Recently, I had the opportunity to ride aboard Green Mountain Railroad’s Champlain Valley Dinner Train, with my Busy Btown content partner (and sister extraordinaire), Stacy. If you haven’t heard about the dinner train yet, then, well, I’m surprised. This is a truly unique dining experience. In fact, it’s the only one like it in Vermont.
While delicious dining opportunities abound in Chittenden County, there is one thing I can promise you—this dining experience is unlike any of them.
If you’ve heard about the dinner train and rode it last season, as I did, you’ll be pleased to learn of a number of changes this year designed to improve the customer experience. Here, I’ll share a review of my evening aboard the Champlain Valley Dinner Train, and highlight some of the changes for this year.
Probably one of the first things that people consider when going to purchase a ticket is the cost. It’s not like going to a restaurant in Burlington. You are purchasing a 3-hour train ride AND dining experience, so the cost reflects this. While it may not be in your weekly dinner budget, it is perfect for special occasions.
There are two ticket options for diners: Countryside or Lakeside.
A new feature this year is a seating chart that allows guests to select the seats they prefer upon booking. As the names imply, the two price points depend on which side of the train you sit, Countryside or Lakeside. The difference is nominal, and while I prefer Lakeside personally, the view is beautiful regardless of which side you choose. You can also upgrade your ticket, with the Romance on the Rails package (champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries… yes, please!).
For non-diners, there is Lounge 91.
This ticket costs less as it does not include the full dining experience. However, guests who are 21+ can enjoy the 3-hour round trip train ride in comfy lounge seats while enjoying the view, drinks (one is included), hors-d’oeuvres, and live music (which varies weekly).
Now, to get to the food.
I’ll sum it up with a “YUM” in all caps, because it was really quite good. The dinner includes a three-course meal (salad, main entree & dessert), but we started with a beautiful cheese board (offered at an additional cost).
The salad was nice and fresh, with a light dressing. For the main entree, Stacy ordered the Roast Prime NY Sirloin and I ordered a vegetarian option, the Stuffed Portobello Tower. Though I’m not a vegetarian, I have to say I really loved this. The presentation was excellent, and it was super filling (I took the leftovers). The dessert was the chef’s choice, and while it wasn’t announced, I’m fairly certain it was Tiramisu Cake. I was full from dinner, but I still scarfed this in 5 seconds.
I’ll note that the menu is limited, because there is limited space aboard the train. But with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, there is something that should work for just about everyone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cocktails!
I actually saw Green Mountain Railroad’s post on Instagram for the Lavender Bees Knees, and it was stuck in my head, so I had to order that first. It did not disappoint. Next I ordered the Raspberry Mule, which reminded me of pez candy for some reason, but it was also delicious. My sister ordered the refreshing Summer Sangria. Having ordered cocktails last year, I can confidently say that the drink game has been stepped up. It’s easy to get carried away… so just keep in mind that drinks are additional.
It’s more than dinner and drinks.
There are two other features that make this a unique experience—the view and the train!
I’ll start with the view. As the train departs Burlington, it heads south toward Middlebury. You begin in close proximity to the shoreline, so the views are gorgeous as you wind your way past the Burlington Bike Path and into Shelburne. There, you begin to see more pastures, sometimes dotted with homes or businesses, and sometimes with animals (we spied a handful of wild turkeys). It’s easy to get lost in conversation over dinner, but just as easy to get pulled back toward nature. I found myself staring out the window several times, lost in reflection on how lucky I am to live in this beautiful state. On a side note, if the sun gets too bright for your liking, there are now window shades if you need them.
As for the train, this likely entices people for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s the uniqueness or nostalgia, the interior will remind you of another time, a time before cell phones and internet service. However, it still features most of the markings you’d expect from a traditional restaurant. There are simple but tasteful table settings, stocked bars, and a fully operational kitchen. Chef Paul prepares meals in a 90-ft kitchen car, basically the size of a commercial kitchen, which allows the train to accommodate 150-175 guests each evening.
Connect in a new way.
I met briefly with Nicole Carlson, Manager of Passenger Services, to ask what she felt was really distinctive about the dinner train.
"We’re not turning tables," she said. "You are on here for three hours. You can relax, lose track of time, disconnect. Our mission is to create high-quality, memorable experiences that connect generations through Rail travel."
As the individual overseeing the customer experience, Nicole reads all of the feedback, and has really sought to improve the service. In addition to the changes already referenced, there is now a point-of-sale system. So not only is customer service faster, but customers can pay by card.
She has also worked hard to bring Vermont brands to the table, wherever possible. This includes cheeseboards and check presenters from Maple Landmark, Lavender Essentials to bring comfort to the bathrooms, and Vermont-based alcohol from brands like Wild Hart Distillery and Lincoln Peak Vineyard.
You’ll want to book early.
Because the season is limited, and the dinner train only runs Fridays and Saturdays, seats aboard the Champlain Valley Dinner Train do sell out. So plan ahead, and book your seats early. The train is running now through October 20th.