- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It’s neither the cheapest nor the fastest way to get from Washington to Chicago, but for parents with small children, the night train — Amtrak’s Capitol Limited — may be the least stressful way to travel the 700 miles. There is plenty of room to stretch out, walk around, eat in the dining car (all meals, which are surprisingly decent, are included in the sleeper-car price) and look out the window at some of the nation’s most picturesque, historically significant spots, such as Harpers Ferry.

It’s not speedy, though: about 17 hours, departing Washington at 4:05 p.m. and arriving at Chicago’s Union Station at 8:40 the next morning.

Then again, driving with small children probably would take much longer than Mapquest.com’s suggested 12 hours and possibly require an overnight hotel stay.

The price fluctuates, but a recent look at Amtrak.com had the cost at $707 (one way) for two adults and two children departing Washington on Oct. 1 and arriving at Chicago’s Union Station on Oct. 2. The price includes a family bedroom that comfortably sleeps four.

Compare that to about $280 round trip for gas by car — with gas costing about $4 a gallon and a car getting about 20 miles to the gallon.

The price for flying also fluctuates, but a recent Expedia.com check had the round-trip cost about $1,150 for four people. It takes just about two hours, airport to airport.

In the end, taking the train costs about $1,400 for a round trip including the family bedroom. Of course, regular coach seats cost much less.

One of the main advantages is less stress, and the view and meals are included. Beyond that, there’s the service and quaintness: An attendant will make the beds (and deliver the food if asked nicely); complimentary juice, water and coffee are provided in each car; and adults can relax with a glass of wine, for Amtrak allows passengers to bring their own.

Another plus for train travelers is they arrive in the center of each city, with no taxis to and from airports and no need to navigate the city by car.

In Chicago, the station is a short walk from Millennium Park (www.millen niumpark.org ) with all its live performances, lovely gardens and amazing architecture. Frank Gehry, one of the architects involved, designed an all-metal, 120-foot-tall stage.

Speaking of architecture, the water taxi (www.shorelinewatertaxi.com), which can be boarded a block east of the train station, provides a good look at sky-scraping masterpieces by Mies van der Rohe and Helmut Jahn.

The water taxi also can be taken to Navy Pier (www.navypier.com ), an entertainment and shopping area that features a small amusement park and plenty of ice-cream shops.

On the way back to the train station, the water taxi can be disembarked at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, close to the Tribune Tower. You might head north toward the Magnificent Mile and all its upscale and designer shops. Or head south toward Millennium Park for another look at live dance or music performances or maybe a quick al fresco yoga or Pilates class.

Before boarding the train, though, make sure to stop at one of Chicago’s many German restaurants, such as the Berghoff Cafe (www.berghoff.com) for a quick bite of knockwurst or a root-beer float.

No matter how much fun you’ve had, the real reason for taking the train may not become apparent until the long way back to Washington, when train-loving children are likely to ask, “When can we go back to Chicago?” instead of “Are we there yet?”

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