22 September 2014

Rail - Capitaine Train

I have my brother Ken to thank for alerting me to a new rail booking website for Europe.

Called "Capitaine Train", it's based in Paris, and is a one-stop shop for buying tickets from some of the biggest passenger rail systems in Europe.  As of now, they sell tickets on Eurostar (the "Chunnel" trains between London, Paris, and Brussels), SNCF (French National Railroads), DB (Deutsche Bahn - German Federal Railroads), three other lesser known systems (Thalys, Lyria, and Thello), and even a few bus lines.

It's easy to use.  You don't have to get accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of each railroad's proprietary website, yet you still have access to all of their lowest rail fares.  What's more, there are no booking fees (they earn commissions from the sale of the tickets), and they have real, live people at the other end of the email pipeline when questions arise.

My brother used it to buy tickets for travel in France and thought it was great.  Testimonials by others echo that.  You can create a unique account for use on Capitaine Train, or you can simply sign in using your Facebook credentials.

Heading to Europe and planning to use the trains?  Click on over to Capitaine Train.  (Select the U.K. flag to get the English version - the default is French.)

By the way, Americans have been conditioned to buy various flavors of rail passes for travel in Europe but unless you intend to do a lot of moving around by train, simply buying point-to-point one-way or round-trip tickets will probably be a better value and simpler.

17 April 2014

Hotels - The seasonal ups-and-downs of hotel rates in New York

My travel business is focused on booking hotel rooms for business travelers.  In dollar volume if not also in number of room-nights, I've booked more in New York than in any other single location.

Highline Park - lower East Side
Over the years I've noticed a distinct seasonality to prices there.  For travelers to New York who want to keep the cost of lodging low, and who have the flexibility of traveling at any time, it's useful to know the seasons of lower priced hotel rooms in this remarkable city.

Here's a month-by-month summary.

January - lowest
February - lowest
March - lowest but starts to rise mid-month and beyond
April -  high
May - highest
June - highest but drops as the month goes on
July - lower
August - lower
September - after Labor Day prices zoom
October - highest
November - highest
December - highest until a week or so before Christmas then lowest (except New Year's Eve)

New York is a destination for all reasons, but like most big cities except for glaring exceptions like Las Vegas and Orlando, lodging demand is driven by business travel.

In the winter, business travel subsides and leisure travel in New York slows to a crawl.  In the spring and in the fall, business travel is very high.  In summer business travel declines which leads to somewhat lower rates in New York, too.  This is partly offset by increased leisure travel but these travelers aren't willing to spend as much on accommodations as business travelers are, and prices reflect that.  As in other destinations driven primarily by business travel, rates are generally higher for weeknights (Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday) and lower for weekend nights (Friday-Saturday).

Let's go from the general to the specific using three different hotels as examples:
- Hampton Inn Times Square South (moderately priced hotel)
- New York Hilton (upscale, huge Midtown hotel)
- The Plaza (luxury hotel on Central Park South at Fifth Avenue)

Rates below are per night before tax for three weeknights in a standard room with king bed.  The rate is what is called "best available rate".  Lower rates such as AAA or senior may apply, but these discounts are taken off "best available rate".  (Rates were researched on 16 April 2014.)

28 April 2014
Hampton Inn: $289
New York Hilton: $349
The Plaza: $700

22 July 2014
Hampton Inn: $269
Hilton New York: $349
The Plaza: $625 

14 October 2014
Hampton Inn: $359
Hilton New York: $469
The Plaza: $775 

13 January 2015
Hampton Inn: $179
Hilton New York: $249
The Plaza: $650

While not as volatile as airline ticket prices, hotel rates are also dynamic.  The price for a room booked three months in advance may be different (higher or lower) when booked closer to the actual date of travel.  Take these prices merely as a random snapshot example of the seasonality of the rates, and not as a bronze, immovable tablet.

And then go take a big bite of the Big Apple.  There's no other city quite like it.

05 February 2014

USA Today articles about airline fees and Southwest’s new flights from Dallas Love Field

USA Today recently published a couple of articles readers might find of interest.  The focus is on Southwest Airlines.

First up is the piece about fees charged by U.S. domestic carriers for services such as checked baggage, ticket changes, call-center reservations, and so on.  Certainly not to my surprise, Southwest Airlines is the only carrier that does not resort to relentless nickle-and-diming for services which were free not so long ago.

