The Napa Valley Wine Train: Tour Overview and Photo Tips


The view from the dining car on the Napa Valley Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train has been on my bucket list of travel experiences for quite some time.  Honestly, I’m not sure how it got there.  Perhaps because it seemed to combined three things I love–wine, food, and a unique transportation experience.  Perhaps because I love the old-timey romantic notion of a fancy meal served aboard a moving train.  I typically love all things old-timey and romantic.  Or perhaps because I was excited about all of the unique photo opportunities such a trip would afford.  Either way, my enthusiasm for the Napa Valley Wine Train was, it turns out, well-founded.

Me boarding the train. I look happy already!

My friend and I arrived at the Wine Train station a bit late, having just checked out of our Napa hotel.  By 10:30 in the morning, the station was already full of happy people sipping wine on pillow-strewn love seats. The check in process took maybe a minute; after affixing our Ambassador Tour pins to our outfits, we joined the wine-sipping people on our own love seat.  And no, sharing a love seat and sipping wine with someone who is not your spouse or significant other does not, in any way, decrease one’s enjoyment of said wine or love seat.  Just in case anyone was wondering.

The introductory talk was quite informative and played well to my extremely OCD nature; we were told exactly what to expect, how long we’d have to enjoy each facet of the trip, and when we would arrive at each destination.  Additionally, it was short enough to avoid being tedious–and did I mention that we were drinking wine during the talk?  Because that makes everything a bit better, don’t you think?

Our group was first to board, so after pausing for the required photo shot by the professional photographer–and one taken of me by my friend, shown above–we were escorted to our table in the dining car.  The tables on the Napa Valley Wine Train all seat four, so if you are a party of two you will be dining with another couple.  Our dining partners were friendly and outgoing and we truly enjoyed spending a meal–and the tour itself–with the lovely couple.  In fact, the wife portion of that couple is now my Facebook friend (hi other Tracy!)

My friend and Wine Train companion on the observation deck, pre-dessert.

I wondered how I’d manage to eat and enjoy the scenery at the same time, but I needn’t have worried–because of the slow-moving nature of everyone boarding the train, we didn’t even start moving until mid-salad course.  And due to the slow-moving nature of the train itself, we didn’t even leave Napa proper until darn near the end of the main course, which is when things started to get really scenic.

Photo tip:  You are going to want to take photos out of the window of the train.  Trust me.  The best way to do this is to put the lens right up against the glass.  It cuts down on the glare.  Thanks to our table mates for this excellent tip!  You made the photo above possible!

After our main course it was time to make our way to the lounge car for dessert and general relaxation.  While the meal was amazing, this is where the trip really starts to get good.  You’ll note that by this point we’ve had two wine-tasting portions of wine and one glass of wine with our meal; we’re already relaxed.  Now we get to sit in a comfy seat in a lounge car whilst watching the Napa Valley slowly slide past the giant picture window directly before us.  While eating creme brulee and chocolate caramel cake.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had a better Monday morning, but I certainly have not.

Photo tip:  You are going to want to go out to the observation deck to take photos without the windows in the way.  Trust me.  The best way to do this is to go directly after your meal and before dessert is served.  Just be sure to talk to one of the stewards in your lounge car to tell them of your whereabouts.  They will wait to bring you your dessert.

After our little exploration of the train and a photo session on the observation deck, we simply sat back and enjoyed the view, which lasted just long enough to be relaxing by not so long as to become bored–though really, I think it would take a really long time for me to become bored with a train ride through Napa Valley.  I did venture back outside at one point to watch them reattach the engine on the back–now the front–of the train, but that’s because I’m a nerd and I’m interested in such things.  For true Suitcase Scholar geeks wondering if it was interesting–it was.  So get up out of your comfy lounge car chair and check it out!

Walking from the lounge car to the observation deck, you will pass even more photo opportunities!

If you take the Ambassador Tour–and I strongly recommend that you do–you will not actually be dropped off directly at either winery.  Instead, you will disembark the train and board a small tour bus that will take you to the two wineries you’ll be visiting.  I was pleasantly surprised by both the tour bus and the tour group–the bus was a seemingly brand-new maybe 24-passenger tour bus with comfortable leather seats, and the tour group itself was no bigger than maybe 15 people.  It was much more intimate than I’d been imagining, which was great for large-group-tour-fearing me.

Our ‘car captain’ Susie was great.  She rode along with us in the tour bus and followed along with us on our tours, helping with anything that was needed and generally being amazing and upbeat.  She even told corny jokes on the way back to the station at the end of the day.  Honestly, every single Wine Train employee was warm, friendly, and helpful.  I’ve not received service this good anywhere I can remember.  It was a truly first-class experience.

Visiting Raymond Vineyards and ZD Wines was great–as you shall hear all about in my detailed winery tour reviews to come–and we had just enough time at each stop.  Honestly, I don’t know how they kept us on track so well, as we returned to the station for the day at precisely the moment we were scheduled to do so–around 4:05 in the afternoon.  I’d think that herding a group of a dozen or so wine-drinking people around would take longer than anticipated, but no, we were right on schedule the whole time.  Though I have to admit–the day was so enjoyable, I would not have minded if they’d run hours late.  Days, even.

Please note:  this has been the first in a series of Napa Valley Wine Train posts.  In the coming weeks, I will be publishing two more Napa Valley Wine Train posts.  The second will be a detailed review of the meal itself (with photos, of course), and the third is dedicated to the winery tours themselves.  Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below.  

Disclaimer:  My friend and I were given complimentary passage on the Wine Train in exchange for blog coverage of the experience.  However, as always, all opinions are my own.  

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