My 13 year old daughter and I began the first leg of our journey in Ashland, KY (AKY). We were pleasantly surprised that the train was only 8 minutes late in arriving, but prepared ourselves for additional delays. Since we were traveling on to Milwaukee (MKE) and my husband would be working the evening of our arrival, the time factor was never a problem for us.
After boarding the Cardinal, our attendant (George) escorted us to our sleeper (#8) which was already prepared for our nighttime excursion. Since this was our first trip on Amtrak (or any train for that matter) we were initially surprised at the close quarters of the standard sleeper. I though, was impressed with the updated facilities and attention to cleanliness and privacy with the doors and interior window/door shutters.
My daughter quickly took the upper berth and was soon fast asleep. Since I was keyed up from the days preparations (working, packing, traveling), it took me a few hours to relax though. I must commend George on his enthusiasm and service. All through the journey he was cheerful and available for any service/information we might have. Unfortunately . . . just as we were pulling into Indy, the power in the sleeper car went out, but since it was almost daylight anyway, this didnít bother us at all.
We both selected the French Toast for breakfast. The tables were set with linens, flowers and silverware, with the meal arriving on plastic trays. The French toast was tasty but the crust was hard. I know several of the passengers spent the remainder of the trip in the diner car (due to the power outage), but we chose to return to our sleeper after breakfast to talk, rest etc. and didnít find things to be uncomfortable at all even though the air was no longer functioning.
We arrived in Chicago (CHI) right on time (I think even a little early) and grabbed a quick bite to eat before boarding the Hiawatha. Again . . . the ride and staff were pleasant and helpful. I noticed a couple of gentlemen on the train turning their seats around so they were facing the direction of the train. They kindly volunteered to help me do the same and were quickly called into service for another lady too. I really appreciated their assistance and hope they are returned for their kindness. This ďrestructuringĒ then allowed my daughter and I to not only face the direction of travel, but also gave us the opportunity to stretch out a little bit too. We plugged up our portable DVD player and watched a movie (Mean Girls . . . if you havenít seen it, itís hilarious . . . especially since my own daughter is about the same age).
After arriving in Milwaukee (MKE) my first assignment was procuring transportation on to Port Washington where my husband is working/staying. The hotel had recommended the Oazaukee Express, but I quickly learned that this service is not available on the weekend; therefore my only remaining option was the local taxi service.
Area hotels advertised the taxi fare would be $45 . . . boy was I surprised when my fare exceeded $60!! But we made it safely to his truck and proceeded on to the Holiday Inn Harborview. I really canít say enough positive comments to cover the service and friendliness of this hotelí staff. Any questions or assistance were conducted and answered with cheerful, helpful employees.
Iíll interject a few tips/suggestions for dining in Port Washington. WI if anyone is interested . . . the Port Hotel Restaurant is a WONDERFUL place. My cousins and aunt came to meet us on Sunday so we wanted a good brunch for all of us. Since the kids ranged in age from 9-17 and with 5 adults also we were looking for something to satisfy all palettes. The Port Hotel has a great Sunday Brunch with everything from smoked salmon . . . to omelets . . . fruit . . . and waffles. This is all served with a refreshing glass of champagne which complemented the meal. The best part was . . . all 10 of us ate for under $130!!!!!
Alternately . . . my family and I ate at the Smith Brotherís Restaurant that evening. I was thoroughly disappointed in the preparation of the steaks and the rubber consistency of the lobster. At the end of the meal, I informed the waitress that this was the worst $100 meal I had ever experienced. I know that the quality of the food is not her area, but I asked her to pass the information along for me. I donít care to pay for a good meal (especially for just 3 people) but . . . when the food is basically uneatable, this is ridiculous.
Our return train did not leave MKE until 3pm with an airport transport (recommended by the hotel staff) picking us up at 2pm. The hotel staff had no problem at all extending our checkout time until our arranged pickup. This gave our family a couple of extra hours to spend together before departure. Also . . . their recommendation resulted in a savings of about $25!!!! Way to go Holiday Inn Harborview STAFF!!!
The Hiawatha departed a few minutes late, but the snack cart gentleman (Marty) more than made up for the late departure. His enthusiasm and entertaining personality brightened our day with his assortment of head paraphernalia!!! I think he alone made our Hiawatha trip worth the time of the travel.
