“Listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar; as she glides along the woodlands; through the hills and by the shore….” – Wabash Cannonball, Roy Acuff
Tentative sunlight streamed through cottonwood trees as the blue and gold train tugged nine cars of people and baggage south. A blast of the engine’s horn startled a moose and her calf, causing them to drop the grass in their mouths and trot into the safety of nearby willows as the Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic train began its four-hour journey from downtown Anchorage, bound for Seward. For AK Kid and I, this was a long-awaited trip, a family travel must-do we had clearly underestimated.
The most popular of all AKRR trips, the Coastal Classic sends passengers on an unforgettable trip through the best southcentral Alaska has to offer; coastal scenery, mountain passes, and abundant wildlife. What more could a visitor to the 49th state desire? But wait – there’s more.
Our little party of two mamas and three children (ages 7 and 2) were graciously placed within the boundaries of AKRR’s famous Goldstar Service, First Class of the train world, if you will. With reserved seating in an expansive dome car, complimentary beverages, and a fantastic outdoor viewing deck, its no wonder so many people make the upgrade at the station prior to departure. Never believing prior to this trip that my style of travel was synonomous with anything resembling “gold” or “star” (let’s just spell it out – I’m cheap), I did a quick brain switch after only a few minutes.
Goldstar Service costs, to be sure, but like any awe-inspiring Alaska experience, you get what you pay for, and we got.it.all. The outdoor viewing deck provided real-time, real-sense-thrilling moments of sheer bliss; the scent of dew-soaked spruce trees and salmonberry bushes, the blowing of a bull moose as he angrily stomped away from the tracks, and the chill of last winter’s snow clinging stubbornly to the ground near Grandview. Lest we forget the mechanical monolith in which we were riding, our kids were able to watch the tracks fly by underneath our feet and feel the rush of wind as the Coastal Classic chugged and hugged the rails. Worth the upgrade fee of $80-$110, depending upon age and destination, Goldstar gets passengers as close as possible to the remote, rugged Alaska wilderness they desire, all within the romantic confines of a train.
Other amenities of Goldstar Service include reserved seating in the upper reaches of the car, where windows never end and the overhead view is just as cool as the one below. A naturalist/guide will provide wonderful commentary for the entire journey, and a steward pours never-ending cups of coffee, tea, or soda as the train blows down the tracks. Dining is easy in Goldstar; that same steward ensures priority seating for breakfast or dinner (depending upon the time of day; lunchtime is accomplished in Seward, the destination), with a pretty nice selection of kid-friendly menu items and a wait staff willing to accommodate picky eaters.
Upon our arrival in Seward at 11:05 a.m., we treated our crew to lunch, a playground break, and quality time at the always kid-friendly Alaska SeaLife Center. Not at all deterred by the fact we were in town without a vehicle, our kids managed a day of walking in fine style, finding the local bike/pedestrian trail a great place to meet people and dogs, and do a bit of Seward history-hunting at the interpretive signs dotting the route. A shuttle bus greets each train, however, for those who don’t want to walk a few miles around town; it’s free and moves quite quickly around the downtown area. A quick cup of hot chocolate around 4 p.m., and back we went to the quaint depot, ready for our mellow ride back to Anchorage. If you wish to spend the night and explore more the following day, check out the Seward Chamber’s excellent list of lodging options; we like the Seward Windsong Lodge, where day cruises, hikes, and excellent dining can be found.
Traveling north, rain showers followed the Coastal Classic, but we didn’t care. The ominous clouds and intermittent streaks of sunshine reminded us, yet again, of the wonderous world in which we spent a delightful day. As the kids fell asleep, one by one, full of burgers and fries and good memories, I looked out the window at scenery that never becomes ordinary.
If you go:
The Coastal Classic leaves Anchorage daily at 6:45 a.m. and arrives in Seward at 11:05 a.m. Plan to arrive at the Anchorage depot one hour before departure. The train runs mid-May through mid-September.
Tickets for the train utilizing Goldstar Service range from $225/adults to $113/kids 2-11 (if a child will occupy a seat, parents must buy a ticket, as in air travel). Alaska residents save 20% on all trips, regardless of service chosen (Adventure Class or Goldstar).
Even though Goldstar Service provides coffee, tea, and soda, we brought drinks and snacks of our own. Additionally, parents should remember to pack quiet activities, books, and the handy iPad or DVD player. There were, unfortunately, a few parents who failed to heed this advice and had whirling dervishes for children, causing some older passengers a bit of grief.
Alaska Railroad reservations agents can assist you with lodging options, tour packages, and the like. Call 800-544-0552 toll-free, or 907-265-2494 for information. It’s worth checking out the various bundled tours, sometimes, so call ahead before you piece together your own itinerary.