When the price of four airline tickets to our annual vacation to the Midwest hit $1,700 this year, we decided to look around for options. For $1,754 we could get our own ``family bedroom'' with room for five on Amtrak for six days and four nights.

When we consulted friends about taking a long trip in such a tiny space, we got advice separating roughly into three categories: ``You'll be sorry,'' ``You're crazy,'' and ``Bad idea.''

Although the space is the largest available at any price, it looked and felt small - especially for me, at 6 ft., 4 in. But our seven- and four-year-olds both jumped at the chance. They had their own beds in a room with pull-down tables at both ends and side-to-side, cushioned seats.

We not only survived 4,000 miles without a single ``Honey, I need to shrink the kids'' joke, we had - in the words of my wife - ``a hoot and a half.'' Here's why:

Kids have a whole train to explore, including an observation car with glass top and a lounge car with tables for games. There are movies at night and cartoons on some mornings. Geologists and historians, courtesy of the US Bureau of Land Management, board intermittently to give detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and geography. The kids couldn't be happier - and neither could we.

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