by Robin B
Driving to Chicago can be a nightmare can’t it? You have to time your departure just right to avoid rush-hour traffic, and even then there is no guarantee you won’t be sitting in construction traffic pulling your hair out listening to the kids ask for the millionth and one time “when will we get there??”
We had an opportunity to travel Amtrak recently to Chicago – a first for my children – and I must say it was the way to go. We departed from Kalamazoo and the entire trip took around 2 ½ hours, with four stops total. Amtrak offers several departures daily.
(Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Photo Unit)
Here are some tips to make the trip via the rails a successful one:
- The station in Kalamazoo isn’t very crowded (we departed on a weekday afternoon). The website suggests to arrive 30 minutes prior to departure and that is plenty of time.
- We booked our tickets online. Print out your ticket and have it ready to scan as you board the train. Simple as that!
- The train lines offer general seating and there were plenty of open seats. Since it is a short distance, only carry-on items are allowed. My ‘pack everything but the kitchen sink’ mantra had me quite stressed, but the carry-on item policy is quite generous.
- Food is allowed on the train and we packed our own lunch. It must be eaten in your seats (not in the lounge car).
- Kids love the diversion of walking between cars so plan on visiting the lounge car. Carry-on luggage must stay in your seat area/overhead bin, so take any valuables with you in a smaller bag/purse if you plan to visit the lounge car.
- We weren’t even up to full speed and my girls wanted to visit the lounge car. $2 for a soda or milk and we were comfortably watching the outskirts of Kalamazoo pass by.
- Before the first stop in Niles, MI the train picks up speed and can be bumpy. Once you round the bend into Illinois, the train is much slower and not nearly as bumpy.
Amtrak recently announced the expansion of a program allowing customers to travel with their pets. This expansion now includes Michigan service. Read more about it here.
With Wi-Fi available on the train, make sure to check out the Amtrak Kids Depot – a fun online resource for kids which includes games, activities and downloadable sheets.
Do you have any tips for taking the train into Chicago? If so, let us know!