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Holland America's McKinley Explorer

Holland America's McKinley Explorer

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Jack and Charlotte Shaw, rail managers of the McKinley Explorer welcomed us aboard and we toured the cars and the excellent facilities including the ADA compliant wheelchair lift (above), ADA lavatory, dining, and 3 wheelchair seats.

Their Luxury Railcar Travel has been Redefined.... brochure advertises:  More Glass per passenger than any other dome railcar in Alaska.  Widest dome passenger seats. More interior space than any other dome railcar in Alaska. Full 360 degree view.  GPS-guided narration system, and six-channel music n emergency system.  89 feet in length, 4 feet longer than other passenger railcars.  Open-air viewing .


Interior Design Elements:
Colors:  Found in nature:  green of Alaska Jade, purple of native wild iris; 'honey' of fall tundra grasses.




Dining Room:  
Mirrored pilasters; upholstered cornice boards and Roman window shades.  Black and 'honey' plush velvet seat backs with purple accents in elegant "tile" design; seat cushions in classic black European leather.

Ceiling Light fixture.475

Custom Ambient Lighting/Dining Room:  
Inspired by image of ice caught in tree branches; designed by Donna Barron; manufactured by Nemco Custom Lighting, Seattle.

Sculptures:  One in each car.  All four are of whalebone by Alaska Artists, Ron Ekemo and Chupak; valued at $20,000.

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These marvels of design travel in pairs of two, so there's more to explore from domed upper level seating area, dining car and outdoor platforms to the lower lounge and gift shop in the companion car.

....the largest passenger railcars ever built...

Railcar Specifications (Per Car):   Height:  18 feet, 1 inch - Length:  89 feet - Width:  10 feet - Overall Square Footage:  1750 square feet (860 upstairs; 890 downstairs)  Capacity:  88 passengers; 44 in the dining room  Cost:  $3 million  Seats:  21.5 inches per passenger - Outdoor Platform:  9 feet x 10 feet - Step up to seat:  4 inches [Except for the seats behind the ADA elevator where there is no step up].

--Holland America Luxury Railcar Travel has been Redefined brochure.

Two Spiral Staircases per car






I, as well as any other travelers with knowledge of these new cars,  was most impressed with what I think is a unique feature of these new cars, the Outdoor Platform, measuring 9 feet by 10 feet. The upper level domed seats extend over this outdoor platform.

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Steve Grande                                                              Carl Morrison

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                   Ray Burns                                    Northbound Coast Starlight from Platform

After some time onboard, we all six walked through the adjacent park on our way to lunch.  In the park was a Merry-Go-Round (some moving and some stationary fixtures).

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        Jack and Charlotte Shaw                               

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We  lunched at the Fish House, 101 E. Corbel Blvd., Santa Barbara, CA, 805•966•2112.

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Richard, Charlotte, Jack, Steve, Ray, and Shivam.

After lunch, we walked by a pseudo lighthouse.

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After lunch at Fish House, we changed our return tickets on the Coast Starlight to a day later and our hotel in San Jose to a day later.  We went to the Hot Spots Expresso Bar and Information Center, 36 State Street, Santa Barbara, (805) 963-4233, and got rooms for the 4 of us at the Best Western Encina Lodge and Suites, 2220 Bath Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, (800) 526-2282.  

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Pre-paid Internet Access didn't work as well as old fashioned phone reservations.

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Encina Lodge and Suites

We were picked up at the train station in a van from the Lodge, taken to the Holland America cars to pick up our luggage, and taken to the Lodge to check in.  The Lodge was beautifully appointed with an adjoining Victoria Restaurant with aviary!

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We could hear the house finches, hundreds of them, from our second floor balcony across the parking lot.

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We dined with a view of the aviary, but we didn't have 'Finch Under Glass.'  The Victoria has a large selection of dinners at $9.95.  The Finch sights, sounds, (and smell) reminded me of when our son had a finch couple which he named for his grandparents, Fred and Margaret.

Steve received e-mail from Rail Move, Inc. learning that our ride would leave Friday at 2 pm, and that it would go up the coastal route.  This was all good news.  We spent the evening working at our computers doing business-related tasks while watching Fox News coverage of the war in Iraq and film footage of toppled statues.  

It had been quite a rail adventure for this novice freelance reporter, but enjoyable all the way.  

I am pleased to find such pleasant people in the rail industry, Jack and Charlotte Shaw being prime examples.  I'll always remember them as my first exposure to rail industry personnel, and my fond memories of them as we talked of photography, classic cars, family, and the teaching vocation, at lunch at the Santa Barbara Fish House.  

Jack, Rail Manager, and Charlotte, in addition for the rail arrangements to have these cars safely delivered to Seattle and eventual barged to Alaska,  have the job of providing donuts and coffee if they have a morning open house at their stops, or hors d'oeuvre for the afternoon or evening showings of the cars with wine and soft drinks.

They answer all questions about these Holland America cars, tours with the McKinley Explorer as well as Holland America cruises.  In the past, they helped deliver 18 sixty foot coaches which were so long they took up 9 parking spaces.  They were articulated with four front wheels that steered, and rear wheels that steered as well.  They were made by Provost. They were originally called the "Alaska - Yukon Explorer."  These coaches held 52 to 68 seats and had a lounge in the back.

Jack related that he had started his railroad career with the Lackawanna Railroad in New York City, then went to the Korean War.  After the war he worked as a Claim Agent for Northern Pacific Railway and lived and worked in Fargo, ND.  He stayed with Northern Pacific through their merger as Burlington Northern in 1970 and retired in 1986 as Director of Claims.  After retirement, he worked in Risk Management for Alaska Railroad.

The entire staff, who I was privileged to accompany on this adventure, are a true team as I observed when they worked out last minute rail and lodging details together.  They would each accomplish tasks in their area of expertise as the other worked on another task.  Cell phones were a buzz, computers were going online, e-mail was being read from UP decision makers and relayed over cell phone to Jack back in the cars.  The congeniality of Steve, Ray, and Shivam is remarkable...never a cross word nor raised voice.  Always business-like yet pleasant and jovial when appropriate. They know how to conduct business and when to have fun.  I guess this is why has been such a success since its origin in 1995.


Friday we lunched on Mesquite Broiled Fish at the Enterprise Fish Company, 225 State Street, Santa Barbara, 805•962•3313 on some of their Lunch Combos for $6.95.

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