Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Columbia Star Dinner Train Review- Part 4

Ed Note- I will first apologize that this review is a little late in coming.  As I have stated before, Diablo III came out and that (coupled with coaching James in Baseball) has really bitten into my free time. 

On May 13th, 2012 – we celebrated Mother’s Day by revisiting the Columbia Star Dinner Train. 

Train7-Dinner

You might recall my LONGEST POST (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) when we partook on the inaugural trip.

As fate would have it – I found the following comment in the Part 1 Segment -

David Tenny May 15, 2012 1:45 PM

Your information on this is incorrect. The money received was not tax payer money. The hotels in the local area put aside money every year to use to try and promote functions in Columbia to gain hotel stays. The money came from the local area business and not the tax payer money. This is the story was written by college students and published unverified in the Missourian. The city did give 20,000 to revamp the parking lot in the station. 20,000 that was then paid to city employees to do labor on city property that will be here permanently. The Columbia Star Dinner train brings over 200 hotel stays each month to the city of Columbia. The Columbia Star Dinner Train pays over 50,000 dollars a year to the city of Columbia to be here in this town. Very tired of people not having their facts correct and inappropriately trying to make it look like we are hurting this town or the people. The city has received a recent grant to fix up their rail lines in part because we are using passenger cars and that is something that many people want to keep alive. Instead of writing things you think are going on, maybe you should get some of the facts correct first.

While I can agree that $45K came from Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, $20K still came from the city – ie direct Tax Dollars.  In addition, your statement that the money from the CCVB was put aside buy hotels is a mis-statement. 

Train2 - Engine2The tourism bureau, which was formed in the 1980s, operates solely off revenue from a 4 percent bed tax paid by Columbia hotels.  So it is still Tax Dollars – albeit, taxes paid by people staying at hotels.  This is not done out of the graciousness of their hearts. 

If Mr Tenny would have read my comments – I made a very direct statement – that, while I agreed that this was misappropriation of taxes – the businesses should not be punished, but instead people should complain to their local politicians – and if they disagreed, to vote them out.

Finally, we get some fuzzy math – stating that Columbia Star Dinner Train brings in over 200 stays a month.  I find that an interesting number, and would love to know where that data comes from.  When I check into a hotel, I do not provide a reason why I am there – so I feel this is just speculation, vs fact.

Now….on to the Mother’s Day Review.

Its been over a year since we last boarded the Dinner Star, and this time we opted to do a brunch vs dinner.  Part of this was due to a very nice pricing model, in honor of Mother’s Day", where if you bought three tickets – Mom rode free. 

Reservations and Ticketing-

At this point, I would like to highlight the biggest issue I have with the train – The Reservation/Ticketing System.  Currently, you have to fill out a webform on Dinner Star Website, pick the meals at that time and then someone calls you back to get your credit card information and to confirm reservations.  This process is to convoluted, and really seem seated in the 1950s. 

While I understand the need to make an up-front, paid reservation (due to the nature of knowing what to stock and how much), I fail to realize why they cannot do a simple ecommerce portal, making the experience better for everyone involved. 

As it stands, twice they called my cell and it was cut off (due to poor reception in my area) and when I attempted to contact directly – every time I got a Voicemail. 

As far as ticketing goes – the new product definitely looks better than last year, but how they issue them is still a bit klugey.  Everyone lines up (thankfully it wasn’t raining) and files through one person.  At that point they hand you a Train4folder with a printed ticket with seat numbers. 

This whole process took almost 15 minutes (with the wait in line), and calls to question - why could you not be assigned a car during the reservation process – and when you go to that car, you are given your ticket? That way the line is spread out across four cars vs one centralized station. 

For that matter, why even have tickets (other than nostalgia factor) in the first place?  When we rode the first time, the conductor made a big deal about punching everyone's tickets (stating to me that it was Missouri law).  This time around, the only person we saw was our waiter and the event coordinator who came out to sell “Commemorative Glasses” and remind us to tip (which I found rather crass).

Food -
For our meal, we ordered one of each -Biscuits and Gravy, Belgian Waffles, Classic American Breakfast, and The Haystack (basically Oatmeal with fruit).

I normally wouldn’t have ordered like this, but again – I was trying to maintain an element of surprise….and with a 9yr old involved, that can be hard.

Overall, the food was average – with the Haystack being the least well received.  I think everyone enjoyed the other courses more than than the main.  The fruit plate was particularly good, as were the pastries at the end.

Drinks and Cocktails -

The drink menu tends to focus on their signature drinks, but we were able to order more classic cocktails Train5as well – A Gin martini, an Amaretto Sour and a Bloody Mary mixed with Tequila instead of Vodka. 

My drink was the Martini – and the first was rather good, while the second was a little watery and light.   Debi said she enjoyed her Bloody Tequila – but I felt she might have been being polite.  The Amaretto Sour was for Alexa – what does she know, she is just getting the training wheels off (J/K).

The beer list is underwhelming, with the traditional InBev fare – Stella being the highlight, such as it is.  I understand that they have limited space, but they really should look at kegging some of the fine micro-brews from around the state, for example the Rock Bridge Breweries Line would work well.

It should also be noted that Soda refills are limited to one, and juice is by the glass. 

Overall Experience and Recommendations -

Obviously, with a situation like this, you are paying for the experience vs the food/bar.  The wait staff were great, and very friendly.  It did seem they were a little understaffed, but that is just my opinion.

The food was average, but the view during the trip made up for it – as did the company of my guests. 

The Ambiance was great, and I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. 

Having traveled a lot through Europe via Train (Alexa and I had a great time comparing notes) – this is really an experience that many Americans have missed out on.  Just being able to sit back, relax and take in the world is something we do not do enough of.

If I could make one suggestion to make your trip better, try and request being in either Car #2 or #3.  These are the closest to the kitchen, and you will get your food faster.  This allows for everyone to relax and eat, vs mains still going to the front and back of the train when you are starting the return trip.  This was really apparent, when we saw the dessert course plates coming back from the front 1/2 full, due (IMO) to use preparing to return to the station. 

While it would appear that I found everything average at best, I would still give it high marks, as it IS a  unique experience and something I would recommend – especially when they have themed dinners, such as the recent Murder Mystery Dinner.  In fact, if we didn’t have conflicts, we would have attended.

I would recommend more use of Twitter by Dinner Star Management Staff, since they have the button on their website.  It’s a little embarrassing having a button and yet never use the service.  They do seem to be fairly up-to-date on the Website, but if you currently want to know what is going on – head to their Facebook Page.

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