Alaska Railroad

Alaska Railroad: GoldStar Service Vs. Adventure Class

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One of the first questions you’ll be wondering after looking into an Alaska Railroad vacation is if it is worth it to purchase the upgrade to Alaska Railroad GoldStar service. It comes at quite a price hike, but what do you get and is it worth your money.

GoldStar Service

Alaska Railroad GoldStar Service is worth the money to upgrade from adventure class on your trip of a lifetime. If you’ve spent the money to get all the way to Alaska, this upgrade should not be where you decide to start cutting back, as you’ll be missing out on a few things that will make your trip more enjoyable. Let’s check out some of the benefits to GoldStar Service vs. Adventure Class.

Domed Car

The GoldStar Service class has a two level domed car with large windows and seats on the upper level. Of these things the seats being on the upper level is the most important. There are times when that extra 10 feet of height will get you a much better viewing angle.

We didn’t find the windows to be much better than Adventure Class, because while you can see out the top, there is nothing to see out the top, and it just means you’ll have the sun reaching you more directly. They have shaded the top portion of the windows for this reason, which makes it even harder to see out the top. You’ll get the same viewing experience out of either type of window, because you’ll usually be just looking straight out.

Alaska Railroad Gold Star
Domed windows are shaded at the top

Outdoor Viewing Space

In our opinion, this is where the GoldStar Service really shines, the outdoor viewing platform. At the rear of the GoldStar car, there is an outdoor viewing platform that can accommodate about 12 people at a time. Views are perfect and it is the ideal choice if you are planning to do any photography or videography on your trip.

Alaska Railroad Gold Star
Outdoor Viewing Platform

You won’t want to just stand out there the whole time though. When the train is moving quickly it can be quite windy and difficult to stand due to sway of the train. The train will slow down or even stop at the prettiest parts of the route, and you’ll usually be notified when it is a good time to go back there. This of course does make it more crowded than it would otherwise be.

After the first half of the trip, many passengers will tire of walking back there though, and we found that we had it all to ourselves on the last half of the trip most of the time.

This is simply one of the best photography experiences from a train that you can find. If you love photography, this is reason enough to upgrade to GoldStar Service.

If you are wanting to get shots of the front of the train set against the landscape, this is the place to do it. You can lean over the edge and get a great picture of the engine as it turns in several places. You’ll want to have a strap on your phone, because you’ll be holding the phone or camera over the edge.

Alaska Railroad Gold Star
You can lean to get shots of the train, but bring a strap!

Meals

Meals are included in your Alaska Railroad GoldStar Service experience. The food in our opinion was good, on par with the Amtrak Traditional Dining experience we’ve had. Don’t expect cruise ship food, but it is better than bringing your own food, and it is also nice to eat in the dining car on the lower level.

GoldStar Breakfast
GoldStar Cheeseburger
Alaska Railroad Gold Star
GoldStar Pot Roast

Seats

We didn’t see much difference in the actual seats between the classes. We expected the GoldStar seats to be bigger than they were, but they were perfectly comfortable for a day trip.

Alaska Railroad Gold Star
GoldStar Seats on Denali Star
Alaska Railroad Gold Star
GoldStar Seats on Denali Star

There is however much less room to store bags in the GoldStar car as the back is taken up by a bar and the outdoor viewing platform. In Adventure Class there is a luggage rack for extra bags. If you are riding in GoldStar you should check whatever bags you can.

Adventure Class Luggage Rack on Denali Star

The Adventure Class had a few table style seats where 4 people could sit facing each other on the Denali Star. On the Glacier Discovery, the whole train was Adventure Class, and all of the seats were table style family seating.

Adventure Class on Denali Star
Adventure Class on Denali Star

All of the seats on the Denali Star were forward facing in GoldStar class. To choose the best seats on each train see our 12 things you need to know before riding the Alaska Railroad.

The GoldStar car does have an accessible lift, the first we’ve ever seen on a train!

GoldStar Accessible Lift

Cost

Cost is obviously the biggest difference between the two classes. GoldStar service comes at a hefty price hike, but if you have any interest in photography, or seeing the landscape from outside, the GoldStar tickets cannot be beat. The GoldStar class also comes with a collectible pin that can be kept. It is what signifies to the staff that you are allowed to be in the GoldStar car.

Adventure Class

We thought Adventure Class would be a poor experience, but we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. Gone were the perks of GoldStar, but as far as the seat and viewing experience, it was really great.

Adventure Class on Glacier Discovery

There is a snack bar adjacent to the seating area that offers both drinks and snacks. We got hot food there like a pretzel and a corn dog. Prices were fair and the food was good.

Adventure Class Snacks on Glacier Discovery

Would we buy GoldStar again

If we were doing the trip again we would get GoldStar on the Denali Star at least one way, going towards Denali, and get Adventure class for the rest of our trips. The outdoor viewing platform was amazing for us, as we love taking pictures and videos, but if we were riding round trip to Denali we wouldn’t need to do it both ways.

If you’ve planned out a really nice vacation we recommend springing for the GoldStar car for at least one train ride. Alaska was a dream trip for us and it did not disappoint us at all. Having GoldStar seats on the Denali Star was a cherished experience that we will remember for a long time.

Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 2 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 750,000 images in the last 15 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.