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Amtrak from NYC to NOLA, the on to Tucson and then . . .

Amtrak from NYC to NOLA, the on to Tucson and then . . .

Old Jun 6th, 2024, 12:09 PM
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Amtrak from NYC to NOLA, the on to Tucson and then . . .

As I was leaving the building Joe the doorman asked me where I was heading. "New Orleans by Amtrak, then on to Tucson," I said.
"No kidding," he replied. "I've always wanted to do something like that."
"I'll let you know how it goes when I return."

I was a little early getting to the Moynihan Train Hall. As we'd booked a roomette we were allowed to use the Metropolitan Lounge overlooking the concourse. This was a comfortable spot to wait. An usher brought us down to the train -- the Crescent -- when it was called, and we were introduced to our quarters for the next thirty hours or so.

Roomettes have two facing seats which convert to a bunk, and another bunk which folds down from the ceiling. We were in a Viewliner II car for the NYC/NOLA leg. It has a fold-down sink (it works!) and room to stow a couple of carry-ons. The bathrooms are down the hall, as is a shower. Since we were only on the trains one night on each leg we didn’t bother with the shower. Viewline I cars have a slide-out toilet in the room, of which we are thankfully ignorant! On the whole it was quite comfortable.

Not that there weren’t inconveniences — tight quarters sometimes requiring contortions to don pants for example (plenty of opportunity for slapstick. Surprised Laurel and Hardy never filmed one). On the whole though it’s a low-key way to cross long distances. Well, it’[s somewhat more than that. Trains go where planes and cars can’t, sliding past the backs of neighborhoods — generally poor — and then abruptly bordering the edge of an estate or ranch, with horses galloping beside a fence. Honestly, it’s like two different counties out there. Saw a lot of tents set up near the tracks as well. Freight trains run along these same tracks, so I supposes there are opportunities to hop on. I’m not going to dismiss the romantic aspect of train travel, the link with the past, the aching songs — but my motivation was more practical; I wanted to sense firsthand the immensity of the continent.

Quite a bitof those thirty hours were in darkness, but with enough light in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to watch the swamps go by, filled with tall thin pine trees which we sometimes saw harvested, peeled and mounted on trucks. I suppose they are used for telephone poles, though in older days they would make good masts for ships. There wasn’t much chance to get about on this leg of the trip. The former CEO of Amtrak (former CEO of Delta Airlines) decided that dining cars were an unnecessary luxury, and all trains east of the Mississippi now serve reheated foil-wrapped meals of about the same quality as airline food. Meh. You “dine” in your cabin.

Early the next evening we rolled into New Orleans.

To be continued . . .
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Old Jun 7th, 2024, 03:41 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Jun 7th, 2024, 04:10 AM
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Hi Fradiavolo

Looking forward to reading more. Last time I took a sleeper on the Crescent was 2015–sorry to learn that it too has moved to foil-covered in-cabin meals (delivered I presume in a bag by the attendant?). The dining wagon often (not always) used to result in interesting conversation. My last Amtrak sleeper was in 2023, DC to Cincinnati, and on that route we had the option of having this meal brought to us either in the cabin or the dining car. But even the dining car lacked the sociability of earlier times as it’s quiet with most not opting to sit there.

Glad to read the first leg was comfortable and went smoothly. I liked your comments on the out-the-window visuals. Hope you include some highlights of the layover in New Orleans!

Best wishes—Daniel

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Old Jun 7th, 2024, 09:14 AM
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Thanks for reading. And Daniel thanks for reminding me to say a few words about the attendants. Ours were friendly and attentive. As Daniel says, they bring your meals and will set up your beds in the evening and put them in order in the morning. We straightened up ourselves -- it's not difficult once you see how it's done. Tips are accepted and appreciated.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans . . .

We hadn’t been there since a Mardi Gras in the ’80’s, scheduled this visit to miss the festivities. I'd always wanted to go back and see the city in its usual state. I put it off until finally, tragically, it was almost too late -- Hurricane Katrina devastated the town. It seems to have made a recovery, though I'll never know what things were like before the storm.

We spent three days in the city, doing the normal things one does in New Orleans. We visited the enormous and excellent WWII Museum, I chose to follow the exhibits on the Pacific Theater, since I'm tolerably familiar with the Atlantic. It was enlightening to learn how the air, sea and land forces coordinated their campaign from island to island. Took a cemetery tour. Rode a streetcar. We spent a day in the picturesque French Quarter, which we found charming if a little sketchy in places. In Pirate's Alley I found the house where William Faulkner wrote his first novel. It's now a tiny bookstore with a large Faulkner collection. Now, NOLA is one of the drunker cities I’ve visited (other include Key West, Amsterdam and Savannah), but alas, those days are over for me. I passed the hot dog stands selling daiquiris without a backward glance.

Of course, we gorged on char-grilled oysters, gumbo, jambalaya, fried shrimp po' boys and even roast beef debris (look it up!). We had one special meal at Commander's Palace. I had brought a blazer with me just for this meal, as jackets are required for men. In fact, the weather throughout our trip was cooler than expected, and the blazer was part of my everyday wear. I never took my polo shirts out of the suitcase.

