Your first Amtrak ride should be one that’s memorable in the best ways possible, and it can be with some expert advice.
The Amtrak has an air of nostalgia to it mixed with the convenience of modern transportation and comfort. There’s perhaps no more a romantic scene that comes to mind for old-fashioned travelers than taking in the sites from a railroad, as the train blazes its way through meadows, mountains, and valleys. At least, that’s what many people think of when purchasing a train ticket.
When it comes to actually taking the Amtrak, though, there’s some advice to take before boarding. Expert tips often help us prepare for the road ahead or, in this case, the railroad ahead.
Here are the tips travelers need to make their Amtrak ride go as smoothly as possible.
Choosing The Best Amtrak Seat & Packing For The Trip
Purchasing tickets on the Amtrak could not be simpler nowadays, but there are some things to consider when factoring in saving money versus splurging on an upgrade. Similar to plane seats, trains come with multiple options, in different cars, for passengers to choose from. Depending on the length of the train ride, it might make more sense for a passenger to go ahead and book that business class seat. If the train ride isn’t extraordinarily long or happens to be on a train during the off-season, it might be worth it to take a chance not booking an assigned seat to save some bucks. The time of the trip and the length are the two top deciding factors when it comes to which seats one should purchase.
- Traveling during the off-season? Consider foregoing assigned seating
- Overnight train ride? Splurge for the roomette for privacy, space, and comfort
- On a scenic train? Make a beeline to the observation car that’s first-come, first-served
An Amtrak Roomette
The difference between a regular seat in coach or an upgraded seat in business class and a roomette is pretty significant. Although roomettes can cost a passenger up to $1,000 (or more, depending on the train and the trip), it’s often well worth it for overnight rides. The roomette includes:
- Two comfortable seats for daytime travel
- Upper and lower berths for sleeping
- Towels and linens brought fresh daily
- A private bathroom and shower within the car
- A sleeping car attendant
- Complimentary access to the train lounge
- Priority boarding
- Complimentary meals
- Expanded luggage storage
Now, considering all that’s included in the price, it’s a little more justified. After all, it’s not uncommon for plane tickets to cost nearly as much (or more) for a round-trip flight, especially for first-class seating.
Consider Checking Bags
For those who haven’t purchased a roomy seat on the Amtrak, checking one’s bags is an option just like it is on planes. The space is limited for those in coach seating and even sometimes in business class, and Amtrak only allows for two suitcases before adding a $20 fee for the third one, according to Insider. If there’s anything that can be checked, it’s easier to do so and just pick up the bag of non-essentials after arriving at one’s destination.
Food & Beverages Aboard The Amtrak
Those who are unfamiliar with Amtrak probably don’t know that many trains do offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. However, there are still some – especially trains that run shorter routes – that don’t provide these options. Additionally, if one is looking to save money while riding the Amtrak, it’s probably best to skip the onboard menu in order to save some extra bucks.
So, what can be done when a passenger’s stomach starts rumbling? Easy! Pack some snacks for the road. Obviously, this is a bit more acceptable when it comes to train rides that are a day or less, as breakfast and dinner can be had off the train. For those who are traveling more than eight hours or who might be on overnight trips, splurging on the train menu is probably worth the cost to fill one’s stomach. In the event that one has booked a roomette, they won’t need to worry about meals at all, because they’re included. As of 2021, Amtrak was bringing back white tablecloth dining services on these trains:
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- Empire Builder
- Southwest Chief
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle
So, in the event that one is booked on one of these, it’s definitely worth it to opt for on-train dining if only for the experience.
Final Thoughts On Amtrak Travel
Traveling with Amtrak is a great way to save money and enjoy the more scenic side of travel – especially for those who opt for the scenic route, literally. While there are things to keep in mind such as potential delays (which happen more often than with airlines), seating arrangements, and additional food or service costs, it’s an experience that can be truly rewarding for the wanderlust-loving traveler.
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