The third installment covers the bizarreness of the train ride itself and the final overview.
Of course, when I say bizarre, I mean that in the nicest way possible (seriously), and I struggle now to put the experience in words.
As described in Part 2, there were protesters present when we arrived. Being protested against is surreal in it’s own right, but it was nothing in comparison to the experience of riding the train to Centralia.
To begin, I know many people think – Meh….it’s just to Centralia. But the slow train ride through the countryside was actually rather nice. The weather was perfect, and the scenery was typical Missouri. Farms, Lakes, Horses….it’s just as you would expect. You pass through a few small towns (most notably Hallsville) and that was what we expected. The return in the dark was also quite nice – the train would shine light out into the trees, creating a unique view that somewhat blotted out the houses along the tracks.
Another interesting thing was seeing people dressed up. Far to often (yes, I know I am one to talk), people have become lazy and do not dress up for dinner anymore. It’s a bygone era where gentlemen would be turned away for not wearing a minimum of a tie (and preferably a jacket). Also, it was great to allow the ladies to also put on their best clothes, jewelry and shoes (Debi needs a reason to wear all the one’s she has). They look great and feel good about themselves. The sad thing was the guys in T-Shirts and tennis shoes.
The final unique thing about the trip was the people. Not just the protesters…..but the regular people of Missouri. I liken it to the scene in Titanic, where the ship is about to depart and everyone is waving to the ship and back to land. All along the way, there were cars pulled over – taking pictures, waving and even partying along with us. We say people waiting in their backyards, parked at one lane crossings and even pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures or video the train .
We saw several parties as we rode, including one out in the middle of nowhere that were obviously waiting for us. Two cars, 10-15 people and obvious drinking going on – all set to cheer as we went by. On our return trip, they were STILL there and the group was even larger. Needless to say, this kind of support far outnumbered the few protesters at the Colt Station.
So, what did I think? What would I change?
- I would give the food a solid 3.5 Stars based on taste and merit, with an additional 1/2 star due to to confines of being prepared on a train.
- The bar selection was worse than some airlines that I have flown with….and would be lucky to get 1 Star.
- The experience and ambiance of the trips was great a solid 4 Stars.
This gives us an overall score of 3 Stars, a score that could go up greatly with a better drink service.
As for my recommendations -
Enforce the dress code. There is already a recommendation in the FAQ, so I would say tighten down on it. During the reservation process, remind people and then stick to your guns when it is time to board.
Expand the menu. I get that you have limited space, but I would go to TWO beef choices, an addition side choice with the main and maybe an additional appetizer choice. A little more variety goes a long way.
Revisit the pricing model. While I think $65 is fine, it might be to pricey for some. As an addendum to this, I would suggest a “First Class Car” that is left at the $65 price point and then lower general fare to $50. The “First Class” group could automatically be upgraded to an addition appetizer or complimentary drink, and have less seating….equating to more room. To also enhance this experience, Jacket required for men.
Finally, the bar. There are so many things here that I went to bullet points.
- Put in a few pony kegs for draft beer and expand the offerings. Sticking with Inbev products is pretty off-putting. This is supposed to be an elegant experience, so having just Jim Beam (which I do like) and Budweiser instead of a nice Scotch or Craft Brew really looks bad.
- Likewise with wine. Proper planning would be to have approximately a bottle per table available. I get that space is limited, but there are ways around that.
- Top off the stocks right before you leave station, and restock during the 15 minutes at Centralia by having a van ready with supplies. A quick call ahead has everyone on the same sheet of music and variety would greatly enhance the experience.
- Have drink menus on the table. First the customer can see what brands of Beer/Liquor/Wine are available. Secondly, the wait staff will not be wasting time referring to notes to verify what is available.
- Hire a real Bartender. This is a profession, and they can steer you to the right things (and quantities) to stock.
- Remember that you have a captive audience for 3 hours. When socializing, people like to drink….so by focusing on this, your profits will go up exponentially.
Some of my frequent readers will read the above critique and think I hated the experience….quite the contrary. I offer my honest opinion because I loved the idea and and totally enjoyed myself. I want this to succeed, therefore I have to be brutally honest where fault lies. Everything wrong is easily correctable….and I trust the management to take my recommendations under consideration.
Columbia Star Dinner Train was an excellent evening and we plan to return again soon. Even though rating (of a solid 3 Stars) is middle of the road….it is definitely worth it, even more so as they iron out the kinks.
Great Job and I look forward to our next journey….even if it is only to Centralia.