What Is a Dinner Train?
A dinner train is a passenger train that provides meals to passengers in dining cars as they travel. The trip might be a general sightseeing excursion, or it might take people to one particular destination. Often, the trains are not just a means to get somewhere, but rather they are the sites of murder mystery dinners or other special events. In the U.S., some of them include Broadway-type entertainments, while others offer seasonal excursions on American holidays, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Many people travel on various other holidays or make special trips to tourist attractions, such as wineries, as well — all of these trips can include a formal meal on the train.
Historically, affluent people often ate on dinner trains for an evening out. Popular around the 1940s in the U.S., for instance, the experience normally signified privilege and luxury. Many operators of passenger trains have restored their vintage dining cars in order to replicate the historic experience for customers in modern times.
A dinner train often employs an executive chef, and the dining car offers formal white-tablecloth service. Some dinner trains have dress codes, and the traditional table setup usually seats four people. The meal is prepared on the train, and sometimes the passengers are allowed to visit the kitchen car to see the chef working. Some dinner trains have culinary events, such as wine tastings available at the bar, as well.
In general, the experience on a dinner train is similar to eating in any other fine-dining establishment. Typically, there is a four or five course dinner that includes appetizers, breads, main entrees, side dishes or salads, dessert, and coffee or tea. Most dinner trains have bar service and serve beer, wine, and other beverages.
Dinner trains also frequently host murder mystery dinners. These events usually last two or more hours and include a meal. Diners are introduced to characters and given clues about a crime that they are invited to help solve. In many instances, the dining staff and other train employees might also portray characters in the mystery.
In addition to dinner, certain types of dinner trains might offer lunch as well, which is not always considered as formal an occasion as dinner. Some popular daytime events on a dinner train can include holiday brunches or dramatic performances. Other travelers enjoy train rides that simply highlight the scenery, or that stop at particular destinations, such as historic sites.
My siblings and I once pooled our resources and bought our parents two tickets for a mystery dinner train for their anniversary. They said the murder mystery part of the trip was a little hokey, but the food was excellent. I think it was actually prepared in a kitchen car, not just catered. They enjoyed prime rib and several gourmet side dishes, and there was even a wine tasting party after the "murder" was finally solved.
They had a great time, and I think I'm going to look into taking my wife on one of those dinner train rides, too. I think we'll look for something other than a murder mystery dinner train, though.
I have a friend who is a volunteer conductor for a local sightseeing train company. Most of the trains he handles make a loop through a national park and then return to town in about two or three hours. He said business was a little slow until the company decided to add dinner train rides on the weekends. Now he spends his shift serving meals to passengers who pay an extra premium for catered gourmet meals. They don't actually cook anything on the train, but they contract with different local restaurants.
He really wants me to take one of these dinner train trips, especially the mystery dinner train they run during October. I haven't had the money for a ticket so far, but I think it would be a nice splurge if I do come into some extra cash.
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