This Amtrak California Zephyr review will give you inside access to how our trip went on the most scenic route in the USA. We booked our travel from Omaha to Salt Lake City for a 24-hour long train ride.
Also, we’ll discuss how we booked our ticket, how we felt about the accommodation, food, and more.
The Amtrak California Zephyr travels for full 51 hours and 20 minutes. Its route starts in Chicago up to Emeryville (San Francisco). Additionally, it stops at 35 stations and travels daily. Lastly, this is Amtrak’s longest route and the second-longest in the world.
I’ve always been curious to see this train’s views and I got the chance to do it a couple of months back.
With a friend traveling with me who’s also a railroad fan, we booked ourselves a ticket for their Roomette.
Join us on our 934 mile journey.!
If you’re looking for a train ride where you’ll see impressive snowy mountain peaks, deers, and beautiful canyons, you should check out the Amtrak California Zephyr.
We booked our tickets using the Amtrak website. Their website is easy to use and works like any other booking website. All you have to do is input where you choose to depart, the station where you plan to arrive, your departure date, and your return date.
Also, if you plan to go on a one-way adventure, there’s no need to input a return date.
Take note that when you book a ticket, a train icon will show you how full the train is. Additionally, you’ll see the rate of a coach, and if you prefer to book a room.
If you’re also planning to travel cross-country with the Amtrak California Zephyr, we suggest that you book your ticket in advance.
If you book a couple of months ahead of your trip, you can get a massive discount.
Departure and Boarding
The Amtrak California Zephyr is not only famous because of its outstanding views, but it can also hours of delays.
We suggest that you factor in at least 3-7 hours of delay when you’re planning your trip.
In our case, we downloaded the Amtrak app to see regular updates about our train. We noticed that the train was consistently late even before our travel date.
A day before our departure, the app showed the train was 5 hours late. Since we were not sure how accurate the app is, my friend and I went to Omaha, Nebraska (OMA) station (our departure area) a couple of hours before our departure time.
Indeed, the train arrived two hours late. Boarding the train was easy enough since the employees prioritized the passengers who are disembarking first.
Once everyone was out, we were able to board the train after a couple of minutes. The crew assisted us to our assigned room and after 15 minutes or so, the train departed.
Traveling at Night
Our boarding time was supposed to be 11 in the evening. However, because of the delay, we were able to board the train past 1 in the morning. It was springtime in Omaha so waiting outside the station did not bother us.
But, we couldn’t imagine waiting for hours if it was snowing!
Since it was quiet time inside the train while we were boarding, we had to move quietly. Thankfully, the crew was able to arrange and clean the room for us. However, while boarding the train, we noticed that the train itself is old and dirty. You can immediately notice signs of wear and tear on both the exterior and interiors of the train.
Amtrak California Zephyr Accommodation Options
There are four accommodation options for the Amtrak California Zephyr. These different options differ in price, the number of capacities, amenities, and freebies.
My friend and I booked the Superliner Roomette because it’s affordable and will allow us to experience what Amtrak has to offer completely.
Seating and Accommodation Options
Let’s break down the different accommodations that you can choose from.
Coach Class – These seats are a wider version of what you see in an airline seat. Additionally, these seats can recline long enough for a person to lie down comfortably.
This option doesn’t provide you with free meals which means you either have to bring your food or buy it at their cafe. Take note that the price of the food in the cafe can be expensive.
Lastly, you’ll have to share a common toilet you’ll find designated in each car.
Roomette – You get two seats in the roomette that are slightly larger than the one you’ll see in the Coach Class. The seats face each other and you’ll find a foldable table in the middle and one large window.
You can unfold the two seats to make the lower bed. The other bed is on the ceiling and you have to unfold it to show the top bunk. You get free meals; Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner depending on your travel.
Additionally, you’ll also share the common toilet and shower with other passengers in the car you’re assigned to.
Bedroom – The bedroom has the size of two Roomettes. You still get two foldable seats that turn into a bed, a foldable table in the middle, a single window, and free meals.
