Tag Archives: Washington DC

Amtrak Fall destinations: Something to be-leaf in

Amtrak’;s summer repairs at Penn Station are officially complete. Here, track workers complete repairs to one of the main tracks, as a train emerges from the Hudson River tunnel.

Wow, what a summer! Understatement, right? The temporary cancellations didn’t cause that much of a disruption. According to most riders, the summer went rather smoothly. With the summer repairs at New York Penn  Station over, it’s time to focus on the good times that lay ahead. With shiny new rails in place, Amtrak’s trains will continue to roll. It’s time to celebrate this memorable feat with great travel ideas. With more than twenty-one routes in forty-three states, there’s no better time to make ‘tracks’ this fall. Further, it’s the right time to show some appreciation for Amtrak’s dedication to keeping passengers safe on the rails. Here are the five top Fall destinations to consider:

5)New Orleans: From July 10th to September 1st, Amtrak’s Crescent (New York-New Orleans) was temporarily operating between Washington, DC and New Orleans. With the Crescent returning to its normal schedule on September 2nd, it’s time for Amtrak travelers to celebrate Mardi Gras year-round all over again. Passengers can feel the Cajun beat from New York to New Orleans without disruption. Football fans can catch the Saints at the Superdome. In New Orleans, it’s party time all the time. The craw fish, alligator meat, and the great deep south flavors await. Passengers can grab their ticket and beads! On the Crescent, the Cajun beat is non-stop. Of all Fall destinations, New Orleans is truly a city to “Fall” for.

P-40 locomotive #701 leads an Empire Service train home from Niagara Falls.

4) Niagara Falls: Of all Amtrak Fall destinations, Niagara Falls is among the most family-oriented and above all, the most romantic. Amtrak travelers can escape the hustle and bustle of the New York metropolitan area for one of the most picturesque places on earth. From the “Maid of The Mist”, to strolling across the Rainbow Bridge, to experiencing the Niagara Falls Canada Whirlpool Aero Car, Amtrak presents Fall travelers with a ticket for the journey of a lifetime. The journey from New York City to Niagara Falls is a journey not to be missed. From departing cavernous Penn Station, to gliding along the city’s west side, to cruising beneath Riverside Park through the Overbuild Tunnel, and speeding along the mighty Hudson River, who would not want to pass up a train ride, a train ride to write home about? Niagara Falls is without-a-doubt, a must-do for all Amtrak Fall travelers. Travelers should forget about  their barrels and let Amtrak take them to the edge of the excitement and experience the power of the falls.

Twilight Shoreliner train #67 arrives at historic Williamsburg Station.

3) Williamsburg, VA: Do you hear the hoofs of Clydesdales? During the Fall. there is no better place to visit than the great state of Virginia. Williamsburg is one of the most romantic and the most charming towns in Virginia. Is is one of the great Fall destinations which speaks to the hearts of all train travelers.

Williamsburg is the home of Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens-Europe. Busch Gardens-Europe is home to the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales. There, visitors can see them up close. At Colonial Williamsburg, visitors can experience colonial life in the most authentic of surroundings. It is where history comes alive. At both of these quintessential points of interest, the Fall atmosphere can’t be more intimate. In Williamsburg, there are tons of hotels within minutes of the Amtrak’s Williamsburg station. Who said Virginia was for lovers? Virginia is for Amtrak travelers, too.

2) Boston: Boston, the City of Kind Hearts, is the one destination that was never affected by the summer cancellations. Of all Fall destinations, Boston speaks to the “heaht” of every Amtrak traveler. That says a lot for city known as Beantown. Visitors should be wary of the Boston accent. It is so thick, one can cut it with a “fawk”.

Completed in 1898, Boston’s South Station is the oldest terminal on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

When Fall arrives, Boston’s sports atmosphere is in full swing. The New England Patriots will be defending their historic Super Bowl championship. The Red Sox will be going for their sixth World Series title. With so such energy in the air, Boston is the perfect Fall destination. Passengers will step off their train at historic South Station. From there, they can visit the Seaport  District, enjoy a bowl of fresh clam chowder, and mingle with the friendly city locals. Music lovers can head to Symphony Hall to tune in to the sounds of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. Rock music fans can pay a visit to 1325 Commonwealth Avenue, the former residence of Aerosmith.

Once the World Series is over, the seasons will change again. It will be game-on for Boston’s two other beloved teams, the Bruins and the Celtics. The Celtics will be in pursuit of their eighteenth NBA championship. The Boston Bruins will be pursuing their seventh Stanley Cup in franchise history. In Boston, Amtrak travelers aren’t just part of history. They are part of the revolution.

1) Washington, DC: Our nation’s capital was significantly affected by the summer cancellations. As of September 2nd, the trains will be running on a normal daily schedule. New York-Washington service will be fully restored. There is no better city to experience Fall colors than in Washington, DC.

