Traveling by train on Amtrak sounds so easy and relaxing doesn’t it? All you have to do is hop on board, find your comfortable seat, and sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s no traffic, no road construction, and no bathroom stops. Perfect, right? Maybe, maybe not, here is what you can expect when riding Amtrak with kids.
I was really looking forward to taking my kids to Chicago for the first time, but I was very worried about riding Amtrak into the city. Would the train stop long enough for us all to get on with our luggage? What if we couldn’t get seats together? Would the train be on time? Well, I’m happy to say that overall it was a great experience.
Our first Amtrak ride was on the Empire Builder route from Tomah, WI to Chicago. The east bound route begins in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR, so some people have been sitting on the train for a very long time. It was just under five hours to travel between Tomah and Chicago, but the ride actually seemed much faster.
At the Amtrak Station
There is a very small station in Tomah, the building wasn’t even unlocked, but there was a nice paved parking lot with a lot of available spaces. Riding the train was a unique experience for us, so I was surprised at the number of people waiting for the train.
By checking the Amtrak app, we could see that our train was moving on time. There is also a phone number to call for the train status. And then, miles down the track, we could spot our train coming towards us. We quickly got a few pictures, and then gathered up our bags.
Boarding the train
The train stopped and a couple of conductors got off the train to direct the 30 or so people waiting to get on. We had to show our tickets and let them know how many people were in our group. The conductors told us which car to go to, and which rows on the upper level were for us. Our group of six was seated very close together and the kids were with an adult the whole time. Amtrak made the seating process very smooth for all the families boarding that day. Finding a group of seats this late in the route could have been an issue that no parent wants to deal with.
The only bummer was hauling our suitcases onto the train, and then finding a spot to stow them on the lower level. We had to do this fairly fast, so the line of people could keep moving.
Riding the Rails
As the train started moving, we climbed up the narrow steps to the second level. Upstairs, there were passengers asleep in almost every row! Granted, these were probably the people who boarded in Seattle a couple of days ago and were so ready to get off of the train. But, I didn’t really expect that.
We found our seats, and I soon realized that we didn’t need any of the books and videos that we brought along for entertainment. The kids and I looked out the windows the whole time!
I knew we had to check out the rest of the train, but I was concerned about walking between the cars. I didn’t know what to do to get the door open. Once someone walked past us headed toward the viewing car, we casually (quickly) got up to follow.
To get between the cars, you push a button on the door and it slides open. It stays open for a short time and automatically closes. Then to get into the next car, there is another door with a button to push. Can you just imagine if your kid got stuck between the cars? Oh, our days of train travel would come to a halt!
It was surprisingly hard to walk on the train. You would think that a large Amtrak train would be fairly smooth, but it wasn’t. I had to hold onto every seat as we walked by.
The viewing car did not disappoint. It was all windows and was very roomy with comfortable seats. Everyone was having a good time watching the scenery and really seemed to appreciate train travel.
I had no idea that Amtrak has a National Park Service ranger on board for a portion of their trips. What a great idea! There were junior ranger booklets full of activities available for the kids to do. There were actually two rangers on our trip, and they spoke about the areas that we were traveling past. Most of our ride was through farmland, but a highlight was the Wisconsin Dells area.
We did not visit the dining car on this trip because we had our own snacks along. But, we did visit the bathroom…SIX TIMES to be exact. My youngest, who was three years old at the time, thought it was pretty great to be riding a train. And the only thing that would be better, would be going to the bathroom on a train. The bathrooms are on the lower level, and are a very tight fit with a mama and a three year old in there. But we survived, and she was entertained.
Our Arrival into Chicago
The train is in the suburbs and then the city for the last half hour or so of the ride. Once the skyscrapers came into sight, the train couldn’t arrive at the station fast enough! We were ready to explore Chicago!
The train stopped, and suddenly everyone was awake and ready to get off NOW! People stood up into the aisle and started the waiting. Going down that narrow staircase with bags is no easy feat for anyone, so the line was moving slow. At least, we didn’t have to worry about waiting for our suitcases on the platform. They were sure to be there before us!
It did take a while to get to the lower level, and of course, our bags were there waiting for us. Once on the platform, we had quite a walk to get into Union Station. It was also noisy and kind of dark! The kids were in a big hurry to get out of there. After we got outside, it was easy to grab a taxi and be on our way.
Looking back on the Amtrak ride and comparing it to driving into the city, I wouldn’t hesitate at all to recommend family travel on Amtrak. You can’t beat not dealing with the traffic and navigation into downtown. Plus, the kids had a lot of room to move around and weren’t within “she’s touching me” distance of each other on the train.
Have you experienced train travel with your kids? What did they think?