14 things that surprised me the most about overnight Amtrak rides after spending 60 hours in sleeper cars

·10 min read
The author outside (L) and inside (R) the Amtrak train
The author took two 30-hour Amtrak train rides and was surprised by the price, the food, and the toilet in the shower.Joey Hadden/Insider
  • I took 30-hour trips each way from New York to Miami on Amtrak.

  • A few things surprised me about these long-haul, overnight train rides in sleeper cars.

  • Namely, how bumpy it was, the tasty meals, and that the train was more expensive than flying.

My train sleeper car accommodation was much more expensive than flying economy and took ten times longer.

The author on a plane (L) and a train (R)
The author on a recent flight (L) and a recent train trip (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

While you might think trains would be cheaper than flying, that's not always the case. On recent Amtrak trips I booked, a roomette accommodation to Miami cost $500, and a bedroom accommodation to New York cost $1,000.

This pricing is typical for the fall, which is the time period when I traveled, according to a recent Amtrak booking search. (For full disclosure, Insider paid for the train accommodations, per our reporting standards.)

Depending on the time and day, a flight from New York City to Miami in basic economy could cost around $100 round trip, according to a recent Google Flight search. A first-class round-trip flight would be similar in price to an Amtrak roomette, according to a search on Kayak.

While the train accommodations I booked offered more space, privacy, and amenities than a flight in either economy or first-class, I was still shocked by how expensive it can be to travel by train, especially since it can take ten times longer. A one-way overnight train between New York and Miami took 30 hours. That same flight is often approximately three hours.

I could have saved money with Amtrak's rewards program.

A screenshot of the rewards program on the Amtrak website
A screenshot of the rewards program on the Amtrak website.Joey Hadden/Insider

After my trip, I learned that Amtrak has a loyalty program that rewards patrons with two points for every $1 they spend. Points can be used for train tickets, hotels, shopping, and dining. I was surprised at how easy it was to sign up, too. It took 10 seconds and was completely free.

I missed out this time, but next time I book an Amtrak trip, I'll be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to save money.

The roomette was barely larger than a twin-sized bed and meant to sleep two people.

A view of an empty roomette across from the author's on an Amtrak.
An empty roomette across from the author's on an Amtrak.Joey Hadden/Insider

An Amtrak roomette is a big step up from sitting in coach, where you get one single seat among other passengers, while a roomette is a private space with a door and blinds to cover up the windows.

According to Amtrak's website, roomettes are around 22.75 square feet, which, for reference, is a little bigger than a standard Twin-size bed, Insider reported. They can sleep up to two adults.

When I walked into the room, I couldn't believe it was meant for two people.

I am 5-feet-3 and of average build, and I felt cramped in the roomette's 25 square feet of space by myself. If I were taller or larger, I imagine I would feel even more cramped. This makes the upgrade to a larger bedroom worth it, in my opinion — especially if you're not traveling alone.

On an overnight train, upgrading to a bedroom with 20 extra square feet made a huge difference.

The author stands in bedroom with her arms in the air and windows behind her
The author uses the extra space in the bedroom to dance.Joey Hadden/Insider

Amtrak also offers bedrooms that are around 45.5 square feet, which, for reference, is a little bigger than a standard King-size bed, Insider reported. They can also sleep up to two adults.

I thought the bedroom offered ample space to stretch out and move about, which made all the difference to me.

While I was impressed with the roomette's use of space, having just 20 square feet of extra room to move around in the bedroom on the way home was undoubtedly a better experience.

Read more: I paid $500 extra to upgrade my room on a 30-hour Amtrak ride, and I thought the additional 20 square feet was worth every penny

Both overnight train rides I took were constantly bumpy.

A photo showing outside the train window
A view out the train window as it moves.Joey Hadden/Insider

When my first train from New York to Miami started moving, I noticed it was a bumpy ride, kind of like a flight when the seat belt sign is on. I figured this would be temporary, but I was surprised that the bumps never stopped. I thought the whole ride was shaky, and so was the ride back. As a result, I suffered from motion sickness throughout both trips.

Every time I stood up to walk through the train cars, I felt like I was on an airplane trying to use the bathroom during turbulence.

Sleeping was also more difficult with the constant shaking. I woke up often feeling disoriented.

Read more: I took a 30-hour train from New York to Miami, and the motion sickness and terrible sleep were too much for me

In the roomette and the bedroom, I was able to control the temperature and lighting.

The roomette's temperature controls (L) and light buttons with the author's hand pressing one (R)
The author controls the temperature (L) and lighting (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

In addition to the ceiling light, each seat had its own area light, reading light, and night light, which seemed to be more than what you'd get in economy on a flight or even a regular train seat.

My Amtrak roomette and bedroom also both had a temperature dial and air conditioning vents, and I was able to keep it cool in my room, around 66 degrees Fahrenheit. I wasn't expecting to have control over the temperature during my trip, and this was a nice touch.