However, with the upgrade, you get yourself an in-room toilet, shower, and a sink.
Superliner Family Bedroom – The family bedroom has two large sofas that can seat four people and two windows.
One sofa is foldable to turn into two beds and there are two other seats right below the ceiling. You get free meals for all. However, there’s no in-room toilet.
Food and Dining Options
If you’re wondering how you would know if the food was available, then there’s no need to worry because Amtrak has speakers all over the train, including inside the rooms.
By 7 in the morning, you’ll start hearing the crew announcing that breakfast is ready and that everyone should get their names on the waiting list.
The announcement is consistent and happens every 1-2 minutes apart. This is also done to let everyone know if the Lunch and Dinner are ready.
But, It would be great if Amtrak can have mute or volume options in the speakers inside the room.
Since we were traveling for 24 hours, we got to have Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Honestly, I was expecting the same crappy food from some airlines.
Thankfully, the food inside the Amtrak California Zephyr exceeded my expectation.
Additionally, all Amtrak trains have food options for children. You’ll find classic grilled cheese, roasted chicken breast, mac & cheese, and hot dogs on their menu. They also have a variety of choices for beverages as well which are available throughout the ride.
If you’re conscious about what you eat, the Amtrak California Zephyr has vegetarian, gluten-free, and Amtrak’s Healthy Options available. However, make sure to communicate with Amtrak if you’re allergic to anything on their menu.
The food was beyond what we expected.
For breakfast, we opted to have eggs. I chose a three-egg omelet and my friend got scrambled eggs. Both meals come with a croissant, roasted breakfast potatoes, and drinks.
On top of that, you can choose to add either cheddar, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, onions, and red or green peppers to the eggs.
Additionally, you can add some side dishes to the meal and choose from hardwood smoked bacon, chicken sausage links, or breakfast pork sausage links.
For lunch, I decided to go for an artisan grilled cheese which is served with coleslaw and Terra chips. My friend got a natural Angus burger served with coleslaw and Terra chips.
To top it off, the meals came with dessert and we both got a flourless chocolate torte which was heavenly.
Three-Meal Course Dinner
Since our breakfast and lunch were tasty, we were very excited about dinner. We didn’t eat much in the afternoon to give way for our next meal.
The three-course dinner meal starts with appetizers of your choice. My friend and I got green chile cheese tamale and mixed green salad with baby brie respectively.
The tamale comes with fire-roasted hatch green chilis, jack cheese, and cheddar with tomatillo salsa. Additionally, the mixed green salad comes with brie cheese, julienne carrots, balsamic vinaigrette, and grape tomatoes.
For the entrees, I chose Amtrak’s signature flat iron steak (again, it’s my favorite). The steak is a must-try if you’re looking for delicious food on the train. It comes with a cabernet reduction sauce, Parisian carrots, beans, and a choice between baked potatoes or cheddar polenta.
My friend decided to go for the pan-roasted chicken breast with peas, beans, carrots, risotto, and mushroom sauce.
This also comes with a dessert and drinks. We still chose to eat the flourless chocolate torte because it was good and we had some Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay wine on the sides. If you want to see Amtrak’s entire menu, check it out here.
Additionally, if you’re looking for a lighter meal for your dinner, you can opt to choose from the lunch menu instead of ordering from the dinner menu. Everything is available as long as you inform the crew about what you want.
Choosing the Coach Class accommodation option doesn’t provide you with free meals. However, they have a huge selection of meals and snacks in their cafe. It’s important to keep in mind that the price of their cafe many is a bit expensive. We suggest that you bring your food and snacks if you’re traveling for long hours.
The Observation Car
The Amtrak California Zephyr is famous for providing the best views of plain landscapes, the Rockies, and sunsets. This did not disappoint us.
After breakfast, we were able to find two individual seats beside each other. We were very lucky because the observation car is almost always full. All passengers of the Amtrak train can sit in this area. You’ll see tables and sofas on one end of the train, and several individual seats on the other end that’s facing the window.
