Answers are from my own personal travel as of December 2013
- Where should you sit if you are taking California Zephyr?
The scenery switches a lot between left and right side. Also, what you see depends on whether you are travelling from or to Chicago. I sat towards the Northern side (left side of the train) and enjoyed the scenery a lot. I would say, if you can, sit to your left on first day and to your right on the second day (if you are travelling form Emeryville to Chicago)
- How comfortable is coach class on California Zephyr to sleep?
I found it to be very comfortable. Carry your own blanket and pillow. People around you might snore (I snore, fyi) and hence it helps to carry ear plugs.
- Are there electrical outlets in coach class?
Yes. One per seat. But I carried a multi-socket strip with me as I had multiple devices to charge (laptop and my phone).
- Can I sit anywhere inside the coach?
Yes. There is also an observation dome to better experience panoramic views.
- Is there a shower facility inside the train for coach class travellers? No. Carry some shower wipes as an alternative. And yes, deodorants help.
- Is there a microwave available for coach class travellers?
No. Pantry car does have microwave ovens but the panty car people will politely reject your request by stating some FDA regulation related to food safety.
- Is there any kind of refrigeration system available for coach class travellers?
No. But you can get ice to keep your medications.
- How many times can I change my reservation if I have a USA rail pass? Rail pass is for coach class. You can change your coach class reservations as many times as you want. But if your upgrades and other reservations might incur a cancellation / change fee.
- Will I be charged for ticket changes?
I changed my tickets a few times and I had a USA rail pass. I was not charged for any of those changes.
- Why is it that I don’t see my rail pass booking on Amtrak website? Only bookings made through the website are available for online access. Though you may buy your USA rail pass online, you have to call Amtrak to make your reservations. Hence you will not see your reservation details online.
- I lost my booking information email. What should I do?
Since you cannot retrieve your booking online, you have to call Amtrak and they will resend your email.
- Can I carry some personal stash of alcohol?
Many people did and many people drank alcohol at their seats.
- Is there internet access in California Zephyr?
No. Long distance trains don’t have internet. Only some commuter trains along the eastern corridor have internet.
- Why shouldn’t I board at Berkeley?
Berkeley is a local station. If you are taking long distance trains, boarding at Emeryville or Richmond will save you a stop (changeover in Sacramento) and hence a segment on your pass. Also, since Berkeley is an unmanned station, you cannot check your bags in.
- When should I print my tickets? Two days before your journey day. That way you can save on rail pass cancellation charges if you decided to cancel your trip.
- What food should I carry?
YES! The train food served on-board is expensive and is tasteless. If you are a vegetarian, you have even fewer options. During later part of my train journey, I learnt that it is better to pack two meals from places like Chipotle so that you can eat them during your journey. Of course, dry fruits and packaged food will also be very useful.
- What are the important things that I should carry when I travel long distance?
If you are travelling coach class, carry a blanket, ear plugs, eye mask. It can get quite cold during the night.