Washington, DC is the gem of all Fall destinations. Passengers will exit their train at the glorious Union Station. It’s not just a train station, it’s a feast for the eyes. At Union Station, passengers can hop aboard the Metro subway to visit the National Mall and the Smithsonian museums. The Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial are just a short walking distance away.

Built in 1907, Washington, DC’s Union Station was constructed to be both a railroad terminal and a monument in one.

Speaking of Fall destinations, visitors can head to Six  Flags America in nearby Largo, MD. Six Flags hosts its annual Fright Fest, blending the “spirit” of Halloween into its theme parks. Amtrak will have passengers “screaming” down the rails to be a part of an engaging Fall experience.

Washington, DC is not just a city of museums and monuments. It’s a city for all seasons. Come Fall, it is game-on for the NFL’s Redskins, the NHL’s Capitals, and NBA’s Wizards. It’s easy to understand why Washington, DC is a destination of ‘monumental’ proportions.

Fall is the right time to ride the rails. With the hot and humid summer coming to an end, the train schedule is returning to normal. It’s time to return to the pastime all travelers enjoy. Fall time is train time. Amtrak’s great Fall destinations are calling to avid train travelers.

Fall time means train time. Here, a Amtrak’s Fall Foliage Express crosses the 115 year-old Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River near Marysville, PA.

Fall destinations are the reason why the train is the way to go. The Crescent will be returning to full service from New York to New Orleans. The Empire Route will be returning to a normal schedule out of Penn Station. Last, but not least, Amtrak’s Northeast Regional trains will be once again thundering up and down the tracks between New York and Washington, DC. Fall foliage cannot be experienced better than through the windows of a train. On any of Amtrak’s east coast routes, Fall scenery is always a feast for the eyes. In an old Amtrak commercial one can remember the jingle, “There’s something about a train that’s magic.”. That’s Fall!


Hotel reservations: Avoiding the inconvenience of 21st century communication

At Newark Penn Station, where my soon-to-be disappointing weekend began.

Newark Penn Station, where my soon-to-be disappointing weekend began.

April 2011, I was attending an alumni event in Washington DC for my college Alma Mater.  I made my reservation at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. The Crystal Gateway is located just minutes from Ronald Reagan National Airport. Regardless of occasion, Washington DC is my favorite city to visit. The alumni event was being held at the National Press Club.  One of my classmates was hosting the event.  I was excited about seeing him for the first time after twelve long years.  I made my reservation directly through the hotel’s reservation agent.  I gave my credit card number, and I was given the reservation code.  I wrote down the reservation number and I waited for the confirmation via email.  I was all set to go.  Lastly, I made my train reservation.  Washington DC was a “go”.

Washington DC's Metro subway is my A#1 favorite subway system.

Washington DC’s Metro subway is my A#1 favorite subway system.

Before I knew it, my traveling day came.  In the morning, I took a commuter train to Newark Penn Station.  My train was right on time.  The train trip down was marvelous.  I arrived at Washington DC’s Union Station right on schedule.  I got off the train, and headed for the Metro subway station.  I bought my fare card and boarded the subway.  A short time later, I arrived at the Crystal City station. The Crystal Gateway Marriott was directly upstairs. Having entered the lobby, I went to the counter.  There, my worst nightmare began to unfold.  I told the agent at the counter my name and that I had one-night reservation.  I gave him my reservation number.  He said he didn’t have anything under my name, or in any of the other Marriott hotels in the Washington DC area.  He then asked for my confirmation printout.  Unfortunately, my confirmation email never came through.  I had the confirmation number.  That’s all I needed, right?? The man thought I was joking.  He asked if I was sure that I was booked there.  He added that he had nothing saying that I was staying there.  The runaround started.

The Crystal Gateway Marriott is one of Marriott's most popular hotels in the Washington DC area.

The Crystal Gateway Marriott is one of Marriott’s most popular hotels in the Washington DC area.

The front desk agent escorted me to the concierge desk.  He asked her if I could use her computer to look for the confirmation email.  I checked, double-checked, and triple-checked my email.  I even checked my junk mailbox.  I found nothing.  Next, I was asked to go to the guest relations phone on the other side of the lobby to speak with a representative.  I was absolutely livid.  I told the guest relations representative the very same story.  I was booked for one night for $139.00.  She asked for every single bit of information…reservation number, Marriott rewards account number, anything to search under my name.  Just like the agent at the counter, she came up with nothing.  My afternoon was getting worse and worse even before it could get exciting.