While bag and ticket change fees get the most attention, I think it's important that Southwest does not tack on an extra fee in order to make reservations and pay for tickets over the phone with a reservations sales agent.  (Call center agents cannot book internet-only fares, however.)  And a further benefit that accompanies that, is that as far as I know Southwest does not have out-of-the-U.S. call centers, so you do not have to struggle to understand agents with impenetrable accents.

Why would you want to book over the phone when you can book online?

Complex multi-city itineraries are complicated to complete online.  Also when you are making asymmetrical travel arrangements for different people with overlapping but not identical itineraries, it's easier to have a pro do it.  (Example: you are traveling round-trip from Sacramento to Chicago leaving 10 June returning 17 June but your partner is returning on 20 June.)

At one time Southwest was something of a regional carrier, but that is long past.  They serve the entire country and contrary to what some people say, they do have hubs (Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore, Denver, and others with smaller operations).  If you are planning a trip that you know runs a high risk of having to be changed or canceled, you should strongly consider using Southwest even if the service isn't as good as on another carrier.  Why?  With the three big network carriers (American/US Airways, United, and Delta) all charging $200 to make changes to a nonrefundable domestic ticket, you will lose big time if you need to cancel or alter plans.
With Southwest on the other hand, you can cancel without penalty and apply the full value of the old ticket toward purchase of a new one.  You would only have to pay the difference in fare.  And you could handle the transaction with an easy-to-understand Southwest Airlines reservations agent.

The second article from USA Today is purely about Southwest and how in October and November it will be adding flights from Dallas Love Field to many cities.

For those not familiar with the subject, Love Field was the original airport for Dallas, but supplanted in the early 1970s by DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth).  A law called the Wright Act, sharply limited flights out of Love Field to only intra-Texas and neighboring states.  It made sense at the time, because the new DFW (less convenient to Dallas than Love Field) needed to grow its business.  However over the years it became anachronistic as DFW cemented its hold on travelers in north Texas, and as the area surrounding DFW became populous and a business hub itself.  (The story is quite similar to the opening of Washington Dulles Airport in 1962, and its relationship to Reagan National Airport.)

So the Wright Act will pass into history and Dallas Love Field will get a lot of new nonstop flights on Southwest to points much further on the map than Austin or Albuquerque.  For now only LAX, Orange County and San Diego in California are included in the expansion (on 2 November) but my guess is that Oakland will probably not be far behind.  And who knows, maybe even Sacramento one fine day?

Dallas Love Field will instantly become a mini-hub for Southwest connecting the West with the Midwest, East, and Southeast, and at an airport a fraction the size of other hub airports.

20 November 2013

Hotels - TrustYou.com

If you are like many other travelers, you have looked at consumer-written hotel reviews when you were planning a trip in order to get a sense of where you wanted to stay.

The best known of the consumer review sites is TripAdvisor, but Google, Hotels.com, Expedia, Facebook, Yelp, and many others can be sources of guest reviews.

The reviews you read can run the gamut from abysmal to stratospherically good, but the sheer volume of information can overwhelm a reader.

TrustYou aggregates and crunches reviews from multiple sources, and then offers a brief, mostly numbers-driven summary.

TrustYou presents an overall score (the "TrustScore") up to 100, assigns a grade (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Mediocre, Bad) and then supplies percentages (good or bad) for specific features such as location, rooms, service, food, bar, internet, etc. under a "Tops & Flops" heading.

When you want detailed reviews about a specific hotel property then you'll need to read the individual consumer reviews (or ask other travelers or a travel agent), but if you are looking for a sense of a hotel's overall score on the most important features, then give TrustYou a look.

To get a sense of the difference between TrustYou and TripAdvisor, take a look at the TripAdvisor review and the TrustYou "TrustScore" for the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

TrustYou makes money by providing reputation management tools to hotels.

05 March 2013

Travel - 10 hours, 3 buses, 1 train

As a rule I don't go out of my way to ride a bus.  Nothing against them, but they just don't move me in quite the same way that trains do.

