of note, the Portland bound sleeping car was the last car on the train and also the closest to the lounge! At a later meal, we learned of another benefit to this location. The Seattle bound sleeping car was directly behind the horn-blowing engine car which made it hard for some passengers to sleep through the night. At the back of the train, we could barely hear the horn as we gently rocked to sleep! Score!
For completeness, the one bedroom on the Empire Builder includes a private bathroom and shower, table for two, one convertible double bed, and one single pull down bed which we used as storage for our bags. For a trip lasting two nights and three days, we were also happy to see that Amtrak provided us with four towels and four pillows! Overall, we were very pleased with our room.
Soon after departure along the Chicago River, we made reservations with the dining car attendant who came by our room. We opted for the first dining time given our research noted Amtrak has been known to run out of desired meals. On our trip, we only heard of this happening for one of the dessert options.
Once in the dining car for our first meal, we were delighted to see white linen and roses on each table! From what we were told, this was only the third trip after pandemic restrictions were lifted and the dining car resumed normal operations! Included were one appetizer, one main, one dessert, and one alcoholic beverage per person. Coffee and bottled water were always available. We enjoyed the lobster crab cake and green salad to start, the tortellini pasta and chicken for our mains, and a carrot cake and a truly divine chocolate cake (seriously, it was outstanding!) for dessert.
Although the bar was set pretty low, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of our dining experience on Amtrak, as were the couple we were seated with at dinner. On that note, unless you are a party of 3 or more, be prepared to be paired with another party at dinner. We enjoyed this experience actually and met some interesting fellow travelers at each meal.
Also, for those passengers not in a sleeping car, at least on this trip, there was no access to the dining car, only the cafe downstairs in the viewing car. As such, we strongly recommend bringing a soft sided cooler with your own food for such a long journey! You’ll thank us later!
In addition, please note the dining car breaks away from the Portland train on the last night of the journey, a plus for the Seattle bound passengers! Portland bound passengers are allowed to enjoy anything from the cafe they desire. We had Raisin Bran cereal, coffees and waters to hold us over until a proper breakfast on arrival in Portland.
Overall, we loved our experience on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, and it piqued our interest to try other long distance trains. Stay tuned for future reviews!
If you’d like to join us as we take you on a fun filled journey from Chicago to Portland on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, click the YouTube link above! And be sure to subscribe and follow us on social media @twogayexpats!