For Overnight Trips, Choose a Sleeper

Feb 28, 2001

The Bottom Line The only way to travel through the night and it is not as expensive as you may think.

Through the years I have ridden Amtrak over 50 times. I LOVE Amtrak but not even consider an overnight trip without a room in the sleeper car. If I had to sleep in coach, I'd fly instead since I can't sleep sitting up. When you have a room in the sleeper car, you are treated like royalty. It is a wonderful way to travel across the United States.

At first appearance, rooms in the sleeper cars appear to be outrageously priced. However, many of them are really no more expensive than a room in a decent hotel and one's meals. The cost of the sleeper car varies depending on the particular train, the season, the distance traveled, and the size of the room. Each passenger pays the basic coach train fare. The first person pays a supplement for the room and each additional passenger who stays in that room gets to stay for free. What is especially nice is that the meals in the for each passenger are included in this cost. These passengers get to eat in the diner. Also, you can choose anything from the menu. I have found the food in the diner to be excellent. I usually order something like filet mignon. Another nicety is that you can have food and drinks delivered to your room. In the morning, there is coffee, tea, and orange juice available in the sleeping car. Also, a newspaper (usually USA Today) is placed under your door in the morning.

I have only slept in sleepers on the Superliners that cruise across the Western portion of the US (and certain Eastern routes). Therefore, my description of the accommodations will be limited to these sleepers. The Superliners are double decker trains and the rooms are on both levels of the sleeping car. On some long distance trains, there are two sleeping cars. The sleeping cars are placed at the end(s) of the train. Only first class passengers are allowed to enter the sleeping cars. This prevents disruption from having other passengers pass through the car. One of the main plusses of having a sleeper is that you get use of a shower. Anyone who has spent a night on a train or bus, knows the importance of this convenience.

The upper level of the Superliner sleeping car contains 4 luxury bedrooms and 10 standard bedrooms. The lower level contains 4 standard bedrooms, 1 family bedroom, and one special bedroom (for people who use wheelchairs), several bathrooms, and one shower room.

The luxury bedrooms contain a large sofa, upholstered chair, and private bathroom (toilet, sink, and shower). At night, the couch opens up into a twin size bed and a second bed drops from the wall. There is a ladder to facilitate entrance onto the upper berth. This room contains a large picture window to watch the world go by. This room is big enough for two adults or perhaps two adults and one child. This room costs approximately $280 per night (that is why it is called a LUXURY bedroom). I have heard that there are now TVs in this room.

During my trips, I have used the standard bedroom. This room is a feat of modern engineering. Literally every inch of space is utilized to the maximum. These rooms line both sides of the hallway on both levels of the sleeper car. By day there are two comfortable seats facing each other with a tiny pull-out table between them. There is also a tiny closet that is just big enough to hand either one coat or one garment bag. Each seat is wider than a standard coach seat so you have more room in here than you do in a regular coach seat. My son and I found that we could both comfortable stretch out and put our feet on each other's seat without getting in each other's way. The seats were a perfect distance apart for doing this. Also, when we put our feet on the floor, there was enough room so that our knees did not hit. We really enjoyed looking out the large picture window. At night, the chairs opened up into one bed and the second birth was lowered from the ceiling. There were two really nice built in steps that a nice endtable by day. These steps allowed even me (a klutz) to be able to climb up into the upper birth. There was no restroom in our room. That was fine with me since there was one just down the hall. This room costs about $160 per night. For two people, this room is GREAT. The absolute only way you could put three people in here is if there was only one adult and two small children.

The family bedroom is at one end of the lower level of the car. This room spans the entire width of the car and has two large windows. Therefore, you can see what is going on on both sides of the train. By day there is one couch and two small seats for children. Between the two seats, a pull-out table exists. The couch forms one twin bed and a second birth lowers from the ceiling over this bed. The small seats open for form one very short bed that is only good for a small child. Another child-sized birth can be lowered from the ceiling. Almost immediately in front of the couch is a very narrow closet that is big enough to hold one coat. We explored this room and discovered that we would be uncomfortable in there because when you sit on the couch, there really is not much room for your legs. I guess that if you don't put anything in the closet, one person could spread out and put their feet into the closet. This room would be suitable for 2 adults and 2 - 3 children. The cost of this room is about $280 per night.

The special bedroom is on the other end of the lower level. This room is reserved for persons with disabilities. The room extends the entire width of the car and contains a curtained-off bathroom that is wide enough for a wheelchair. There are two seats facing each other, like those in the standard bedroom. These at night form a bed with a second bed lowering from the ceiling. I can't remember if there was a closet in this room or not. I do not know the cost of this room. I would suspect that it costs the same as the standard bedroom, but I don't know that for sure.

Another benefit of having a room in the sleeping car is that you get to use the Metropolitan Lounges at major train stations. These lounges are very comfortable, secure places to relax while waiting for your train. They are designed with the business person in mind and contain plugs for phones and computers, conference rooms, and select business services. The decor is very appealing with fireplaces, hardwoods, and comfortable furniture. There was a TV in the one were were at in Chicago. Also, free refreshments are provided in these lounges. I had one of the best pieces of pastry I have ever had there.

The service provided by the train personnel for individuals in the sleeping car is exceptional. I am not sure how they do it but all of the attendants seem to know everyone's names as soon as they enter the train. Our attendant went out of his way to serve us without us feeling like he was only doing this for a tip. Lastly, getting our beds turned down and mint on our pillow helped us settle in for a wonderful night's. Believe me, I would not have slept this well in coach.

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