Plains, trains and automobiles are how I normally get around the world, in addition to an occasional walk for good measure. My favorite mode of transportation is via Amtrak.
I travel a lot as the managing partner of my firm and find using Amtrak to be very pleasant, relaxing and refreshing. Most people don't like traveling when they have to be enroute for hours at a time, but I truly love it! My average trip one way on the train is around 13 hours one way.
Here is what a typical trip looks like from start to finish. I take out my iPhone and see how many Guest Rewards points I have using the Amtrak App for iOS which is a free application I downloaded from the App store. After I have determined what type of deal I can get by using my points from my previous travels, I follow the seven steps below to maximize my trip experience.
1. I call Amtrak reservations at 800.872.7245 and give the automated agent named Julie all of my travel information. I tell Julie how many adults, children, or pets I'm bringing on my trip, plus the dates of travel and the times for departure and return.
2. I confirm the trip schedule with Julie and then ask to speak to a real person. When I have an attendant on the line they are able to see my reservation.
3. I let the attendant know that I'm blind and will need Red Cap assistance. I also state that would like the customary disability discount of 15%. This discount is applied to the ticket price after the total has been explained. You get the best deal when you book well in advance of your departure.
4. Once the trip has been made and payment has been submitted, all is well in the world. I wait for my electronic ticket to be emailed to me. On the day of the trip, I arrive at the station one hour before departure time. The ticket says to arrive two hours before departure, but I know from doing this for years that the people needing assistance move through all processes first. To avoid unnecessary waiting, I show up an hour before my time to depart. I take out my phone and hand it to the ticket agent with the confirmation email already opened on the screen. She scans the phone and prints me a ticket for boarding.
5. Remember in step three, when I explained that I request Red Cap? The Red Cap is your friend and is there to serve you, so make sure you tip well. Tip as T.I.P. stands for "to insure prompt service" and you should always tip people who serve. They will seat you in a specific area of the station so you can be first on the train. When you board the train, they will find you a comfortable seat near the dining cart and the restrooms. Then the Red Cap is off to help other people with disabilities. Don't worry, this type of help is available throughout your whole trip from the short breaks between cities where you get out to stretch your legs, to when you need to possibly switch trains. Every step of the way you have help.
6. Once I'm settled into my seat, the conductor comes, takes my ticket and lets me know to alert him if I need anything. The conductor makes sure I know where the restrooms, dining cart and quiet car is located...now here is why I really love Amtrak.
7. While on the train you have all types of dining options including steak, seafood, hamburgers, and hot dogs. They also offer soda, your favorite spirits, chips, candy and a pillow. Free WiFi is available, as well as spacious seating and a power outlet to charge your electronics. Not to mention the low cost with the disability discount. With all of that included in your ticket price, you have yourself one fine trip, or as I like to call it...an adventure.
I have been using Amtrak since the mid 90's and have never ran into a issue. I've met several interesting people like a guy that was a famous tennis player to the CEO of SkyTel Inc. Oh, and before I forget, if you want to kick your trip up a notch, Amtrak has sleeper cars that you can get instead of coach for an additional fee and you get all your meals and spirits for free served to you in your room. I like the option of having a cabin to myself and being served because its classy. But I also like that you can sleep and you have a real bed, your own restroom and all the amenities of a hotel as you travel at 100 miles per hour or so.
What do you think about traveling on Amtrak for long distances and what challenges do you have with other modes of transportation?