This is a long review so:
1) The workers are rude and don't know snakes from dildos when it comes to interpersonal skills.
2) The wifi does not work so..
3) Bring a book or
3a) Bring Booze
4) The experience and the people you meet are worth it.
Ok people, don't let the two stars put you off too much. The train itself is, just like Amtrak, a pretty crappy establishment, owing its continued existence to annual infusions of cash from the federal government.
However, with the right attitude and supplies (by which I mean alcohol and possibly drugs) this train can be a blast. I took this train all the way from LA to Seattle, a 32 hour ride with no delays, and you will get delayed. Being an Eagle Scout, I was prepared, bringing with me a water bottle full of cheap wine and a flask of tequila. I had planned to maybe sip on the wine while I watched movies on my laptop and save the flask for emergencies. But I was in for a much more raucous ride than I had planned for.
Between Santa Barbara and SLO I headed up to the observatory/lounge car to catch a glimpse of the scenic California coast and the UFOs we all know they're keeping at Vandenberg Air Force Base. There were some other early twentysomethings hanging out in the observation car, playing loud shitty dubstep (is there any other kind?) off laptop speakers and playing dominoes. As I walked by they invited me to sit with them. This may only have been because they thought I was carrying weed on me, probably because I was wearing a drug rug and ripped cargo shorts. But never the less, I had found some friends to pass the time.
Let me break down my crew of fellow wayfarers for you: 1) A model/softcore porn actress with bipolar who had lost custody of her daughter and claimed to have been recently living in Las Vegas with rapper Spice 1. She was consuming copious amounts of Amtrak bar wine since the wifi wasn't working. 2) A guy on ketamine who claimed to be a prophet of the post-2012 paradigm and had smuggled his chihuahua on board in a dufell bag.He would occasionally give it little sips of water. At one point he was complaining his palms were itchy. 3) A guy with blood on his shirt who said he had lost all his stuff at the border then spent a few days staying with and... keeping company a lonely middle aged rich woman living in the Hollywood Hills. 4) A guy who claimed that he was a time traveler. Now, I normally wouldn't give this kind of claim any credence, But this guy was dressed straight out of an 18th century daguerreotype, complete with a handle bar mustache which if it were waxed he could twist while kidnapping orphans.
We soon made friends with a guy who two days prior had been released from prison after serving 13 years for purchasing stolen property. Now he's tatted up to the gills, no one will hire him, estranged from everyone he knew and loved. Another glorious victory for our criminal justice system. We also expanded our crew to a few other people, none of whom were nearly as colorful, but some of whom had pretty sweet mustaches.
Later in the night, when everyone else had left the observatory car, we broke out the flasks and had a pretty good time, drinking, playing cards, cursing, etc., all the things considered to be on the far end of the moral divide pre-20th century. During stops long enough to step out and smoke, some of them would go out and pass around a joint on the platform. We were full on partying on the train. We were even playing music as loud as we could on those woefully insufficient lapotp speakers. The porn actress even flashed her tits a couple times, I shit you not. (I'm sure that Amtrak does not guarantee this will be part of your experience.)
I should warn you that all of this is clearly against Amtrak policy. We had to make sure no one saw us taking nips from the flasks or smelled any alcohol. The music is also technically not allowed but nobody seemed to care.
I would have loved to take this train in the summer to get more daylight hours for looking at the scenery, especially in the Siskyous, which you cross at night, and the mighty Columbia. That's kind of more the sun's fault than Amtrak's though.
My return journey was not nearly as fun. I was seated in the aisle when there were plenty of open empty rows around me, and when I tried to move the porter told me that I had to stay in my seat because "families would be getting on later." I told him I could move back to my assigned seat at that time, and that with a little bit of democracy and diplomacy between us passengers we could all sort this out without his intervention thankyouverymuch. He took this personally and threatened to have me thrown off the train. Maybe he's fed up from dealing with rugged individualists (read: assholes who have problems with authority figures) like myself every day, but I think this was a bit of an overreaction.
Another note about the dickishness of the staff: On a previous trip when I was taking the train from Santa Barbara to Oakland, I was not allowed on the train, although I had already paid for my ticket, because my bag was too large for carry-on. This was two days before Christmas. I asked the conductor "where's your humanity?" and he got in my face and started yelling at me. There were some expletives involved. I don't know his name, but he's a bit pudgy, with an extra chin coming out the bottom of his original one, and wears small glasses that make his eyes, already beady from the folds of fat encroaching on the sockets, look even beadier. If you see this conductor, do me a favor and fart in his general direction.
So, if you want slow (but the good kind of meditative slow) travel that's marginally cheaper than a Southwest flight, filled with fun vagabonds, this is the only way to travel. And honestly, I think it's the best way to see America. After all, it's your tax dollars propping the thing up, you might as well take advantage.