Best Rail Journeys

TRAVEL TALK

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One of my favorite methods of travel today is by rail. No airport hassles and a great way to see the country in a relaxed and comfortable style. Amtrak has not done the best job of maintaining the fine standards that once were in the United States for several reasons, mainly budget, but there are still fine rail trips available.

One of the better trains that begins in Los Angeles and runs up the coast through Oakland then continues to Portland and Seattle. Amtrak has designated this as one of its premier trains and has made available better dining, food cooked to order and superior service. Both coach and Pullman service can be reserved. Train travel today is not cheap, but the enjoyment is worth the expense. I like to think of train travel as a land cruise.

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The GrandLuxe Express has a variety of tours, including one that travels through the Southwest.

Via Rail Canada has available its Canadian which runs from Vancouver through the breathtaking Canadian Rockies into the prairies then to Toronto and Montreal. The equipment used was built by the Budd Company in the 1950s and was recently completely refurbished and now is a deluxe train with vista domes to even better enjoy the passing scenery. Again, both coach and Pullman service is available. On a longer journey such as this, I would recommend booking a bedroom or compartment with private facilities. Not only will you enjoy the food in the dining car, but the lounges as well. In Canada, when you reserve a private room, your meals are included. And, while in Canada you'll want to spend some time in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, which are all great cities with much to see and enjoy.

The GrandLuxe Express is privately owned and uses former 1940s and '50s Streamliner equipment built in the United States. The rail cars have been extensively refurbished and reconstructed for very deluxe service. The last car on the train is a round-end lounge which once ran on the 20th Century Limited between New York and Chicago. This company has a five-star reputation and have put together some of the most interesting rail itineraries operating in the country.

On board, you will enjoy the best service, gourmet meal, fine wines, deluxe private rooms, all with private facilities, extensive sightseeing at each stop and all is included in the price. There is even a piano in the lounge car, which is played during the cocktail hour and after dinner.

GrandLuxe offers a Northwestern Parks nine-day trip, which includes Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Helena, Mont., Glacier National Park, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Mt. Rainier National Park. The journey includes scenic drives, a float trip on the Snake River (optional) and reserved dining in the dome car.

Departures run from July through September. Fares begin at $4,960.

Another GrandLuxe rail also offers the Rockies, Sierras and Napa with a seven-day trip. And, another is the Antebellum South including Washington, D.C., Monticello, Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah, Jackson, Miss., Vicksburg and New Orleans. These seven-day rail trips are priced from $4,570. Departures are offered in the fall.

Perhaps you would enjoy a trip through the Canadian Rockies on a train being pulled by a vintage steam engine. Departures begin Sept. 3, westbound, with a round-trip Sept. 27-Oct.10.

Standard seating is in a day coach, with the option to upgrade to seating in California Zephyr domes. Travel is by day, with hotel stays overnight. You'll visit Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefields, Revelstoke, Kamloops and Vancouver.

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The Dome Viewing Car on a GrandLuxe trip gives passengers an astounding vantage point for viewing the scenery the train passes.

This trip is seven days of some of the most beautiful scenery in North America. Fares begin at $3,995. Departures are through the summer.

There is the Royal Canadian Pacific train, which is very elegant with Pullmans, large private rooms, dining car and an open-platform observation. The train accommodates only 32 guests with overnights on quiet sidings. Everything is included except the airfare.

Spaces on this special train were once occupied by the likes of Winston Churchill, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The six-day rail adventure departs Calgary, then to Banff, Eagles Eye Mountain, Field, the Columbia River Valley into the Alberta prairies for a visit to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump to Okotoks, with a return to Calgary and your return home.

Highlights include four days living in luxury on the Royal Canadian Pacific, two nights at five-star hotels, gourmet meals, wines the Buffalo Jump, pre-dinner cocktails and more. This is really a special rail trip. Fares begin at $6,600 with departures this summer.

We have discussed in the past the Sierra Madre Express through Mexico's Copper Canyon. This is an eight-day trip departing Tucson, with good time spent in the Copper Canyon. Included is your rail journey, a stay at the Posada Mirdador Hotel perched on the canyon's edge, guides, meals, private rooms on the train and great sightseeing.

This is another all-inclusive vacation. Fares begin at $3,695. Departures are available throughout the year.

In Alaska there is great rail travel available. Fly to Anchorage and train from there to various parts of the state. The equipment is good and the service friendly. The fares are reasonable.

Find out more from your favorite travel professional or do research online at the sites of Amtrak and other companies specializing in rail travel.

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