I took my first long-haul Amtrak train from New York to Chicago, and a few things surprised me.
I was shocked that I could book a private room, with two beds and a small bathroom.
I was most surprised to find that the 19-hour journey didn't feel too long or boring.
First, I was surprised to learn that Amtrak trains have private rooms for passengers.
As someone who usually travels in coach on an Amtrak train, I was surprised to learn when I was booking a trip from New York to Chicago, a 19-hour ride, that Amtrak offers private rooms.
The company offers smaller "roomettes," as they're called, which sleep two people at the back of the train, and larger bedrooms that sleep four.
When booking my trip, I was shocked by the price.
To book a coach seat on the train from New York to Chicago would have cost $100. That's reasonable, but I decided I couldn't sit in a coach seat for 19 hours.
One of the smaller rooms aboard the Lake Shore Limited Amtrak train cost $550. Flying from New York to Chicago could cost as little as $70 on a good day and would get me there faster, so the fact that it was more expensive to take a train, which is significantly slower, surprised me.
The larger rooms, which fit four people, can cost over $1,000.
My room on the train had a private toilet and sink.
One corner of my roomette had a toilet, a pull-down sink, and a mirror. Luckily, I was traveling alone — otherwise, I'd be doing my business right next to my traveling buddy.
The room also came with toiletries and clean towels.
The bathroom space had soap, wet napkins, paper cups, and four towels. Though it was minimal, it was a nice touch that I wasn't expecting.
I found a communal shower at the back of my train car.
Though the small bathroom in my room didn't have a place to wash up, I was surprised to find a small shower at the back of the car, right next to the communal coffee station.
Conductors similar to flight attendants helped me throughout the journey.
When I've ridden coach on past Amtrak trains, the conductors checked my tickets and made sure everyone was following the rules. In the sleeper car, the conductors did so much more — they brought me food and drinks and even offered turndown service.
A control panel on the wall of my room with an attendant call button reminded me of flight attendants.
They served meals at strange times.
The attendant delivered my dinner at 5 p.m., earlier than I expected. When I asked to have it later, the attendant said that she would bring it anyway and that I could just hold on to it.
When I woke up in the morning, I asked the attendant for breakfast, but she told me I had slept through it. I thought it was strange because it was only 9 a.m., but she offered me a cup of oatmeal instead.
The dinner reminded me of plane food.
Plane food has a bad rap. After my Amtrak trip, I realized that train food is no different.
For dinner, I ordered pasta with chicken and veggies, a small salad, and a roll. The pasta was fine yet burned, and the chicken was chewy. I didn't bother trying the salad because it was just a couple of pieces of lettuce. My favorite part of the meal was the buttered roll.
For the money I paid, I expected a bit more from Amtrak's food options.
I was able to control the heating and cooling of my room.
When traveling, I usually wear layers, because I never know if I'll be cold or hot on a plane or train. Luckily, in the room I booked, I was able to control the temperature — I could turn the AC on or off, raise the heat, or turn on a fan.
The sleeping situation was one of the biggest surprises, because the bed descended from the ceiling.
The room I booked had two sleeping options: The two seats could be folded down to create a bed, or a bed could be pulled down from the ceiling. I chose to sleep in the bed suspended by straps. The attendant helped me bring the bed down, and I climbed in by using the toilet and sink as a staircase.
I found the bed to be mildly comfortable, and the sheets and blankets were clean.
It was difficult to fall asleep because of the constant movement of the train.
Unlike on a plane, I felt every movement of the train. Every time it slowed down, picked up speed, or hit a bump, I felt it. Since I was lying in a suspended bed, I felt them even more. At some points I even felt a little motion sickness, so it was difficult to fall asleep.
I needed earplugs to help me fall asleep.
As the train rattles down the track, it shakes everything on board and creates loud sounds. This added to the difficulty of falling asleep, and as I laid in the bed, I remember wishing I had packed earplugs.
I could get off at some stations to stretch my legs.
While most stops along the route are quick, the train stays for 10 to 15 minutes at some stations for schedule adjustments. The crew said over the loudspeaker whenever the train would be staying put, and they left the doors open so people could step out. This was a godsend for the moments I needed some fresh air.
Though 19 hours may seem like a long time to be trapped on a train, it didn't feel that long.
When I got on the train, I was nervous I would feel every second of the 19 hours. I worried I would get bored, restless, or even claustrophobic.
When I got off in Chicago, I realized it had been a very easy journey — thanks to the help of Netflix and a long night's sleep.
Though the food wasn't great and the sleeping arrangement was unusual, the 19 hours flew right by.
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