I found the quiet atmosphere of the Garden District more to my liking than the Quarter. (Growing old) Passed the former home of George Washington Cable, almost forgotten today, but famous in his time for his depictions of Creole life. So much so that such luminaries as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde paid him visits there. I assume separately, but wouldn't that make fine dinner party if together?

Early on the fourth morning in town we boarded the Amtrak Sunset Limited for Tucson.

To be continued . . .

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Old Jun 7th, 2024, 10:39 AM
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Fra, this sounds like a great trip.

I just want to comment on the Laurel and Hardy mention you made. They did make a movie with a scene much as you described. It was in the 1929 classic "Berth Marks" in which Stan & Ollie try to remove their clothes while in an upper berth (both at the same time). The Three Stooges also had a movie scene on a train with tight quarters in "Pain In The Pullman" (starting about halfway into the short).

Both can be viewed on YouTube:
Berth Marks -
Pain In The Pullman:


Looking forward to the rest of your report.

Last edited by nycguy10002; Jun 7th, 2024 at 10:41 AM.
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Old Jun 8th, 2024, 04:47 AM
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Enjoying your report. Looking forward to more.
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Old Jun 8th, 2024, 07:23 AM
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Well, it appears we not only share in common having taken the Crescent sleeper and switched in New Orleans to the Sunset Limited train, but I also, while I too appreciated the charms of the French Quarter, prefer the relative calm of the Garden District. Likewise, I have had some terrific sleeping car attendants over the years.

Looking forward to the Sunset Limited train ride!
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Old Jun 8th, 2024, 08:18 AM
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Excellent report, Fra, thanks. Looking forward to your Tucson stage, as we have spent quite a bit of time there over the years.

We did one Amtrak trip on the Zephyr from Denver to Sacramento. Definitely an interesting slice of Americana, with the ever changing scenery and neighborhood views that did, in fact, include the graveyard of the rusted automobiles.
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Old Jun 8th, 2024, 08:28 AM
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Thanks for reading , folks!

nycguy -- nice to find a new-to-me Laurel and Hardy. I'm a lifelong fan.

Daniel -- Glad to see I'm not alone.

Nelson --
I've heard the Zephyr follows the most beautiful route in the Amtrak system. Maybe some day. And I also noted that "the graveyards of the rusted automobiles" were still lining the train tracks, just as Arlo sang.

Sunset Limited and Tucson to come, if I can get out of trimming the shrubs!
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Old Jun 8th, 2024, 09:08 AM
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Fra_Diavolo - Great trip report so far. Until age and infirmity caught up with me, I was a frequent train patron, both Amtrak and ViaRail. I've done both of these routes, the Sunset Limited multiple times and your report brings back memories of these trips. Thank you.
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 09:41 AM
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Thanks for stopping by, dwooddon!

Aboard the Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited uses Superliner cars. These are double-deckers some sixteen feet tall. However, putting two roomettes on top of one another results in some reduced headroom for the upper bunk. They've also increased the size of the bunks, which eliminates the fold-down sink and extra storage space, and leaves only a tiny footwell for dressing when the bunks are deployed. You leave your luggage in racks on the lower deck. However, despite these small shortcomings it offers two strong benefits: both dining and observation cars.

The drill is a little different -- a dining car attendant comes around and takes reservations for seating times. I should mention that the fare for roomettes and rooms includes all meals and even an alcoholic drink at dinner. I thought the food was quite good, especially the flat iron steak in a port wine reduction sauce. For the first lunch and dinner my wife and I sat alone, but after a midnight stop in San Antonio where the Texas Eagle, down from Saint Louis, joined the train we were seated with other couples at meals. I found both the Canadian and American company interesting and sociable. Both were veteran train travelers and appeared to have planned circular routes to maximize their time on trains.

The observation car was open to all, but we always found seat. These are arranged in groups that seat two or four with small tables. The views, of desert and eventually mountains were bewitching. I was particularly amazed at one section in Texas, where water had eroded the soil into a miniature Grand Canyon, full of spires, hollows, pillars and cliffs. It went on for miles. People were pretty quiet and there wasn't much socializing -- a few women stopped by to compliment my wife on the sweater she was knitting for our grandson.

Unfortunately there isn't a “club car” where lonely travelers hang out to drink and pass the time. Below the dining car there was a canteen where you could buy snacks or drinks. (We used to get cocktails and bring them to our roomette before dinner.) Seems like a train ought to have a bar. I recalled the line from the song "The City of New Orleans," “Playing card games with the old man in the club car,” but suddenly realized in that scenario I would be the old man! Kind of spoiled the mood.

Tucson coming up next.
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Old Jun 10th, 2024, 04:25 AM
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I am enjoying following your adventure.
Looking forward to more.
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Old Jun 11th, 2024, 09:07 AM
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The Sunset Limited rolled on to LA, but my wife and I stayed in Tucson, ringed-round by mountains. We were here to see an old friend from Foreign Service days (he said we were his first visitors in twenty years to arrive by train). We found much to like there. I wish I had chosen a different hotel. It was the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort -- a nice spot, but it was not really resort weather and the place is sprawling. We spent three days there, and had one lunch, one brunch and two dinners with our friend who had some of his local friends join us, so it was quite a convivial time!