It was past 3 p.m. and I was rightfully angry.  I was once again transferred to a Marriott reservations agent.  I gave her my story, the same story I told the front desk agent and to the guest relations representative.  Just as before, it was the same result. She came up with nothing.  The agent started confusing me with the convention that was being held at the hotel.  I can’t describe how upset I was at that moment.  No way was I turning around and heading back to the train station.  I paid $139.00 for one night, and there was nothing available?? I was charged $299.00 plus tax for a room at the Crystal City Marriott, just so they could give me someplace to stay.  I argued my case with the agent on the phone.  She said it was their “best rate.”.  Yeah, right!!!

The Crystal City Marriott is located across the Jefferson Davis Highway from its counterpart, Crystal Gateway Marriott.

The Crystal City Marriott is located across the Jefferson Davis Highway from its counterpart, Crystal Gateway Marriott.

Upset as ever, I left the Crystal Gateway Marriott lobby.  I headed back through the underground tunnel to the Crystal City Marriott.  When I approached the check-in counter, I was exceptionally upset.  The agent was asking why I looked so troubled.  I told her about my situation.  She said that they were going to give me 500 Marriott points for the unsatisfactory experience.  I wasn’t satisfied at all.  I took my room card and headed upstairs.  When I entered my room, I immediately called Marriott.  I was experiencing the worst guest service meltdown in all human memory.  All of my stays with Marriott were absolutely wonderful, until then.  The agent on the phone told me that the $139.00 was being refunded back to my credit card, but the $299.00 won’t be charged to my card until I checked out.  They said it would be refunded back to my credit card within ten days.  While in such a horrible mood, I got changed and headed back downstairs to the subway.  I attended my alumni gathering downtown, and had a good time.  While I was there, my classmate asked why I looked so ruffled in the feathers.  Like, I had to tell him?

The next morning, it was time to wash up, pack up, and have breakfast downstairs.  After that, I went upstairs to grab my suitcase.  At check-out, I said how greatly disgusted I was over the nonsense I was put through.  There was absolutely no excuse for what happened.  No one gave me any information on why my reservation was lost in the abyss.  I headed back to the subway, on my way back to Union Station.  I still had some investigating to do.  Once aboard my train, I called Marriott again to have another talk with them.  This time, I was told something totally different.  I was given a piece of information which the reservations agent at the Crystal Gateway Marriott never told me.  The lady asked if I made a reservation for April 2nd.  How in the world was that?  When I made my reservation, I told the hotel agent I was staying there on April 7th.  The agent told me that a reservation was made for April 2nd.  She said that I was a no-show.  Why didn’t the hotel call to inquire why I had not arrived?  They had my phone number attached to the reservation.  Their inattentiveness was unacceptable.

The hotel made another mistake.  I was told that calling the hotel directly was for “same week” reservations.  The hotel agent with whom I booked my reservation never advised me of that.  I was completely misinformed and booked for a night I was not staying there.  There was point-blank no common sense on the hotel’s part.  Without that email message which they claim they had sent me, an email which never came through, how was I supposed to know that there was a an error on their end?

The Marriott hotel confirmation email, which I never received. From there, my stay went south.

The Marriott hotel confirmation email, which I never received. From there, my stay went south.

Remember the part when I was told that within ten days the $299.00 charge was going to be refunded back to my credit card?  I called the credit card company and asked the representative to check on it.  I was told me that no such transaction had taken place.  Once again, Marriott took me for a ride.  I had never been taken advantage of at such a level.  Unfortunately, I had to get my money back via dispute paperwork.  Do you want to know anyone should deal with this situation in the future?  Here’s how I will be dealing with it.  I imperatively suggest that you do the same.

You have to protect yourself when booking a hotel room.  Even if you’re staying for just one night, you must protect yourself.  No one deserves to encounter the chaos I dealt with in Washington DC in 2011.  On Marriott’s web site, I filled out the comment page.  Two days later, the Crystal Gateway Marriott’s manager contacted me.  I spoke with him about my situation.  He gave me his email address and phone number.  He directed me to make my next reservation through him.  He said that he will personally supervise my reservation and assist me during my next stay.

It's vital to ask for a paper confirmation to be sent to you, and not rely solely on email.

It’s vital to ask for a paper confirmation to be sent to you, and not rely solely on email.

Here is the big hint you’ve been waiting for.  Even if the agent says that they’ll be emailing you the confirmation, ask them to send you the confirmation via regular mail also.  Take Disney for example.  Disney sends paper confirmation letters to its guests as a form of courtesy.  It is best to have back-up.  Email is great, but it doesn’t replace the vitality of having paper proof.  When you receive that letter in the mail, double-check it to make sure everything is correct.  The very second you notice a problem, immediately call hotel reservations to get the matter resolved.  I have learned a valuable lesson from my Washington DC stay. Paper confirmation letters sure beat being at the mercy of your email.  I know we are in the 21st century, but 20th century communication still works best.