The train’s cafe is also found in this car so you can order some snacks while you’re watching the scenery.
After Denver, the terrain becomes interesting. Soon enough, we were able to view the Rockies. Looking at endless snow-covered mountains is one of the reasons why I love traveling via train.
The wonderful nature along with some wildlife are a sight to see. We found ourselves looking for coyotes and herds of deers on the beautiful landscape in front of us.
If you love sunsets like us, then you wouldn’t want to miss the chance to see them while you’re on the train. Watching the sun slowly creeping down the mountains is breathtaking.
Taking Your Chances
Finding the perfect spot on the observation car can be challenging. Since there are a lot of people who would love to view the scenery in this car, the area always has a lot of people.
There are also some seat hoarders so you need to make do with your current seat.
In the afternoon, it took us about five tries just to find seats beside each other. You’ll need patience if you want to sit here.
However, viewing the wonderful landscape in the observation car is almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless you constantly travel via the Amtrak California Zephyr train).
A Total of 35 Stations
The Amtrak California Zephyr stops at 35 stations in total. This means that you’ll often stop at different stations to pick up or drop off some passengers. This also means that you can take a short walk and a breath of fresh air.
To smokers, the crew announces if the stop has “enough time to smoke” or “not enough time to smoke”. I think many regular passengers must be heavy smokers for them to do this.
To some passengers who are looking forward to having a quick Starbucks break, having “enough time to smoke” can be a good opportunity for you. Like my friend and I who were craving some coffee, we were able to do a quick hop-off and hop-on adventure.
Arriving in Denver, we quickly hopped off the train and jogged our way to the nearest Starbucks. With a quick order and quick running from us, we were able to return to our train with a few minutes to spare.
Toilet and Shower
As we’ve mentioned earlier, you’ll immediately notice how old the train is and this is more noticeable in their bathroom. The toilet and sink assigned to our car were dirty. It was near impossible to wash our faces or brush our teeth because of how small the sink is.
The toilet was also difficult to flush. We had to constantly flush it for everything to go down (if you know what I mean). This made our stay in the bathroom a little too long.
If you’re more hygienic than us, we suggest that you bring your hand towel and washcloth. Additionally, bringing extra wet wipes will allow you to use their toilet more comfortably.
Working Inside the Train
Working inside the Amtrak California Zephyr was easy enough even though there’s no WiFi available inside the train for our accommodation. Take note that there is WiFi on board, but it’s only available for passengers who booked a Bedroom or higher.
Inside our room, the foldable table allowed us to place our laptops and work from there. Although, only one laptop can fit the table. Using our mobile phones as portable hotspots also did wonders for us. You can also use other means to have the internet on the train.
The best spot to work inside the train is on the observation car where you can sit on the sofa with a table. We were able to have some snacks while working and see amazing scenery to get inspired.
It seems that delays are part of the Amtrak California Zephyr not because it’s dysfunctional, but because it shares its tracks with freight trains.
Freight trains are notorious for moving so slow that their average speed is about 20 mph to 30 mph. Additionally, there are instances when a freight train stops in the middle of the track for many different reasons.
All of these instances cause severe delays on the Amtrak train and passengers are forced to wait for long hours. On our trip, the delay didn’t only happen before we boarded the train, but also while we were on it.
We experienced several stoppages because of delays on freight trains. Overall, we arrived at the Salt Lake City Amtrak Station five hours late and it was almost dawn.
Amtrak California Zephyr Review – Conclusion
Riding the Amtrak California Zephyr from Omaha to Salt Lake City is an amazing experience. The 24-hour train ride was nice enough for us to sleep comfortably, eat delicious food, and see stunning scenery.
If you’re planning to travel via the Amtrak California Zephyr, we suggest that you bring additional necessities to improve your experience in the bathroom.
Additionally, you should try eating the meals inside the train, especially the Amtrak steak. You won’t expect this quality of steak, I was impressed!