For anyone interested, the dinner places were Augustin Kitchen https://agustinkitchen.com and Coronet https://coronettucson.com. We enjoyed both. Coronet had an especially attractive courtyard for dining, though I suppose it's too hot to sit there this time of year.

We visited the Sonoran Desert Museum which I would highly recommend. It's more of a zoo and botanical garden than a museum. This was my third trip to the southwest and I still haven't seen a wild rattlesnake, but I saw quite a few behind glass there -- I had no idea there were so many species of rattlers. That afternoon we visited the San Xavier del Bac Mission outside of town. The mission played a critical role in the settlement of the area. It is sited on the Tohono O'odham reservation, and runs a school there. Masses are still heard, in fact we had to wait outside for one to end before entering. Inside you'll be reminded of the churches you can find in Mexico, adorned with locally hand-carved painted statues and decorative woodwork. A wonderful visit, though I would suggest reading up on its history before going.

Our final day our friend took us to brunch, then led us on a walking tour of downtown Tucson. We visited the University of Arizona, the Presidio historic district and the Museum of Art. Later one of his friends remarked that he must really like us, as to thneir knowledge he had never been to the museum in twenty years! Well, that was his loss. It has an outstanding collection of Mesoamerican art and several temporary exhibits. Well worth a visit.

We were quite taken with Tucson and are considering returning for a longer stay next winter. There's a lot more to explore and many hikes to take, and other nearby areas to get to.

Next, I'll wrap up this tale with our time in Joshua Tree NP, Santa Barbara and LA. Thanks for reading.

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Old Jun 12th, 2024, 06:10 AM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed the Tucson stop, Fra. We have traveled there semi-regularly for years to get a taste of early spring. There is definitely a lot to see and do, and plenty of great restaurants.

Looking forward to your Santa Barbara impressions, as we spent a week+ there two years ago.
Thanks for the TR.
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Old Jun 18th, 2024, 07:57 AM
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The purpose of our trip was to travel coast to coast overland -- but the purpose of the trip report was to describe long distance train travel to those who might be interested. With that in mind, I'll finish up quickly.

We'd rented a car in Tucson, and on the third day drove out to 29 Palms as a base to visit Joshua Tree NP. 29 Palms has little to recommend itself save its proximity to the park. We'd planned to enter at night to enjoy the dark skies, so wanted to be close and not face a long drive after dark. We ate at a decent BBQ place -- very popular and a not-so-great Mexican. We knew we were in trouble at the latter when I ordered two margaritas, on the rocks with salt and the waiter asked, "Would you like the twelve, twenty-four or thirty-six ounce size?"

While Joshua Tree is not as stunning as say, Zion, it is well worth a visit. The famous trees, which you will find outside the park as well, the fierce cacti, short hikes and vistas make for fine day, and the stars in the night sky are astonishing.

After two nights there, we left for Santa Barbara. This is the view heading out of town. I think that's Mount San Jacinto.


A snow-capped mountain peak always takes my breath away.

We spent two days in lovely Santa Barbara, walking the shore and jetties, visiting the surprisingly interesting maritime museum, then left for Santa Monica, our final stop in California. Since I've spent most of my life on the flat coastal plain of the east, I fell in love with the mountainous seashore of the west. We chose Santa Monica for its convenience in reaching the two Getty museums, the object of our tie in LA. Had I more time I would have visited the staircase Laurel and Hardy climbed while lugging a piano, and the grave of Errol Flynn, but the two excellent Getty museums filled our days.

We flew home, covering three weeks of travel in about five hours.

When I ran into Joe the Doorman on our return, he said, "I've got one question: Would you do it again?"

"Absolutely," I said.


Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer.

Best, FD
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Old Jun 19th, 2024, 06:00 AM
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Glad you had a good trip. The answer to Joe the Doorman’s question sums it up.

We also thought the little SB maritime museum was a sleeper, spent several hours there.

Safe travels. Thanks for the report.
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Old Jun 19th, 2024, 06:07 AM
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Glad you had such a great trip and made it home safely.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 03:58 AM
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This sounds like a great trip, thanks for reporting. Are you planning future trips by train? I have wondered if I would like to try one, but not sure DH would want more than a short ride where he was not able to stop or go when/where the spirit move .

Thanks for the report
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 06:54 AM
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Sounds like a great trip! We continue to travel by train in Europe with the last remaining overnight trains (although I hear they're making a comeback due to Europe's sensitively to the environment). Our last long U.S. train trip was on the Coast Startlight from LA to Seattle, and back again in 1996. I recall the roomettes and the tight squeeze, but as a family of 3 back then, we opted for the bigger family room that was quite spacious!

But I think nothing really compares to the old Super Chief my family used to travel on from LA to Chicago back in the late 50's and early 60's before we took to plane travel, or very long road travel (LA to NY via Canada in '64).

We still take the train in the U.S., but mostly the Surfliner (when it's operating) between LA and San Diego.
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Old Jun 20th, 2024, 06:04 PM
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Thanks for writing this wonderful trip report! Terrific!
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