With that said, I was intrigued when I read not long ago that Megabus had come back to California.  They dipped their toe in the water here in 2007-2008 and then withdrew, but reentered the market in late 2012.  The British company has been successful on the East Coast and elsewhere in the U.S. so I wanted to see how it worked from a passenger's perspective as well as compare it with Amtrak's Capitol Corridor service which I've used many times.

The closest route to where I live in Chico is the one between Sacramento and San Francisco.  Flipping back and forth between Megabus schedules and Amtrak schedules I put together an itinerary that, if everything worked as planned, would get me from Chico to San Francisco and back, in about 10 hours.  (And qualify me for being institutionalized, some people may think.)

Guess what?  The tight schedule I planned worked well.  I'll summarize the journey below, and if you want more details please continue reading past the summary.

Bus - Amtrak 3714 - Chico to Sacramento
leave 7:50 am - arrive 9:55 am

Bus - Megabus - Sacramento to San Francisco
leave 10:50 am - arrive 12:45 pm

(BART from San Francisco to Richmond)

Rail - Amtrak 532 - Richmond to Sacramento
leave 1:47 pm - arrive 3:28 pm

Bus - Amtrak 3713 - Sacramento to Chico
leave 3:40 pm - arrive 5:35 pm

Now for the details.  Read on if you dare.

Chico to Sacramento: (Amtrak bus 3714)
price: $25
schedule: lv 7:50 am / ar 9:55 am
actual operation: on-time departure / early arrival at 9:36 am

I've taken Amtrak buses so often between Chico and Sacramento that there isn't a lot for me to learn, but one novelty for me was that this was the first time I had ridden since Amtrak introduced its form of e-ticketing which is used now on all of the Amtrak bus routes in California.  It isn't paperless, however.
Interior of an Amtrak bus

You do need to have an itinerary with barcode, either printed on your own printer or printed at a staffed Amtrak station or an unstaffed one with a Quik-Trak machine.  
Chico is neither staffed nor does it have a Quik-Trak machine, but since I bought my ticket at Amtrak.com I printed the itinerary with barcode at home.  The barcode can also be displayed on a smartphone or tablet using the Amtrak app.  The bus driver scanned the barcode quickly and I hopped on the bus for a pleasant and uneventful ride.  (The bus stops in Oroville and Marysville to pick up passengers.)

Sacramento to San Francisco: (Megabus)
price: $6.65
schedule: lv 10:50 am / ar 12:45 pm
actual operation: left at 10:55 am / early arrival at 12:31 pm

Megabus stop on Front Street in Old Sacramento
That is not a misprint.  I paid $6 to get from Sacramento to San Francisco.  If I'd bought it two days in advance it was only $5, and Megabus promises to sell at least a couple of tickets on each bus for a buck!  Megabus competes with Amtrak and other bus operators in California and especially on the east coast, but they also compete with the car.  There is no way one person or even a couple of people can get from Sacramento to San Francisco for $6 per person including gas and bridge tolls.    The reason for the extra 65 cents is that there is a 50 cent booking fee for every transaction, and I opted to pay an additional 15 cents for a text-message notification in case of delays.

All bookings are made online; passengers provide their booking numbers to the bus driver who checks them against a manifest of reservations.  It worked smoothly for me.  The bus driver also stows the one piece of allowed luggage per person after verifying the reservation.

Megabus saves money by not having any terminal that it calls its own.  In some cities it uses bus bays at a transit terminal while in others (including Sacramento and San Francisco) they stop at a curbside location.  In Sacramento Megabus picks up and drops off on Front Street in Old Sacramento (about two blocks south of the railroad museum) and in San Francisco in front of the Caltrain Station at Fourth and Townsend.

Megabus - upper level
The trip from Sacramento to the city went well.  The ride quality of the double-decker bus was smooth, and the driver was excellent.  She drove at a remarkably consistent speed, seldom changing lanes while remaining mostly in one of the middle lanes.  Since this was a midday ride, there was little in the way of traffic slowdowns.  But being on the highway, it would be subject to the same delays that a driver would be with the exception that Megabus can use the carpool lanes between Pinole and the 80/580/880 "Maze", and skip the Bay Bridge toll plaza with the bus-only lanes.

For the better view and airy open feeling, I sat on the upper level, which is reached by a rather steep stairway.  The lower level has less seating than the upper level but is also the location of the restroom.  The toilet is the standard bus toilet (think porta-potty) without a flush system or running water for hand washing.  However it was clean, and offered hand sanitizer.

