Posted On: 08/03/2004
Born in 1917, my grandmother fondly recalls the days when travel in and out of St. Louis was done on rails. She rode the streetcars to and from work, to and from shopping and to and from anywhere too far to walk. As a kid, she and her family would flee North Grand on summer weekends, taking the open-air trolley through the country backwoods of undeveloped St. Louis County to the leisure of Creve Coeur Lake.
During World War II, she remembers city-to-city trains being so crowded that some people had to stand. En route to Milwaukee in 1942, she recalled a young soldier and his girl (not her) unable to keep their hands to themselves, and the soldier earnestly asking the girl, “Now, what’s your name?” She remembers and misses St. Louis’ trains, trolleys and streetcars, particularly their romance.
Today, save imperfect Metrolink and inadequate Amtrak, passenger trains are gone from our town, right? Read on, Grandma.
The look …
Third-generation railroader and RailCruise chairman Ed Boyce Jr. loves trains. Throughout the last few decades, he has purchased eight vintage passenger cars, thoroughly refitting them inside and out. If his sleek, green train were at HO scale, it’d be a model railroader’s dream. It looks exactly like a passenger train should.
Before boarding, passengers are warmly greeted by the conductor on a red carpet. The authentic interiors are ornately appointed in warm mahogany and black walnut, with hunter greens and golds coloring the carpet, walls and seating.
The train length and configurations vary, but all passenger cars feature huge windows with views of the passing cityscape or countryside. The Columbia River and Mississippi River dome cars feature 360-degree-views in the glass-enclosed upper dome. The Cuivre River and Osage River units are windowed single-level dining cars. The Charrette Creek car includes a complete bar and dance floor. Reminiscent of an upscale hotel lobby, the Missouri River unit boasts a large observation deck with leather- and cloth-upholstered club seats.
The scene …
Think of it as a 1,100-foot-long, 9.5-foot-wide, white-linen-tablecloth, candlelit restaurant on rails, with unique, ever-changing views.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the City Skyline excursion departs Union Station and travels north through the city and across the river. While the city sights are very familiar, the perspectives are new. The train continues on to the river’s east bank, traversing through Madison County and the old historic riverfront. In the summertime, you’ll see an overwhelming amount of green from the flora along the track. Ignore the garish Casino Queen. This three-hour trip attracts mostly 40-year-old-plus couples, many celebrating special occasions.
On Sunday mornings, the Mississippi River Run departs to Kimmswick, heading west through the city then south, returning through Carondelet Park. The trip includes quaint views of city neighborhoods and spectacular scenery of river bluffs and the Mississippi River itself, which at times is no more than 10 feet away. I swear I saw Huck and Jim on their raft. This six-hour trip (three in Kimmswick) attracts mostly the antiquing set. If you like hand-made jewelry, tea and red hats, this trip is for you.
On both excursions, passengers mostly stay in their seats, but I encourage exploration of the train, particularly relaxing in the roomy Missouri River unit. The dress code for all trips is business casual.
RailCruise offers other excursions as well. About every month, grow a funny mustache, and try your hand at playing Hercule Poirot when a local theater company offers an interactive comedy/mystery. For more excursion details, visit www.railcruiseamerica.com.
The products …
Executive chef Michael Slay knows his way around the kitchen. On my trips, I heard nothing but high praise for the meals. Zero complaints. Impressive for having a moving, limited kitchen.
The dinner excursions include a three-course (salad, entrée and dessert) meal. Passengers chose seasonally varying entrées, like prime pork rib roast and salmon, prior to departure. Appetizers such as shrimp cocktail or lobster ravioli also vary by season and are available à la carte. Order drinks at the cash bar or through your server. Obviously, storage space is limited, but the full bar offers the usual beer and spirit choices. The small wine list covers the bases with a few reds, whites and sparklings, available by the glass or bottle.
Service was topnotch, with the wait staff enthusiastically describing what was outside our window and inside on our plates.
Upon first glance, prices seem steep, but keep in mind, you’re paying for more than the food. Pricing starts at $35 per person for The Cocktail Club (dinner not included) and $79 for a dinner parlor seat. Prices then head north depending on your desired view or privacy.
The straight 411 …
For a moving (literally), sophisticatedly old-school evening or afternoon with atypical views of our river and our town, all aboard RailCruise.
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