Along the way we are learning a great deal about traveling with bikes ~and traveling in general.
If your main purpose is tourism, then arriving with your bike by train in either of these cities can be a great way to get around the downtown core and see a lot of sites, peddling allows you to take in the sites in a way that driving just can't, it is easy to make quick stops when something catches your eye or strikes your fancy, asking for directions from passers by is greatly simplified, and there are no worries about parking when you get to a spot you want to linger at.
Our experience has been that the secrete to taking bikes on Amtrak is maintaining a calm, matter-of-fact attitude when interacting with the railway staff. Think Obi Wan Kenobi in the original Starwars film. When one Amtrak employee bulked at our trail-a-bike, I used the Obi voice as I assured him that "they uncouple and hang on the bike racks, it's never been a problem"
Aside from that, there are the basics: make your reservations as early as possible, arranging for the bike[s] at the same time you purchase your ticket. You will be issued tickets for your bike[s] as well as the humans in your party.
Arrive at the station half an hour to an hour before your train is due to depart, check in. Assure them you have taken your bike[s] dozens of times and it has never been a problem. In our case, it has gotten to the point where this one particular baggage guy will come over if he spots us, and load our bikes for us. Sweet.
Folks in Portland do not seem to fully believe me when I describe the hills in Seattle. Hear me now and believe me later: the hills go straight up! Riding up Pine street from Pike Place Market requires one to defy the laws of physics. Oh, you laugh now, but just you wait!
Luckily, the buses in Seattle are great, as are most of their drives, and they serve well as the cyclist's equivalent of a ski lifts. A few pointers:
If you have bike buckets on your bike's front rack, under no circumstances should you leave them on the bike when it is loaded onto the bus racks. You just cant imagine the carnage that can ensue Remove the buckets before the bus arrives, load you bike onto the buses rack, and carry your buckets inside.
If you come across a bus driver who refuses to allow you to bring your folded trail-a-bike into the bus, remember 2 things: 1) mean people are suffering inside, this individual deserves your compassion -ok, tolerance; and 2) the folded trail-a-bike can, if need be, ride on the bus's rack. If at all possible, load the trail-a-bike in the spot nearest the bus (not necessary, but it gives you a margin of error) , hook the rack's arm over the folded trail-a-bike (I will try to get a photo for ya), say a silent prayer for the grumpy, unreasonable driver. Your bikes will be fine and you will soon be free of this suffering soul -they, on the other hand, have to live with themselves permanently.
Oh, and as to not knowing which end of the junket is home: shortly after returning from our last trip to Seattle, my bike was stolen. I still had the Xtracycle (thank goodness), but I can't use that one for the trips to Seattle, and we had another appointment in less than a month. I reported the theft to all the appropriate authorities, and then -as is the custom in this cycling community- posted the theft to a couple of local listservs, as well as posting “stolen bike' fliers around town. We do this mainly to have more eyes out there watching for the missing bikes, and make it harder for thieves to fence stolen bikes.
Anyway, several folks who know me, know the boy, and know how desperately important our trips to Seattle are leapt to action and before I knew it I had 2 bikes to replace the one.
The first replacement bike is an old school Raleigh designed for racing, it is the lightest and nimblest bike I have ever ridden which apparently had be languishing in someones basement when they heard I needed a bike. It gets me places in record time, but doesn't handle being loaded down with cargo at all. We took it to Seattle once, where it became clear that -for all it's charms- this was not our going-to-Seattle bike.
I didn't want to complain about a gift bike, but I couldn't afford to replace the stolen mountain bike, when Peter at City bikes came riding to my rescue like the proverbial white Knight. He had picked up a second hand Jamis Mountain bike, very similar to my missing KMS, which I suspect he was originally planning to fix up for the shop to sell, instead he fixed it up for me and refused to accept a cent for it. Yeah, this is home, and this cycling community is family.