Train vacations: Getting out of go-go-go mode

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight crossing the Willamette River in Westfir, Oregon. (photo via Flickr/Bruce Fingerhood)

From Travel Pulse

Everyone is talking about what’s going on at the airports as well as the stress of flying, but there’s another way to see the world – take a train!

“The hectic pace of air travel and the issues people hear on the news with changing airport security requirements make people look for a different solution,” said Alyssa Schulke of Schulke Travel, an affiliate of Travel Experts. “Except in places like Europe and Japan, where train travel can be quicker than air travel, you tend to need more time as well as need to be willing to disconnect a bit. I think this slower pace is beginning to appeal to people who have been used to the ‘go-go-go’ mode of getting from point A to B.”

For example, Amtrak not only offers transportation from state to state, but also offers more than 30 preplanned vacation adventures across the country. “I’ve also taken and booked clients on the Pullman Rail restored trains to a number of destinations,” said Schulke. “The most common one has been the Chicago to New Orleans route – it’s a fun combination of cities with great food, jazz, and easy connections for air.”

Margie Lenau thinks that travelers are waxing nostalgic and want to see the country they are traveling past. “The train stops in cities and sometimes you will stay overnight in an area,” said Lenau, travel consultant from Wonderland Vacations. “For example, you can enjoy a walking tour of Santa Fe and have dinner there. While you are at the Grand Canyon, take a motorcoach tour of the South Rim after breakfast at the Grand Depot Café, then stay overnight in the Grand Canyon.”

Trains have a lot to offer depending on the company.

“Amenities range from fine dining with table linens and sommeliers, onboard education and lecturers, some offer interesting excursions on longer stopovers, some even do have Wi-Fi,” said Schulke. “And the bed I slept in on the Pullman to New Orleans was as comfortable as any hotel room. Overnight trains can also be an interesting way to defray hotel room costs for one night during a trip and save the day time for touring instead of transiting.”

Lenau books train vacations, mostly for older couples who can take the time to travel this way. “This is a great choice when people want to see the country, but don’t want to fly,” said Lenau. “You need a lot of time to travel the country by train, so I always suggest a compartment, and not just a seat. It is much more comfortable and you have your own small bathroom.”

As far as dining is concerned, the trains offer a quick bite in the snack car or meals in the dining cars prepared by chefs.

READ MORE: Amtrak Announces Purchase of 28 New High-Speed Trains

Traveling by train isn’t limited to the United States. “Europe always makes sense for train travel, but I’ve also had clients on trains in Australia, Peru, India and Japan,” said Schulke. “There are always creative ways to combine train travel with other land arrangements for people who want to explore that option.”

For example, she is currently working on a trip for a client who plans to take Canada’s VIA Rail from Winnipeg to Montreal, take the train to visit Quebec for a day or two, and then train down to New York City on Amtrak to visit friends and fly back. “The total trip will be about 12 days and VIA Rail is a very comfortable product,” she said. “Another client is taking a train from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam in April for a few days of hiking. She had the time and the train is overnight, saving her hotel costs as well as the five hours in driving to get there during the day.”

Many of Schulke’s own dream destinations are actually train voyages. “I’d like to do the Trans-Siberian, the Ghan in Australia, the Seven Stars in Japan and of course, the Orient-Express,” she said.

There is continuous upgrading and renovating that trains undergo to improve the traveler’s experience. “For example, power outlets, USB ports, and free Wi-Fi are almost standard in most trains in Europe as of this year,” said Sherry Brown, an affiliate of Travel Experts. “Speed rails are expanding as well for traveler convenience in France, Italy and Germany. Scotland is making history on April 17 with the first ever Luxury Spa Car. The Belmond Royal Scotsman Train, which travels across the Scottish Highlands, will include the first European spa on the rail named The Bamford Haybarn Spa. European Rail is not just a means to travel from one place to another, it has become a mini vacation destination within the vacation.”

For agents who aren’t familiar with train travel, Lenau said that Amtrak is offering webinars and training. “This is helpful for expanding agent’s education about domestic travel,” she said.




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