After arriving in CHI, my daughter and I were shocked to learn from the Metro Lounge staff that no meal would be available on the Cardinal as I had been informed. Unfortunately, we arrived in CHI around rush hour, so were disadvantaged for eating establishments in the area. We wanted a decent meal before boarding and vetoed the fast food alternatives. We finally settled on the buffet available in the Great Hall (canít remember the name, sorry). The buffet consisted your choice of turkey/dressing, Herb chicken or Roast. My daughter selected the chicken and received a HUGH leg/thigh portion and she consumed every available bite. I chose the turkey/dressing. The consistency of the turkey definitely indicated a pressed loaf, but it was palatable.
We returned to the Metro Lounge and obtained a simple snack of pop and chips. I found the Lounge to be comfortable and enjoyable with the big chairs and loveseats available. It was also a good time to recharge the cell phones and portable DVD player before the final leg of our trip.
We were escorted to the Cardinal by the Lounge staff and assisted with boarding by the sleeper assistant, but quickly learned that the train would not be leaving for about 45 minutes due to its late arrival into CHI that morning. I immediately noticed that this car was not of the caliber of our original sleeper car. Our door handle/lock was duck taped and the privacy screens at the door and interior window consisted of a sliding curtain that did not cover the entire area. Also the outside window curtains were frayed and portions had jumped off track preventing full closure.
Our sleeper attendant (Brian) instructed us that cheese trays and wine/soft drinks would be brought to us after departure. We were in sleeper #4 on this portion and the TV/radio on the train was malfunctioning. It continuously scanned through the channels, never obtaining a consistent signal. Brian attempted to rectify the problem, but eventually just shut the system down to prevent further disturbances. Again . . . with our DVD player in hand, my daughter and I popped in a movie and relaxed.
After departing almost 45 minutes late, the conductor proceeded to introduce himself and make his announcements. This was quickly followed by the dinning car attendant distributing the above mentioned wine and cheese trays. Obviously my daughter was not interested in wine, so she offered to bring her the soft drink of her choice. After opening and inspecting our meager snack, we quickly realized that the wheat crackers were the tastiest options, but one of the two packets was crushed but the alternate selection of crackers was tasteless. Fortunately, we had prepared for this and brought a few snacks with us.
Brian informed me that this was not his usual run so could not offer much information about arrivals/departures or stops during the trip. I requested a 6am wake up so we could collect our belongings and eat breakfast before our scheduled arrival (8am) in AKY.
Around 11pm I attempted to contact Brian to prepare our car of the night. After waiting several minutes, it became obvious that he was not responding. I pocked my head out of the room to locate him and was informed that the attendant call buttons were not working properly. He quickly prepared our berths and we settled in for the night.
I awoke about 5:45 am, got dressed and exited the room in search of coffee. Unfortunately, the sleeper car coffee had not been prepared and the diner car had not yet opened, but the diner attendant quickly waved me in. COFFEE . . . they had it . . . I was saved!! I returned to my room and reconfigured the lower berth back to seats, letting my daughter continue sleeping. Since we were still running behind schedule, I picked up a paper outside the diner car and settled in for a few more minutes until the diner car opened.
After awakening my daughter, we proceeded to breakfast to find the same selection available as our original leg (Spinach Quiche, French Toast and Continental Breakfast), but this time Fried Potatoes were added to the first two selections. Iím usually not a big fan of spinach but, this time I chose the Quiche and was very glad that I did. It was WONDERFUL. Iím not a huge eater anyway, but you could barely tell that I put a dent in it since the portion was more than ample. My daughter again selected the French Toast and found it to be better then the original trip.
At this point, I must say that itís a good thing that I woke up on my own since the sleeper attendant failed to get up himself. I noticed that some of the other train staff evidently got him up just before we entered AKY!!
All in all, I was surprised with my initial Amtrak/train excursion and will definitely consider this mode of transportation in the future. Fortunately Iíll be a little more aware of the possibilities and inaccuracies, but will just prepare a little more thoroughly in the future. I enjoyed the luxury of avoiding the stress of traffic and exhaustion often associated with long-range travel, but will reserve the larger deluxe sleeper for the additional footage.