Read more: I spent $500 for a 20-square-foot room on a 30-hour Amtrak ride, where no space was left unused. Take a look inside.

In the bedroom, I didn't expect to have so much storage space to unpack toiletries.

Side by side photos show the bathroom cabinet opened and closed
The bathroom storage cabinet opened (R) and closed (L).Joey Hadden/Insider

To the right of the mirror in the bedroom was a cabinet where I could store toiletries and other personal items. This feature allowed me to unpack the way I would in a hotel room, and make myself more comfortable.

Read more: I spent $1,000 for a 45-square-foot bedroom with its own bathroom on a 30-hour Amtrak ride. Take a look inside.

An Amtrak bedroom comes with a full private bathroom, and while I wasn't sure what it would look like, I definitely wasn't prepared for the toilet to be in the shower.

The author sits on the toilet in the shower
The author sits on the toilet in the shower.Joey Hadden/Insider

The Amtrak bedroom accommodations have a full private bathroom. I knew the room would be small, so I was interested to see how it would fit both a shower and a toilet.

The configuration was a bit surprising, with the toilet sharing the same space as the shower, tucked just behind it. There was no curtain separating the two.

While a great use of a tiny space, it was shockingly different from any other bathroom I've been in. Since I forgot to bring flip-flops to wear in the shower, I didn't take a shower on this trip. But looking down while using the toilet with my feet on the shower floor was an odd sight that made me chuckle as I tried to picture another person showering directly in front of me.

The room also included a closet, which I didn't use but could come in handy.

Side by side photos show the bathroom closet opened and closed
The closet opened (R) and closed (L).Joey Hadden/Insider

Next to the bedroom seating area was a small closet with three hangers for clothing you'd want to use to keep looking sharp. I think I'd use it for storing jackets or ironed clothing, or hanging formal wear if I were traveling to an event.

Read more: I spent $1,000 for a 45-square-foot bedroom with its own bathroom on a 30-hour Amtrak ride. Take a look inside.

I thought the Amtrak sleeper cars had very comfortable beds and blankets.

The author lays in the train bed looking out the window on the left side
The author lays in bed after waking up on the train.Joey Hadden/Insider

While the pillows were too light and weak for my liking, I thought that the Amtrak beds were squishy but firm, the sheets were soft and smooth, and the blanket was warm and pleasantly fuzzy. I was expecting the beds to be much less comfortable to sleep on, so this was a nice, and welcome, surprise on an overnight trip.

Read more: I spent 60 hours on Amtrak trains with a carry-on bag and a backpack. Here are 7 things I regret not packing and 9 items I'm glad I brought.

I knew my ticket came with meals, but I didn't expect to have completely different options from paying customers who ordered from the cafe.

A couple of the author's meals that came with her ticket.
A couple of the author's meals that came with her ticket.Joey Hadden/Insider

When it was time to eat, I ordered from a separate menu reserved for passengers staying in a roomette or bedroom. My options were entrees that came with sides, like chicken with pasta and short ribs with mashed potatoes.

While I was glad my meals were decent and didn't cost extra, I longed for the more fun options on the cafe menu where cheeseburgers, tacos, and wraps appealed to me more than the hearty options I had.

Eating in Amtrak's dining cart was more pleasant than eating in the privacy of my roomette or bedroom.

Two photos of the author with meals in the dining carts
The author dines on her way to Miami (L) and New York (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

I thought that when meal times came around, I'd prefer to stay in my room to eat, but I actually found that going to the dining car was a nice change of scenery. It gave me a chance to stretch and move my legs every few hours (and my mouth, as other passengers ate there, too).

Read more: I spent 30 hours on an Amtrak from NYC to Miami. Here are 11 ways I made the long ride more bearable.

Breakfast was not only tasty but quite filling.

Two photos show the author's breakfast on the train
The author's breakfast meal on the train.Joey Hadden/Insider

While I enjoyed some of the train's heartier options, like braised beef short ribs, the meal that I typically think of as the lightest was the most filling — breakfast.

My breakfast tray included a sandwich, yogurt, oatmeal, a muffin, and coffee. This meal kept me full longer than the lunch and dinner entrees, which came with protein and a couple of sides.

In general, the food was decent. I thought it would be more like airplane meals, but I was surprised to find the meals to be edible and even enjoyable.

I assumed I'd be stuck on board for the entire trip, but some stops were long enough to get out and stretch my legs.

The author in front of an empty train platform
The author takes a selfie while getting out to stretch her legs.Joey Hadden/Insider

Every few stops, the train took a little break, and passengers could walk around the platform for 10 minutes or so.

Getting up to stretch my legs and breathe in fresh air made the next few hours of being crammed in a room with a window that didn't open a little more bearable.

My Amtrak trips were full of surprises that left me with a better understanding of what it takes to travel overnight by train.

Read more: I spent $1,000 to have a room to myself on a 30-hour Amtrak ride, and it's the only way I'd ever travel long distance by train again

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