Understanding Amtrak's Sleeper Cars

You can't travel 10,000 miles by rail across every quadrant of America without taking a few overnight trains, so I want to talk to the uninitiated about sleeping on a train. 

Now, sleeping in a reserved seat in coach wasn’t as uncomfortable as I'd thought it would be -- an Amtrak coach seat is basically the equivalent of a first class airline seat, and while It might not be for everyone, I’m a pretty solid sleeper, the seats reclined far enough for my taste, and I had my trusty sleeping bag liner with me so I was pretty cozy under a light blanket. The coach section on the train becomes its own little community, and I found that when it was quiet time my fellow passengers were respectful.

Traveling in a roomette is another experience altogether. While the roomettes are the smallest and most affordable accommodation choice for overnight travelers, there was enough space for me and a pal to put all of our stuff in the room and sleep comfortably when it was lights out. Granted, we were traveling pretty light, both of us had backpacks small enough to wear while riding our bikes in town. If you bring more stuff along, there are baggage racks in the car where you can store the things you won’t need at arm’s reach. We were both working on blog posts, photo editing, and the like, so the in-room electrical outlets were pretty great.

Depending on what type of equipment your train has, the person on the top bunk of the room may have a really amazing view. The single-level cars have really generous windows that made the ride on the Lakeshore Limited pretty special. The top bunk windows on the bi-level cars are also good, but not quite the same. However, the surprise in the single-level equipment was realizing that when one of us needed to use the loo, in those cars the toilet is in the room and not in a separate location down the hall like you see on the other cars. It was quickly decided that we’d opt to use the shared restrooms in the coach area (we’re not THAT close!).

Overall, the roomette was brightly lit with large double-decker windows. The room sleeps two with lower level chairs that collapse into a comfortable bed, and then there is a drop down bed directly above. Both beds come with their own bed linens, pillows, temperature controls, lights, bed-side storage and beautiful views. I checked out the larger bedrooms, family rooms and accessible rooms – those looked like a pretty comfortable ride for folks, and they had bathrooms with showers in them. Maybe I’ll celebrate my graduation from GW with an upgrade like that! For now, though, the roomette was enough of a splurge to make my 38 day journey a lot more comfortable. That’s perfect for now.

All around the system I have had the chance to meet some of the incredibly kind and dedicated Amtrak onboard staff. It’s clear that they work hard, but they all seem to enjoy what they do. Meeting them has been one of the highlights of my journey.

Yet ANOTHER friendly Amtrak employee.

Oh, I should mention that, if you book a sleeper car, all your meals are included. You also have a train attendant who can book meal reservations, make and take down your bed, and carry your luggage for you. If you have a lot of luggage, Amtrak will check it for you (up to two pieces for no extra charge -- take note, airlines!). Here’s a video link I found on the Amtrak Blog that I thought was pretty helpful in describing what the roomette experience is like.

Well, that’s all for now! I’m off to the observation deck on the Sunset Limited for some late night cocoa and a chat with the folks playing Yahtzee.

In the dining car.