Megabus - lower level
Megabus advertises free wifi and power plugs.  My laptop detected the strong signal and connected, though I never was actually able to get to the internet.  I seldom have trouble connecting to wifi, so I wonder if it was just a one-time problem on that bus.  It was not a big deal, as I was more interested in enjoying the ride.

In San Francisco the bus drops and picks up passengers in front of the Caltrain station on Fourth Street.  Depending on your ultimate destination, this would either be ideal or so-so.

Megabus stop at Caltrain station in San Francisco
It would be ideal if you were headed down the Peninsula to places such as San Mateo, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, etc.  You can walk about 100 feet and get on one of the frequent trains that Caltrain operates.

On the other hand if you need to get to downtown San Francisco you need to either get a taxi, or take Muni.  The N or T light-rai lines from the Caltrain station will get you to Market Street stops starting with Embarcadero, and several bus lines can get you quickly to Market at Third Street, and beyond.

All in all, I'd say my Megabus experience was quite positive and a flat-out bargain.  I think they have a product that could catch on especially for short and medium length distances.  In a little bit I'll compare it with Amtrak Capitol Corridor service.

South Park neighborhood - San Francisco
My schedule calculations for making this work (without getting back at a late hour in Chico) required that I get myself to the Montgomery Street BART station to make a train that would get me to Richmond in time to connect with a Capitol Corridor train at 1:47 pm.  (BART and Amtrak in essence operate out of the same station in Richmond.  Get off BART, go downstairs, pass through the fare-gates, then go up to the Amtrak platform.)

Because Megabus was early I thought I'd walk instead of taking Muni to Market Street.  I didn't know how close I was cutting it!

Montgomery Street BART
It's not that short a distance, and I took a little bit of the scenic route detouring via the picturesque South Park neighborhood and snapping a picture of a brewpub (21st Amendment) for friends who like that joint.  I got to Montgomery Street BART at 1:00 pm, got the slightly late (thank goodness) Richmond train at 1:05 pm (scheduled for 1:01 pm) and got to Richmond five minutes before Amtrak 532.  Train 532 was on-the-dot at 1:47 pm.  If I'd missed that train, my ultimate arrival in Chico would have been 3 hours later than it was.

Richmond to Sacramento: (Amtrak 532)
price: $26.00
schedule: lv 1:47 pm / ar 3:28 pm
actual operation: on-time departure / early arrival at 3:12 pm

Interior of an Amtrak Capitol train
I've been on these trains often and know the drill well, but as with the Amtrak bus out of Chico it was the first time I'd used Amtrak's e-ticketing system.  The friendly female conductor scanned the barcode and it was done.  Being as the system is still fairly new, I'm sure that problems arise, but from my limited and rather elementary experience it seemed to work well.  As a travel agent, I know it will be useful when Amtrak expands e-ticketing to travel agents.  Amtrak reservations made and ticketed by travel agents through their GDS (global distribution systems) continue to be paper tickets.  Some Amtrak issued tickets with special circumstances remain paper for the time being.

New platforms in Sacramento
The train made the usual stops in Martinez, Suisun-Fairfield, and Davis, before pulling into Sacramento about 15 minutes early.  It was a pleasant, unremarkable trip, which they usually are.  Anytime you can get between the Bay Area and Sacramento and not be in a car it's pleasant.

As part of the massive (and not yet completely planned out) railyards project in Sacramento, brand new platforms and below-ground walkways have been built for Amtrak.  They are so much better than the old ones, however there is a considerably longer walk to the station than before.  Still the new platforms are bright and clean, and the underground walkways spacious and user-friendly.

Sacramento to Chico: (Amtrak bus 3713)
price: $25.00
schedule: lv 3:40 pm / ar 5:35 pm
actual operation: left at 4:03 pm / late arrival at 5:50 pm

Back in Chico ten hours after I left
This was the only leg of the trip that ran slightly late.  In its defense, the bus in fact operates from Stockton to Sacramento (and then on to Chico), and it serves to connect passengers from the northbound San Joaquin train 713.  That train was 22 minutes late into Stockton so the bus was delayed in its departure for Sacramento.  As with the morning's southbound ride, the bus was clean, comfortable, and the driver very competent.

