In this Amtrak Southwest Chief review I will give you access to everything I did on the train. I took the full 43-hour long train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles to experience the fabled American West.
Additionally, I got to see and experience snow and bought some handmade crafts from New Mexico.
The Amtrak Southwest Chief across eight different states, from Chicago to Los Angeles and vice versa. It has a total of 31 stops and is famous for some pop-up stores where you can buy handicrafts from different localities.
On my 2,265-mile journey, I traveled through ranches, wheat fields, pueblos, deserts, and amazing mountain views.
Many people recommend the Southwest Chief if you want a break from your usual routine. Unlike other Amtrak trains, there’s a different ambiance and “culture” when you ride the Southwest Chief.
I’ll tackle how easy it is to book a ticket, different accommodation options, food, scenery, and more.
Let’s get started.
I’ve been traveling via trains for many years now, oftentimes with friends who also want to experience traveling on a train. However, it was my first time traveling alone in a while and for almost two full days which is why the Amtrak Southwest Chief journey for me is special.
I used the Amtrak website to book my ticket. Since I plan to book a Superliner Bedroom all to myself, I got the chance to book the room at a discounted rate. You can check the “deals” section of Amtrak here.
The site is easy to navigate and works like an airline website.
All you have to do is input where you’re departing from, where you plan to arrive, and the day of your travel. Additionally, the website provides all the information that you need to know before you board the train.
From food, accommodation options, routes, culture, and know if it is better than the Amtrak California Zephyr.
Amtrak Southwest Chief Accommodation Options
In all my Amtrak travels, I’ve always booked a Superliner Roomette. Since I planned to relax and enjoy my Southwest Chief adventure, I booked a Superliner Bedroom all to myself for a whopping $623.
Although this is more expensive compared to flying, this includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day.
Additionally, the Superliner Bedroom includes an in-room restroom, shower, and sink. I’m used to booking the Roomette which makes the Bedroom make me feel that there’s a lot of space.
There’s a single chair on one side and a sofa on the other. There are also two windows where I could see the amazing views.
Lastly, there are two foldable beds which are upper and lower berths, but I always choose the lower bed because I often use the toilet at night.
There are several electrical outlets where I can charge my mobile phone and laptop. Additionally, there’s a foldable table in the middle. There’s also an in-room toilet, shower, and sink.
The toilet is inside a small cubicle in the room. However, it’s important to remember that it’s so small that everything inside the shower can get wet.
While taking shower, I recommend that you get rid of anything that you want to stay dry, including your toilet paper!
Also, The train provides soap and plenty of towels. Although, there are no shampoos so you have to bring your own before you board.
There’s a dedicated Sleeping Car attendant in all sleeper cars. The crew assigned to me was very helpful. Every time I finish my meals in the diner car or visit the observation car, I found my bed neatly folded for me to comfortably sit in my chair.
The same goes when it’s nighttime. The Sleeping Car attendant unfolded my chair to give way for the bed.
Other Accommodation Options
Aside from the Superliner Bedroom, there are three more accommodation options you’ll find on the Amtrak Southwest Chief train. These options differ not only in pricing but also in their space and inclusions.
You don’t get a personal room in the Coach Class. Instead, you get a seat that’s wider compared to an airline seat and can recline longer. Additionally, there are no free meals in this class. However, you can order from the cafe.
This is the most affordable option and the price starts at $146 to $351. The good thing about the Coach Class is that there’s ample legroom and there are no middle seat options. Additionally, you also get a tray table, electrical outlets, and at-seat lighting. You can also decide whether to choose an upper or lower-level seat.
You will also share the restroom assigned to your car with other passengers. It’s important to take note, however, that the restroom is small enough that you may find it difficult to flush the toilet or wash your face in the sink.
The Superliner Roomette can accommodate up to two people. There are two comfortable seats on each side of the room with a foldable table in the middle and some electrical outlets. There are also upper and lower berths by night.
Additionally, you will also share the restroom with other passengers that are assigned to your car. Lastly, there are complimentary meals for this accommodation option.
The Family Bedroom covers the same width as a single sleeper car. It can accommodate two kids and two adults, both in seating and for sleeping. You’ll find two lower and two upper berths by night by unfolding some of the chairs.
Additionally, you also get a personal shower, toilet, and sink inside your room. The Sleeping Car attendant can help you with anything that you need inside your room from folding and unfolding the chairs to finding all the electrical outlets available. Lastly, everyone in your room will have complimentary meals.
Food and Dining Options
Since I boarded the train at 2:50 in the afternoon, I didn’t get to eat lunch. I decided to get a quick microwave snack from the cafe and eat inside my room because the observation car was full. Because I’m going westbound, my meals include Dinner, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Breakfast.
The Amtrak Cafe is available from early morning until late at night. You’ll find all sorts of snacks, meals, and beverages that are for sale. Although the prices of the food from the cafe are a bit expensive, it was already a good way to start my journey.
Unlike other Amtrak travels I’ve experienced, the Southwest Chief has community seating plans in the dining car. Once you book your preferred time to eat, you may just find yourself with different people seated next to you. Meeting other people is a norm on the train and makes it a more fun experience.
You definitely won’t miss meal time on all Amtrak trains because there’s a speaker in each room. The crew informs all passengers at the same time when meals are ready and you’re allowed to pick which time is available.
