Last month, we took an Amtrak Sleeper Cabin from Chicago to Boston, with a baby. It was a 21.5-hour journey each way, but we feel that this is the safest way to travel right now.
The idea to take the train to Boston came out of a low point. About 6 weeks after giving birth to Gwen, I had mastitis and Chicago was in the midst of a second round of riots and looting. I just needed to get out of Chicago and to see my family in Maine. Charles agreed and I booked tickets for Amtrak’s direct route from Chicago to Boston. Once in Boston, my father met us and picked us up and drove us to Kennebunkport.
I had taken Amtrak before, and I had taken sleeper cabins when I was in Europe, but, I had never taken an Amtrak sleeper cabin before. The first thing that came to mind was that episode of Sex and The City where Carrie and Samantha take a 3-day long train ride to get from New York City to California. If anything, the train journey depicted on SATC was a bit nicer. As Charles said, Amtrak certainly isn’t the Orient Express.
Why We Chose Amtrak
We aren’t comfortable flying during a pandemic. We have a baby and we don’t want to take risks. On a plane, you can’t control whether those around you wear masks, and based on stories I have heard it seems that some people refuse to wear masks. Everyone needs to make these decisions on their own, but for us, flying was out.
We didn’t drive because we don’t have a car, and even if we rented a car we would have had to stop so often to feed Gwen. Plus, we would have needed to use rest stops and to spend a night in a hotel – not ideal when the goal is to avoid human interaction.
We picked Amtrak because for us it was the most socially distant way to travel. Amtrak has put new precautions in place – which include requiring all employees and passengers to wear masks. What made us comfortable making the trip was booking a private sleeper cabin. We wiped everything down when we arrived. We had our own bathroom. And we only interacted with two train employees to receive meals.
Taking an Amtrak Sleeper Cabin from Chicago to Boston
At the Station
Since we booked a higher class of ticket, we had access to Amtrak’s lounges. When we were leaving Chicago we got to the station shortly before boarding, so we didn’t have time to use the lounge. We left Chicago on a Friday at 9:30 pm – this timing was nice since it meant that Union Station was deserted, except for the small group boarding our train.
We did use the Amtrak lounge in Boston. The lounge was great because it had drinks and snacks – plus plenty of room to socially distance and its own bathrooms.
Boarding the Train
We boarded our train, the Lake Shore Limited, at its first stop. This meant that we had some extra time to board. We were able to board about 30 minutes before the train departed. When boarding, we were directed to enter right at our train car and we were shown to our cabin. We didn’t have to walk through the cabins and or to have contact with other passengers.
In Boston, the attendant at the lounge was able to call a Red Cap (basically Amtrak’s versions of a bellman) to assist us with our bags. This was so nice since we had a stroller and 6 bags.
An important note for those of you with strollers: The train’s hallways are narrow and have some tight corners. This meant that the stroller couldn’t just be pushed down the hall to our cabin. You need to fold up the stroller before boarding.
Amtrak’s baggage policy is that travelers can bring two personal items and two bags on board. Additionally, if the train accepts checked bags, travelers can check two bags.
There seemed to be some flexibility with the baggage policy since we booked a sleeper cabin which has its own luggage racks. We could easily fit our bags on the luggage racks, and the sleeper cabin attendants found a space for us to store the base of the stroller.
Our cabin was what Amtrak calls a “Bedroom”. There was a long bench seat, a small table that folded out, and a single chair on the other side of the table.
At night, the bench seat turned into a bed about the size of a twin sized bed. The second bunk folded down from the ceiling.
The room also had a sink, a small room with a toilet and showerhead, and luggage racks above the toilet room.
* Not all Amtrak trains are the same. Different routes use different trains and different trains have different accommodations. We took the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Boston and back. It’s my understanding that trains going west from Chicago are a bit nicer.
Other Room and Ticket Options
There were several other ticket options available on our train. The “Roomettes” are half the size of our “Bedroom” and they have two seats. At night, the seats fold down into a bed and a second bunk folds down from the ceiling. There is a toilet in the room. Yes, in the room. It’s out in the open – this makes a roomette better for a solo traveler in my opinion.
The other cars of the train had business class and coach class seating. Right now, Amtrak is only operating trains at 50% capacity, so there is room to socially distance.
Ouch. This trip wasn’t cheap, but after 7 months of not seeing my family, I was desperate to let my family meet Gwen. My sister has a baby 3 weeks older than Gwen who I was very eager to meet too! We paid $450 per person each way, so it was $1800 total. Gwen got to ride free.
What We Ate
Meals were included with our tickets and since the rides were long, we got breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although I received emails from Amtrak asking me to pre-order our meals from a small menu, that information didn’t get communicated or our attendant. It wasn’t a big deal. We were able to select our meals and the attendant delivered them to the room.
Breakfast was Continental style, with oatmeal, yogurt, muffins, and other items to choose from. The lunch and dinner menus were the same and featured items like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala (pictured), and beef with polenta. Each meal came with salad and a brownie. The dining car’s bar was open and we were able to purchase additional food and snacks. Our tickets included one alcoholic beverage each. Overall, the food was a step up from airplane food.
We got some sleep. Parts of the ride (especially in Indiana) were very bumpy which made it hard to sleep.
Another issue was that the cabin itself got noisy. The door was rattling back and forth loudly. Pro tip: use the tissues and towels in your room to help reduce the noise of things banging into each other. A small wad of tissues shoved into the door made a BIG difference.
Gwen slept in the bassinet of her stroller which we placed on the chair across from the bed where I slept. She slept very well, the motion and white noise of the train meant she slept most of the way.
What We Packed
We did bring lots of snacks and a jug of bottled water with us so that we could minimize the number of times we would have to leave the cabin.
We didn’t take advantage of the shower in the bathroom – it’s small and we opted to shower as soon as we got to our destinations instead. If you plan to use the shower you would probably want to wear shower shoes. Make sure you bring shampoo too.
If you book a bedroom or a roomette, make sure you pack some cash for tipping the Red Caps and Room Attendant.
Things You Don’t Need to Pack
The room had towels and soap, plus linens for the bed.
The Overall Experience
Yes, it was a long journey but it felt safe. We liked the ease of boarding a train vs getting to the airport and going through security. It was nice not having to worry about the weight of bags or the number of bags.
Just like with flying, there are delays on the train. Our train home was delayed for 3 hours.
One thing that surprised us was how scenic the ride was. The journey took us through farmland and along rivers and lakes. It was so pretty – especially since we were traveling as the fall foliage was nearing its peak.
When I researched this trip prior to booking, it seemed clear that the trains that operate going from Chicago to the west coast are a bit nicer in terms of both the accommodations and the dining experience. Several Instagram followers had great things to say about their experiences on those trains.
I think that covers everything – if you have any questions just let me know in the comments.