We knew that we would definitely have to take advantage of Emily's school breaks if we were going to get through the Michigan winter this year. We asked Emily what she thought would be a fun trip that would not involve flying (we didn't think we had enough time) and she asked for a train ride. We had never been on an epic US train trip so we looked up the options and decided on The Empire Builder. Chicago to Portland through some of the finest scenery the North of North America had to offer. It did not disappoint.
We only had a week so we booked a round trip ticket and a 2 night stay in Portland. Emily brought along a friend from school as the thought of 2 full days on a train with Mark annoying was may have made her re-consider the trip had she not had company. We chose to book sleeping cars for the trip. Coach seats brought back memories of long, tiring European train journeys for both myself and Mark and although they were fun at the time I think we may have grown out of a coach seat with no shower. Although we did walk through the coach cabins on our way to the dining/lounge cars and they didn't look too bad to me. They extended backwards pretty far to an almost laying position and were very wide. Emily and friend definitely could have done it but we though that would be mean. We booked a bedroom (with bathroom) for Mark and I and a roomette (no bathroom) for the girls but they got lucky and got upgraded to a bedroom the day we left!
The bedroom was great. Tons of room. A wide coach filled one side of the room and a chair was on the other with a table between the two underneath a wide picture window. The coach converted to a bed at night and the porter for the cabin would set it all up while we were at dinner. I slept like a baby on the train as they rocking of the cabin felt like sleeping in a breezy hammock. OK so you don't have the sound of the waves but, despite being warned to bring earplugs, the noise of the train didn't wake me at all. We spent the entire two days reading, playing cards and just looking out the window. When we found out there was no wifi on the train we all had a few moments of panic - but to be honest it was a real gift. We were forced to relax, think, dream. It was wonderful.
You had to make a reservation for dinner and then walk through 5 cars to the dining car on the train. It felt very old movie sitting at the table and watching the amazing scenery drift by as we ate. There were even table cloths and proper cutlery. The food itself was nothing to write home about but Emily was thrilled that every meal had a vegan option. Why they would have a vegan option and not a gluten-free option (a medical allergy) beats me. But I made do as I did have a choice or two available of off the regular menu.
The two days flew by and before we knew it we were in Portland. I think all of us would have liked it to last a little longer. We all enjoyed Portland. The girls went off exploring on their own, we shopped, visited the Botanical Gardens, ate great food and met up with an old high school friend of mine.
Back on the train, without Emily's friend who visited a college in Portland and then flew back, we moved in to a family bedroom. What we didn't realize was that this room had no bathroom. Also the beds were pretty small, the length of the room made it feel a bit claustrophobic and the cleanliness left something to be desired. It was very grubby. We still enjoyed the journey though and all of us are now sold on traveling by train. I told Mark that I wanted to try train journeys all over the world so we are on the look out for good ones. Let me know if you have any ideas.