As a final note, it's clear from this ride and the many others that I've taken that Chico is by far the most important stop on the Sacramento-Redding bus.  Except for a few that got off in Oroville, and one staying on for Red Bluff or Redding, all other passengers disembarked in Chico.

Comparing Amtrak's Capitol Corridor with Megabus

Price: Hands down it's Megabus.  Amtrak's not even close.
Frequency: Right now Amtrak's the winner with 15 trains weekdays between Sacramento and Emeryville (bus connections to SF) and Oakland.  (7 of these trains continue to/from San Jose.)  Megabus operates 4 buses each way between Sacramento and San Francisco.
Comfort: Amtrak seats are considerably bigger and there is more legroom, though Megabus is good.
Ride quality: Amtrak has a slight edge in smoothness. 
Speed: Megabus schedules are 1:55 to 2 hours.  Amtrak (with the bus connection from Emeryville) is 2:05 to 2:20.
Amenities: Amtrak is the clear winner here, since you can walk around the train, there is a well-stocked snack bar, and the bathrooms are far superior.  (The accessible bathroom is huge, and the toilets are flush toilets and there is running water.)  In my one experience with wifi on Megabus, it didn't work (and Amtrak's worked surprisingly well) but I'd have to give Megabus another chance on that.  Amtrak will likely remain more attractive to the many business people who commute on the train because of the higher level of amenities.
Other factors: A nice feature of Megabus is that there are no stops between Sacramento and San Francisco.  If you use Amtrak to Richmond (and then BART to the city), you will make 3 intermediate stops.  If you take Amtrak to Emeryville you'll have 5 intermediate stops, plus the Amtrak bus over the Bay Bridge.  On the other hand, Megabus is subject to the same traffic jams that drivers are (except for being able to use carpool lanes), while trains obviously don't have to deal with that.
Conclusion: I'm a train guy and I'm inclined to use the train, but I really thought Megabus has a good product and I'd love to see them expand their system.  I would definitely ride them again.  Isolated Chico where I live, would be a great market to add, particularly with its large population of college students.  Megabus already serves Reno and Sparks from Sacramento.  How about adding some one-stop buses that operate Chico-Sacramento-San Francisco?  I think Amtrak will remain the non-automobile mode of choice for the many business people that commute by train between the Bay Area and Sacramento, but Megabus may become the preferred choice for students and others on a tight budget, and even more so if they add additional destinations.

Useful links and info:
- Megabus
- Amtrak's Capitol Corridor

As of the writing of this post (March 2013) Megabus operates in the following markets in California and Nevada:
- San Francisco-Sacramento-Reno-Sparks
- San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose-Los Angeles
- Los Angeles/Riverside-Las Vegas

13 February 2013

Airlines - Hawaiian Airlines to Asia with a free stop in paradise

When you think of travel to Asia, Hawaiian Airlines doesn't normally come to mind.  After all, there is a lot of water between Hawaii and the islands and mainland of east Asia.

Yet Hawaiian Airlines has been slowly but surely adding service to Asia (and Australia) and now offers a nice array of destinations served nonstop from Honolulu including Tokyo (Haneda airport), Osaka, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Seoul, Manila, Sydney, and Brisbane.  Service to Taipei begins in July.

Hawaiian Airlines route map   (link to map on airline's website)

From the mainland, Hawaiian offers flights to Honolulu from all major cities on the west coast, plus Sacramento, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and a very long nonstop flight from New York Kennedy.

Nonstop flights from the west coast to Asia and Australia are very long, ranging from 11 to 14+ hours.  On the one hand it's nice to get to your destination in one big bite, but for many people it is simply too long to be cooped up in the air.  Breaking the trip into two pieces, results in two smaller bites: 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours to Honolulu from the west coast gateway airports, and then 9 to 11 hours from there to Asia or Australia.

Hawaiian Airlines sweetens what for some would be a disadvantage in having to make a connection (or in some cases a forced overnight due to flights from the mainland not scheduled to connect with flights to Asia), by allowing a free stopover in Honolulu both coming and going.

For those of you who haven't read my Airline Fare School chapter about stopovers this means that instead of paying two separate fares (for example: San Francisco to Honolulu and then Honolulu to Seoul) you would pay the through fare (San Francisco to Seoul).  This is good, because breaking the fare into two pieces often results in a higher total price.