Additionally, here are the meal times for your reference:
- Breakfast – Available from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
- Lunch – Available from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- Dinner – Available from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Day 1 – Amtrak Southwest Chief Food
At dinner, I chose to eat at 7 p.m. along with three friends who were also going to Los Angeles. Amtrak provides a three-course dinner meal for all their passengers who got a room in the sleeping cars.
For appetizers, I chose the mixed green salad with baby brie. Following this is the pan-roasted chicken breast for my entree. For my dessert, I chose a carrot cake, which was great.
All non-alcoholic drinks are available anytime and you can ask whenever you want. However, alcoholic drinks are only available during dinner, and some choices you’ll have to pay for.
After our meal, I went with a group of friends for some card games in the observation car. Since I didn’t have any plans for the night, I spent the rest of the night in the observation car with other people as well.
Day 2 – Amtrak Southwest Chief Food
I woke up early in the morning to try and find a good seat in the observation car. I took my breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and chose to eat the Amtrak signature railroad french toast along with some fresh coffee.
My first attempt to find the best spot in the observation car didn’t work out. Many of the Coach Class passengers were already in the car and were looking to stay there for a long time.
That’s why I went back to my room and enjoy the views there. Thankfully, I bought some snacks with me before I boarded the train. I was also able to do some work, but take note that there’s no WiFi in the Southwest Chief.
For lunch, I chose the natural Angus burger with coleslaw and Terra chips on the side. I also chose the Minute Maid orange juice so that I can bring it to the observation car.
On my second try, I was able to find a good seat with the help of the three friends I met last night.
I’ll talk more about what happened in the observation car later in this article.
Since it was my last dinner on the train and I have been traveling several Amtrak routes now, I went for my favorite meals.
I chose the green chile cheese tamale for my appetizer and the famous Amtrak’s signature flat iron steak for my entree. I also chose to drink some Chateau Ste. Michelle – Rose wine to compliment my meal.
Day 3 – Amtrak Southwest Chief Food
The train was traveling as scheduled which is why I ate an early breakfast so that I could enjoy the rest of the ride. I chose to eat the continental breakfast and some breakfast pork sausage links on the side.
Of course, I couldn’t start my day without some coffee.
You can check the traditional menu of the Amtrak Southwest Chief here.
It’s also important to remember that you’ll be passing through different time zones while you’re traveling. This means that certain meal times will either be served behind or ahead of time. Just make sure to always listen for the announcements of the crew for each meal time or ask your assigned Sleeping Car attendant if you have any questions.
Additionally, getting a room in the sleeping car gives you access to complimentary non-alcoholic drinks. You’ll find the station at one side of the car and you can get some water or juice yourself or you can also ask the attendant.
Lastly, if you want to eat alone and want to enjoy the view from your room, you can ask the crew to pack your meal for to-go. They will arrange your meal including your drink and bring it to your room.
Observation Car and Amtrak Southwest Chief “Culture”
Riding the Amtrak Southwest Chief is different from the other Amtrak routes I’ve been on before. In other trains, people were minding their own business and oftentimes, didn’t share a table and sofa in the observation car.
However, in the Southwest Chief, people are always greeting each other and sharing seats. Because I was traveling alone, I got to observe everyone on the train and met new people.
There was a couple who were traveling to meet the girl’s parents. Some families wanted to pass down the experience of traveling via train to their children. And some people want to experience a relaxing and calming train journey, unlike the stressful and busy airlines and planes.
Yes, I always choose trains over planes, but that is just me!
Some of the scenic views you’ll see in the Amtrak Southwest Chief are the plains of Colorado, Kansas, and Iowa, the Painted Desert, and the Red Cliffs of Sedona.
A total of 31 stops in the Amtrak Southwest Chief.
Passengers come and go on the Amtrak Southwest Chief, this much I know for certain and have observed. It’s interesting that there are certain stops in New Mexico where there are vendors on the side of the tracks.
Although I’m not fond of jewelry, artifacts, and other handicrafts, it was a new experience for me to see the histories of the different areas. The crew announces that some of the vendors were there for decades.
Additionally, the crew will announce if the stop is long enough for you to go around or take a cigarette. At certain stops where there’s little time, the crew also announces this so that no passengers can stray too far and get left by the train.
What surprised me the most with my Southwest Chief experience is that some families give out free snacks when they board the train. Upon arriving in New Mexico, there was a family of three who bought sandwiches with them. Later on, some kids were passing out some sandwiches with napkins and everyone was lively again.
It’s also surprising to experience different time zones without you realizing it. You might think at first that the day is almost done, but after several train stops, you realize that other people are just starting their day.
Which is Better, Southwest Chief or California Zephyr?
Although the California Zephyr is known as the most scenic route in the USA, riding the Southwest Chief gives a different feeling.
However, the Southwest Chief is also known as the 4th most scenic route in the USA so you can expect the views to still be awesome.
In the California Zephyr, we focus on the different scenic views and the amazing landscapes. In the Southwest Chief, you get to meet many different people with their own cultures which provides a different experience.
Amtrak Southwest Chief Review – Conclusion
Riding the Amtrak Southwest Chief passenger train for a full 43 hours is an amazing experience. I got to slow down, meet new people, see amazing views, and eat decent food along the way.
The Superliner Bedroom was big enough for me to be comfortable, even two people can sit and sleep there without any problems.
The crew was all nice and everyone on the train was friendly too.
This trip was a win/win for me, I loved it.