Napa, California: All the years we have been coming to the lovely Napa Valley, we have never experienced the #1 tourist attraction: The Napa Valley Wine Train. So, after our deju vu yesterday, today we had a new adventure. We rode the rails.
The train itself is a major part of the experience. The ancient cars, built in 1914 by the Pullman Standard Company as the first class coaches for the Northern Pacific Railroad, have been beautifully restored to “evoke the spirit of opulence” travelers expected in the 20th century. The train has been used in many parts of the country, but began service in Napa around 1990.
There are several packages to choose from, but we chose the (least expensive) Gourmet Express package. It includes the train ride (to St. Helena and return to Napa) and lunch. There are more extravagant tours, involving leaving the train and visiting vineyards via a tour bus… but we went with the most basic. Our tickets were $161 each, which included a $15 per person upcharge to guarantee a table for two at lunch (versus sitting with strangers and ruining their day). Once on board, passengers are given one glass of wine and then can opt-in to a wine tasting flight/class for $10, or purchase drinks (full bar + wine list + sodas/juices).
Of course, they take your photo as you board the train (available for purchase on your return to Napa).
Tourist Alert! (I fell for the trick… I mean… we were practically wearing matching outfits today.)
Napa Valley Wine Train at the Napa station
The train consists of several dining cars, several lounge cars, a massive kitchen car and two engines. Travelers choose (prior to departure) to have lunch on the way to St. Helena, or on the return. Half of the passengers were boarded to the dining cars, where they were served lunch as the train left the station. The other half were seated in the lounge cars, were they were served appetizers and drinks. When the train reached the turn-around point in St. Helena 75 minutes later, everyone switched: the lounge car people moved to the dining cars for lunch, and the passengers who had eaten lunch on the way to St. Helena moved to the lounge cars where they were served desserts and coffee. It is a brilliant system.
We did a little time traveling today
The first lounge car (just behind the engines) where we had our appetizers – and champagne.
(Dave is at the top right.)
Our attendant, Kevin, was extremely friendly, helpful, courteous and attractive. He brought the champagne we ordered and we sipped away as the scenery passed… or as we passed the scenery. Each traveler was given a plate of fruit, hard and soft cheeses and candied walnuts. (Sliced salami was also included, if one desired.)
Beautiful Napa Valley – 5 miles wide; 30 miles long
Passengers were from all over the country and all over the world. Most people (THANK YOU!) dressed up for the occasion and everyone was in a happy mood.
After passing through pretty St. Helena, the train stops. The two engines detach from the front of the train, and move to the back of the train along adjacent tracks (note the tracks on the left side of the photo below), hook-up again, and the train begins the reverse trip back to Napa.
The procedure takes several minutes, so is the perfect time to have 300+ passengers switch seats.
A dining car on the Napa Valley Wine Train
(We loved meeting the three siblings in matching outfits.)
We were lucky to have seats on both sides of the train today – facing east on the way to St. Helena; facing west on the return.
Of course, we snapped photos of ourselves and sent them to Lisa.
DT, pointing out Gott’s burgers in St. Helena.
Me, in my natural position… this time on a train rolling through grape vines.
The dining tables were set with white linens, china, lots of cutlery and fresh flowers.
I had a stroll before lunch to check out the kitchen car – an impressive choreographed scene of chefs, expeditors, and servers moving in sync on a rolling floor. I also checked out the bathrooms – very nice, with mahogany paneled walls, pretty antique fixtures and linen guest towels.
The luncheon menu had varied choices, beef tenderloin, roasted chicken, glazed pork, catch of the day (today’s “catch” was farmed salmon), and two vegetarian options (a kale and quinoa salad, or a mushroom pasta dish). The staff will work around any dietary restrictions.
We were first served a salad and sourdough bread. I forgot to photograph the salad, but it looked just like a salad, with a pretty selection of colorful local greens, goat cheese, shaved fennel, radish, and toasted almonds with a champagne-Dijon vinaigrette. An asparagus soup was also offered (in place of the salad).
Dave and I ordered the chicken: Lemon Thyme Roasted Chicken, served with summer beans, sweet peppers, red creamer potatoes, in pan jus. There were purple potatoes and small yellow potatoes in the mix. It was delicious, but we brought most of the birds home with us (yes, they offer doggie bags).
The desserts offered today were a white chocolate panna cotta or an apple cake. (No choice for me as I think white chocolate is an abomination. And… it is not chocolate.) The apple cake was very nice.
And then we were back to the station in Napa. The trip takes 2.5 hours and we enjoyed every minute. The staff were so friendly (and they do the same trip day after day after day after day, which must be a grind) and really play a large part in the experience. The weather also contributed in making our excursion so lovely. Not a cloud in the sky. Warm sun.
Inside the station, I purchased our touristy photo (which included a digital download) and we came back to the motorhome and took a long nap.
Until my next update, I remain, your Napa Wine Train correspondent.
RV PARK: Napa Valley Expo RV Park – The perfect spot for a visit to Napa wine country. Long pull-throughs and a few back-in sites. Full hookups. Bathhouse, wifi, laundry room, dumpsite. 15 minute walk to downtown Napa. Reservations are basically required as this small park is nearly always full. With our Good Sam discount we are paying $45 per night. They also accept AAA membership discount.