Normally for international travel, a stop of more than 24 hours means that the fare must be broken, but with the free Honolulu stopover it won't matter.  (You will incur some small additional cost in extra tax, however.)

Think about how nice it would be to break a long trip with a stop in Honolulu.  Or maybe you have a business trip to Asia that on the return you would like to cap with a Hawaiian vacation.

One limitation to be aware of is that the fare routing only allows for travel through Honolulu.  If you wanted to go to Maui, Kauai, the big island, etc., you would need to fly in and out of Honolulu, and purchase separate inter-island connecting flights.

29 January 2013

Rail - The Man in Seat 61 (my go-to website)

For most of the people I know, I am the guy to ask when it comes to questions about Amtrak, having worked there as an employee and as a consultant, as well as being celebrated/notorious/ridiculed (pick your adjective of choice) for being fond of trains.

Though my knowledge of Amtrak does not translate to in-depth knowledge about other railroads in the world, I still get questions from friends and clients about trains outside of the U.S. (especially in Europe), which, except for some general knowledge, I seldom can answer.

So where do I recommend that people go to do their research?

Always to The Man in Seat 61!

The Man in Seat 61 (henceforth simply called Seat 61 - the URL is seat61.com) is simply the most comprehensive compendium of rail travel information I've ever seen.  What makes it valuable is that it is aimed at ordinary travelers, not folks that are already train-crazy.  It's been years since I first ran across it.  For anyone who is train-crazy, or has tendencies that way, it is a dangerous place to drop in - kind of like quicksand that you don't really want to get out of.

For example, as I began writing this post and was looking at Seat 61, I got trapped looking at information there about riding trains in Cuba and North Korea.  Yes, it gets that esoteric.

Recently a friend asked me for information about buying tickets for travel from Budapest to Prague.  I checked Seat 61, and as I hoped and expected, there was detailed information about that very subject.

Seat 61 began in 2001 as a personal project by Mark Smith, a train-loving Brit.  But Seat 61 grew and grew, and eventually he left his day job in the U.K. Department of Transport to devote himself full-time to Seat 61.  (Seat 61's origin reminds me a little of imdb.com.  imdb.com was created in the late 1990s by Col Needham a British movie fan.)  Seat 61 does not charge for access, but makes money selling advertising, so click on a few links while you're there.  Over the years, Seat 61 has garnered many "best travel website" accolades, and most deservedly so.

Many Americans (and American travel agents) use Rail Europe to book train travel in Europe.  (Rail Europe is jointly owned by SCNF [the French railroad] and SBB [the Swiss railroad].)  Nothing wrong with that as they make it easy to buy both passes and point-to-point tickets from the U.S. and Canada.  But they do not offer access to most of the bargain rail fares that you can buy in many instances on the websites of the individual national rail operators in Europe, and the price differences can be astounding!

For example, on a trip to Germany in 2008, I booked point-to-point tickets from Munich to Leipzig, and then on to Berlin on the German railroad website for far less than it would have cost via Rail Europe.  (Keep in mind that Seat 61 is not a travel booking site.  Rather it supplies the information and provides links to websites where you can buy rail tickets.)

But it's not just about getting deals on rail tickets.  Because Seat 61 was created by a rail travel enthusiast, you get the deep drill-down into many useful subjects that you won't necessary find even by looking at the individual railroad websites.  For example, take a look at this information about how to get from one station to another in Paris using the Metro.  Or how about this page with details on using trains and ferries to get from the U.K. to the channel islands of Jersey and Guernsey?

An interesting feature of Seat 61 is providing ways to get from Point A (usually in the U.K.) to Point B (on the continent of Europe or beyond) by means that do not involve flying.  That might include combinations of train, ferries, ships, buses, etc.  Check out this page with detailed plans to get you from the U.K. to Malta, the island in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Libya.

While the sharpest focus of Seat 61 is on rail travel in Europe, it includes trains worldwide.  Mark Smith covers what I know best - Amtrak - in excellent detail, and I would highly recommend his chapter about Amtrak to anyone.

Rather than go on and on about Seat 61, I invite you to look for yourself.  But I caution that you, too, might get pleasantly trapped on the site daydreaming about the train rides you could take.