I recently took a first-class train trip on an Amtrak Acela for the first time.
Some things surprised me about the cabin, like the abundance of drink options yet limited food.
I was also surprised that only a handful of stations offer lounges for first-class travelers.
I traveled in first class on Amtrak's Acela train from New York City to Baltimore and experienced a few surprises along the way.
I recently booked a first-class ticket on an Amtrak Acela train traveling from New York City to Baltimore.
My ticket cost $273, and included meal service and access to the Metropolitan Lounge at NYC's Penn Station. (For full disclosure, Insider paid for the trip in accordance with our reporting standards.)
Before I tell you what surprised me, you should know that although this was my first time in first class on an Amtrak Acela, I've previously traveled on multiple Amtrak trains.
I've traveled on many Amtrak trains in coach and also recently spent 60 hours on Amtrak trains between Miami and NYC in bedroom and roomette accommodations, which cost hundreds more than my Acela ticket.
Traveling between Miami and NYC, I realized I wasn't cut out for long-haul train travel, but I was more willing to try it on a shorter route. My Acela trip from NYC to Baltimore was about two and a half hours.
Acela is an express option for regional trips around the Northeast with stops in 13 cities. This particular ride was 20 minutes faster on Acela than it would have been on a typical Amtrak.
During the booking process, I was surprised to learn that Amtrak Acela — an East Coast express train — only has two classes: business and first.
Every Amtrak I've been on has had coach seating, but Amtrak Acela trains only have business and first-class seating.
My ticket cost $273 because I booked a standard ticket (which on an Acela is actually business class) for $121, and then spent an extra $152 to upgrade to first class.
The fare I booked was about $100 cheaper than the same tickets in upcoming weeks, according to a quick Amtrak search.
I knew first class would be more expensive than a business class ticket, but I didn't expect it to be more than double the price.
The cost of upgrading to first class — $152 — was more expensive than the standard business-class ticket — $121.
"Much like our airline peers, Amtrak pricing strategy is influenced by several factors — demand, departure, seasonality, route, city pair, class of service, and other market conditions," a representative for Amtrak told Insider.
My journey started when I arrived at New York's Penn Station where I had access to an exclusive lounge with free snacks and drinks. I was surprised to find that this perk is available at less than half of the Amtrak Acela stations.
As a New Yorker, part of the allure of a first-class ticket for me was having access to Penn Station's Metropolitan Lounge, a quiet waiting area for select Amtrak customers with comfortable seats and free snacks.
First-class passengers get in for free on the day of their trip, while business-class passengers can pay $50 to access the club.
I thought the lounge was the best perk of my first-class ticket, so I was shocked to find that it is only available at some stations on the Amtrak Acela line. Outside of New York, anyone traveling from Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston's South Station has access to a lounge. But there are 12 other stops on the Amtrak Acela that don't offer this perk.
Amtrak didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment about this perk only being available at a few stations.
Since I was traveling from NYC's Penn Station, I got to enjoy the lounge, and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of snacks available in the lounge.
In the lounge, I was overwhelmed with choices when I approached the snack counter. I saw Kind bars, cookies, popcorn, candy, chips, and hummus. I also spotted free beverages like coffee, iced tea, and citrus-infused water.
I ordered water, an iced coffee, and a Kind bar. The server gave me an extra one.
Looking back on it, I wish I asked for a few more treats to enjoy on my trip.
When reserving a ticket, I didn't realize that Amtrak automatically assigned my seat and that I could change it anytime after booking.
Amtrak Acela automatically assigned my seat when I reserved a ticket. However, I later learned that it may be changed on their website anytime before departure.
Seat maps are available on Amtrak's website, and they specify which direction each seat faces, as not all seats are forward-facing.
I was surprised that Amtrak would automatically select seating in the first place on a car with seats in both directions. Facing the opposite direction that the train is moving usually gives me motion sickness.
Luckily, I ended up in a seat positioned in the direction the train was headed.
I wasn't expecting to find a row of single seats in the first-class car and was thrilled that my seat was in one. I thought it provided a little more space.
On most trains I've been on, each row had the same number of seats on either side of the aisle. But in the Acela first-class car, there were two seats on one side and one seat on the other. Seats faced both directions.
I was lucky to find that my automatically assigned seat was a single one, which I thought gave me a bit more space since I was traveling alone.
If you care about where you sit, I suggest that you make sure you're aware of the direction the seat faces and whether it's in the singles or doubles row when making your selection.
The chairs looked big so I thought they'd be comfy, but they felt stiffer than I anticipated.
In my opinion, the seats in first class were not as comfortable as they initially looked based on how big they appeared to be.
I also didn't find them to be much more comfortable than the business-class seats I also experienced, which were slightly smaller and closer together.
Amtrak didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment about the seats.
A nice perk in first class was a complimentary drink that was served after boarding. I thought the drink menu was surprisingly large for a train, with 37 options.
At the beginning of the ride, I received a complimentary drink and could select from sodas, juices, teas, coffee drinks, and alcoholic beverages ranging from beer and wine to liquor and cocktails, as part of the fare.
I ordered an orange juice but my tray table alone couldn't keep it from falling while the train was moving.
As soon as I poured my orange juice into the glass it came with, I regretted it. I was disappointed to see that there was no cup holder on my tray table and once we were moving, the ride was pretty bumpy. I worried that the glass would fall off the table. Looking back on it, I should have just left the juice in the bottle.
Since the beverage menu had so many options, I was surprised that the food menu was so limited.
I traveled during breakfast and had four options to choose from. For the cost of my ticket, I found the food choices to be limited.
Amtrak didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment about the menu.
I went with the fruit plate, which came with a warm croissant. I was surprised by how quickly the food came out and how fresh it tasted.
Three minutes after ordering, my meal came out, and I was surprised to find that it included a croissant, too, because it was not listed on the menu.
The fruit tasted cold and fresh. Every piece was just as juicy and flavorful as the last, which surprised me since I was on a train. The croissant tasted a little less fresh to me, but it was still warm and tasty.
After my meal, I went to the bathroom and even though I was in first class, in my opinion, it was similar to bathrooms I've seen in standard Amtrak cars.
In my experience, the bathroom seemed to be quite typical of a train bathroom in other classes. I didn't notice any special, luxurious touches that would make it feel more akin to traveling in first class.
Now that I know all of these surprising details about traveling first class on an Amtrak Acela, I've decided the perks aren't worth the price.
Overall, my ride was pleasant, but with what I thought was a limited menu and stiff seats, I didn't find my first-class ticket to be worth $273. Next time, I'll save my money and book a standard ticket for a short ride.
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