Meals on Wheels

2010
02.21

Track down an adventure and a memorable meal on regional dinner trains.

The scenic views are as tantalizing as the aromas coming from authentic dining cars on these regional passenger trains. Departing from historic depots, passengers tour the countryside in old-fashioned luxury and dine in vintage dining cars.

The days of onboard chefs and kitchens are gone, as the prepared meals are brought on board. And while this does not allow for menu changes, a dinner train trip can recapture the images of luxury and romance from a bygone era.

Here is a sample of regional dinner trains in Arkansas and southern Missouri. Prices include round-trip train fare. Remember to call ahead for reservations.

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway

The meal is brought on board, though there is the option to purchase wine and champagne. The spectacular showpiece dessert–a flaming train-shaped baked Alaska–is the meal’s highlight. Waiters parade up and down the dining car aisle with the pyrotechnic treat before returning to the prep area where slices of the dessert are served.

The trips departing from the depot at 299 N. Main St. run about 11/2 hours and travel a leisurely 41/2 miles and then return to the station. Trains run April through October. It is a relaxing way to view the countryside and travel the historic rails that brought the first visitors to Eureka Springs in 1883.

Dinner is $36.50, lunch is $22. Lunch tickets for children younger than 8 cost $11. Choices for dinner include chicken, prime rib or rainbow trout, plus soup, salad, rice pilaf, vegetables and flaming baked Alaska. Lunch choices are chicken salad, a beef entrée or a hot deli croissant plus bread, beverage and dessert. Excursion-only fares are $12 for adults, $6 for children age 4–10.

Arkansas-Missouri Railroad

Arkansas and Missouri Railroad passengers travel in refurbished antique passenger or parlor coaches. The 134-mile round-trip from Springdale, Ark., includes a three-hour layover in historic Van Buren, Ark., where passengers enjoy shopping and lunch. Scenic travel through the Boston Mountains continues with the 70-mile round-trip from Van Buren to Winslow.

First-class and upgrade trips include a snack, beverage and souvenir photo for $65 for the Springdale leg, $52 for the Van Buren portion. Conductors provide a nostalgic touch and commentary along the way. Trains run April through October, with departures from the train station at 306 E. Emma in Springdale. AAA members receive a discount.

Branson Scenic Railway

A four-course candlelight dinner of beef, chicken or fish is served on Saturday excursions in a restored 1956 “Silver Chef” diner from Denver. The dinner trip, recommended for passengers 13 years and older, costs $50.50 plus tax. Appetizer, dessert, salad, vegetable and beverage are included.

The route takes passengers about 20 miles from Branson before reversing direction and returning on the same tracks. A diesel-electric locomotive on the northbound end and another on the southbound end allow the train to make the return trip without having to switch tracks or turn around. Passengers can hear a narrated history of Branson and the Ozarks as they cross bridges and trestles on this scenic route.

A snack car is available for refreshments on the excursions that do not offer dinner. AAA members receive a 10-percent discount on adult fares ($22.50) for these excursions. Smoking and alcoholic beverages are prohibited. The bright red vintage train leaves from the 1905 depot in downtown Branson alongside the new Branson Landing shopping and restaurant district.

St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway

This trip is to die for. Passengers participate in and help solve a murder mystery production while enjoying a dinner that includes two entrée choices and dessert. The four-hour trip departs from Jackson at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets for this train ride that is popular with couples and groups are $45.

Parents with little engineers usually opt for the two-hour sightseeing train ride that leaves Jackson at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $16 for adults, $9 for children.

The St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway is proud of its powerful diesel engine that was part of Amtrak’s system until 1985. The Jackson railway acquired the restored engine from a railroad museum in Pennsylvania, where it was given its original colors of maroon and gold and No. 5898.

The Jackson station is about 9 1/2 miles northwest of Cape Girardeau. Take exit 99 off Interstate 55.

These scenic dinner trains are a nostalgic way to pass a pleasant evening and enjoy the area’s scenic beauty.

Before You Go

For more information, contact:

  • Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway, (479) 253-9623, www.esnarailway.com;
  • Arkansas-Missouri Railroad, (800) 687-8600, ext. 116, www.arkansasmissouri-rr.com;
  • Branson Scenic Railway, (800) 287-2462, www.bransontrain.com;
  • St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway, (800) 455-RAIL (7245), www.rosecity.net/trains.

First printed in AAA Midwest Traveler April 2007