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I took the older of my two boys to Seattle and Boise for a six-day trip, kicked off with a travel down to the Bay Area on Amtrak. It’s not that driving wasn’t an option; Amtrak was just cheaper, and I’m trying to stockpile my Hertz points for future trips. The tickets cost $98 for both of us, and I used my Arrival “miles” to bring the charge to zero (I have the old version where the minimum redemption is $25).
We are hundreds of miles from the nearest Amtrak train station, so the bulk of the trip is actually on Amtrak thruway bus. Our journey from Fortuna to Martinez was blocked for a full 6 hours. Fortuna is about 15 minutes from our home, so catching the Amtrak thruway bus is super convenient. We departed at 8:00 a.m. and wouldn’t arrive until right at 2:00 p.m. The scheduled trip does include two breaks, including one longer one for lunch.
Boarding is a breeze with the Amtrak app. I’m sure people who ride Amtrak frequently use it all the time, but it is nice to have even if you don’t ride Amtrak often. The agent scans your QR code and off you go.
Amtrak Thruway Bus Seat and Amenities
Amtrak has a luggage allowance on their buses as well as their trains. With a small roll-aboard and my eBags backpack, we weren’t even close to the ridiculous amount they allow you to bring for free. The Amtrak baggage policy states that you can bring two personal items of up to 25 pounds each and two carry-on bags of up to 50 pounds each. If you are on a train offering checked luggage service, you get an additional two checked bags of 50 pounds each for free. Checked luggage isn’t a part of thruway service, although you do put your larger bags in the lower section of the motor-coach.
The Amtrak thruway bus seats are spacious. In airplane terms, they probably offer around 38 inches of pitch, so we can just pretend we’re traveling first class. Each has a footrest, and they recline slightly as well. The padding isn’t the most comfortable for a ride of 6 hours, but it wasn’t unbearable either.
Each seat also offers standard outlets for charging your devices, some on the wall, some on the floor. Very helpful when you’re in the mood to write.
The only issue with the tables is that some can be a bit noisy. My son had his out to draw much of the time, and if the road was bumpy, it would clatter a bit.
Compared to a Greyhound coach, Amtrak thruway bus isn’t quite as nice. But it is still a fine way to travel, and much cheaper than a one-way rental car to get us the 273 miles to Oakland airport.
There were only 10 or so people on board when we first got on our bus in Fortuna. By the time we departed Garberville, there were about 18 passengers on board. I’ve only ridden this route a couple times, and it has never been close to full. Supposedly Amtrak will add extra coaches if there is enough demand.
We made our first pit stop at The Peg House in Leggett, about 90 minutes after departure. I don’t recall stopping here the last time I took the bus. This just might be a driver preference. It broke up the trip between Fortuna and Ukiah, though, allowing passengers to use the restroom and buy snacks and beverages. It was raining steadily by that point.
By the time we were passing over the highest section of Highway 101 on either side of Laytonville, the rain had turned to snow. I very rarely see snow along this section of the road, and it made me glad that I wasn’t driving. Getting stuck in the snow isn’t one of my favorite travel memories, although my points sure came in handy (SEE: Last night, miles and points really saved my bacon).
The lunch stop is in Ukiah on the Amtrak thruway bus service along the north coast. There is no food service, so a pit stop is pretty much required. We stopped in the middle of town, with easy access to McDonalds, Subway and Chipotle. There are surely other options as well, but you’d have to hustle on foot, as the time from arrival to departure is only 30 minutes.
There are a couple more stops as you make your way through Sonoma County, eventually ending up on Highway 37 around the north part of San Francisco Bay where it is a nonstop stretch all the way to Martinez. Martinez is the transfer point for multiple services, including our thruway service, the Napa thruway service, and the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, and California Zephyr train services.
The bus arrived in Martinez five minutes ahead of schedule. We had another hour to wait until our train to Oakland, but it was nice to finally get off the bus after our long trip. I found a magazine that detailed the Bank of America Amtrak Mastercard offer, and while I will grant that it is a perfectly fine card if you’re a consistent Amtrak rider or have a specific use for the sign up bonus, I definitely wouldn’t make it my first choice.
As far as staff interaction went, our driver was very professional, courteous and friendly the whole trip. I will never forget the last trip I made on Amtrak where we all had a good laugh when the driver came back on board after lunch to find all of us bewildered. A dog had randomly boarded the bus and had to be chased off before we could continue.
While I do my best to save rental car points for when we need to make a one-way trip to the Bay Area, taking the Amtrak thruway bus and then the train into Oakland is a fine option. Given the reasonable cost, I’d definitely consider it again. It just takes all day, which worked fine for our evening flight to Seattle, but generally is a deal breaker.
Now remember, if you have any issues with Amtrak, Dan can help you. Just click here. If you don’t need help, just visit anyway for the comments.