Taking the train is an exciting and economical way for families with kids to travel in comfort around the USA. While train travel may not be the fastest way to get around, the pace is perfect for sightseeing. What's more parents can relax while the kids make new friends and take in the scenery.
Amtrak runs most of America's long-distance trains. And in addition to the evocative names such as the Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, California Zephyr and Southwest Chief, the shiny double-decker cars or Superliners as they're called have diners and sightseeing lounges with huge wrap-around windows. Although trains on shorter routes, such as those between Boston and Washington, DC, may not be as cool, travel by train is a valid alternative to the hassle of airports.
Food is always a question mark when traveling with kids. On most trains, dining car food is kid-friendly and reasonably priced. Pack snacks and drinks and even food if you are keen on a picnic on board.
Traveling with infants and toddlers? There's no need to despair. Food or formula can be warmed by holding the container under running hot water in the restroom. Alternatively, ask food-service staff to warm bottles and baby food or bring an electric warmer or hot water coffee pot. In addition to changing facilities and places to dispose of used diapers most restrooms have electrical outlets. A narrow umbrella stroller will help you navigate the aisle. A backpack with a metal frame can stand on a seat for use as a platform or as a booster seat in the dining car.
If the trip takes longer than six hours, consider traveling at night and booking a sleeper car. It will add to the excitement of your family train trip. Of note, meals are included in the price of sleeper tickets and showers, towels and soap are provided in sleeper cars.
Fares depend on the class of service and distance traveled. Special offers, seasonal rates and excursion deals often mean big reductions, especially if you travel off-peak. Accompanied children aged 2-15 pay half fare and kids under two travel free if sharing an adult's seat.
When making your reservations ask for window seats, and if you want more than one, request seats facing each other. Inquire about priority boarding when you book and reserve an early dinner seating, especially with very young kids.
Train travel with kids is a safe way to go. The following tips will ensure there are no accidents along the way. Stay well back on train platforms and keep children close - especially toddlers. When boarding or walking beside the train keep hands and feet from underneath and don't let children near the wheels (trains can move at any time). Teach kids not to touch exterior doors or emergency windows and always supervise young children when using the restroom. Watch mobile toddlers closely, as playing in the aisles may be dangerous or annoying to other passengers. Walk cautiously and don't go barefoot, especially when traveling between cars. If children are in another car or area of the train they should return immediately to their seats if the train stops at any time.