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Are We There Yet?
Unfortunately, the Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train is no longer running.
A Stillwater tourism icon for more than two decades, The Zephyr has
carried more than a million passengers while cruising back and forth
along a 6-mile route north of Stillwater and along the bluffs of the
St. Croix River, before heading west along a creek. High fuel
prices and a terrible economy forced owner David Paradeau to declare that New
Year's Eve 2008 would be the final run of the famous Dinner Train before going out of business.
It is quite unfortunate, since the trip and dinner, while a tad
pricy, was definitely worth it: a super fun affair. The Minnesota DNR has acquired
the rights to the property and has plans to convert the rail line
into the Brown's Creek State Trail. Fortunately, I at least have the
pretty easy to fall into the same old "flowers and chocolate" trap
for Valentine's Day.
This year, I decided to look for something
different, something unique. Perhaps a... yeah, that's it, a romantic
getaway! But where to go was the big question. This
needed to be something very special, and not so close by. When I
really want to "get away," my instincts seem to always direct me
I had heard about the town of Stillwater, MN but had
never visited it. I did a little research, and when I literally
stumbled upon something called the dinner train (The
Minnesota Zephyr), my mind was made up. This was something I knew
we were going to enjoy. The drive from Chicago is
about 6 hours. For some, that may seem like a long way to go for
dinner. But it is a very easy drive and this particular dinner was
well worth the trip! With Minneapolis so close (to Stillwater), there is plenty to do
and a wide range of accommodations is available.
Driving into the town of Stillwater is like stepping
into the past. The downtown area is lined with specialty stores
and antique shops; building materials are mostly limestone and brick.
Main Street (Route 95) runs parallel to the beautiful and scenic St. Croix River.
One boards the dinner train on the north end of town at
a restored railroad station*. Prior to boarding the Zephyr,
browse through the gift shop or soak up some of the railroad and
logging history of the area by perusing the many fascinating
displays and old pictures.
for a heads-up from RGH on 1-03-03: "The 'restored railroad station'
statement is not accurate. The original station was built in 1888
and located near the interstate bridge. It was torn down 42 years
ago to make way for a grocery store of all things, which has since
been converted into a sorry excuse for a hotel. The station you
visited is only a few years old and 'styled' after the original,
albeit tastefully done." View the original structure at
The train itself is comprised of circa 1940 Pullman
rail cars. Each car is decorated accordingly with a slightly different
theme and each table is dressed "to the nines" with white linen table
cloths, silverware and crystal in preparation for the upcoming
five-course meal. We were seated at our table and immediately
noticed the waiting shrimp cocktail and glasses of ice water, complete
with lemon slices. A waitress delivered cocktails, and soon the
lights were dimmed and the train began its slow journey into the night.
Over the course of the
evening (about 3 1/2 hours) we were presented with more food than a
could possibly eat! We dined on shrimp, cream of chicken & wild rice soup,
salmon, old-fashioned cheesecake and more as the countryside slowly
rolled by. Periodically, a quartet of period-dressed, smiling
troubadours wandered through the car crooning melodious renditions such
as "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Sentimental Journey". It was
almost as if the train were a time machine and had taken us back to the
The evening was a memorable and enjoyable one indeed. I stepped off
the train back in Stillwater feeling relaxed, reminiscent and very full.
I am looking forward to a return trip to Stillwater, although next time I
will plan a longer stay so I am able to do more exploring in this
charming, old-fashioned town.
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