Recently the girls and I had to take the train back to Pennsylvania from Florida. My 4-month-old did not do so well on the 16-hour car trek to Florida and so we made the decision for us girls to take the train back while hubby rode the car back. It was definitely the right decision. The train ride was for the most part relaxing and enjoyable and the customer service was outstanding.
Flying was really not an option for me. With a very active 5-year-old and a 4-month old, navigating check-in, security, the terminal, and then a cramped airplane by myself just seemed like a nightmare.
If you are considering taking the train for a long trip, I highly suggest getting a sleeper room which is what we did. It is more expensive, but if you can afford it, it is definitely worth it.
Luggage Allowances: The luggage allowances up until now have been pretty liberal. It is currently 3 bags and you can add three more for $10 a piece. However, in September 2011, Amtrak is changing its policy to only 2 bags per person with two additional for $20 a piece. Despite the changes it is still better than what most airlines allow. Check-In: It was pretty much a breeze. Since I checked in at a smaller stop, I was the only one in line when I arrived. It is a 100 times much less of a hassle than at an airport.
Happy on the Amtrak Bunkbed
Beds: If you get a roomette or a bedroom, you get to sleep. My trip was over 19 hours long so I wouldn't recommend taking the train for a long trip unless you are in a sleeper car.
Privacy: In a sleeper room, you have privacy which is essential with loud kids like mine. My eldest could sing all she wanted and if the baby was crying, I did not have to worry about bothering other passengers.
Your own bathroom: My roomette had a toilet and sink in the room (The Amtrak website says that the roomettes do not have toilets or sinks. However, if you are traveling on trains 91 or 92 on the east coast, all roomettes come with the sink and toilet). It is all pretty cramped in there, but it beats sitting in a car or being cramped on an airplane. The bathroom comes in really handy when you have little ones, especially when you have a diaper to change. I always found diaper changing to be a real challenge on airplanes. At least on the train, you have a bed to lay the baby on and a sink near by to wash your hands.
Meals Included: Your meals are included with the sleeper car and they are not half bad. This is not a five star restaurant but for train food, it was pretty decent. They actually offered to bring the food to our room which proved invaluable while traveling with two little ones. It was interesting to note that Amtrak's egg suppliers are cage-free suppliers.
Coffee, Juice, and Newspaper: With the sleeper car, you can have all the coffee, water, juice that you like. In addition they bring you the newspaper in the morning.
Customer Service: I may have just lucked out, but Preston, our attendant, was absolutely awesome! He was so unbelievably helpful and able to anticipate our needs. He was great with my 5-year-old and he made traveling with two kids a cinch. Also, upon arrival, the Red Cap service in Philadelphia was great. Julio was running late and I definitely needed assistance hauling all our stuff in addition to the girls. The gentlemen that helped us out went out of his way to get our bags to our car (crossing traffic in Philly and keeping us safe in the process).
No WiFi on Some Trains: On the Silver Star which runs along the East Coast from NY to FL, there is no WiFi. Some train's do, but not the longer routes on the east coast. That was a real bummer for me as you would hope to access the internet on such a long trip.
Price: Although I got what I believed to be a very good deal for a last minute trip, getting a sleeper car can get expensive. I did luck out and got a good rate, but I had tried at other times to travel by train but it was just cost prohibitive. However, I did get a good deal, so with a little patience and persistence, you might be able to find something within your budget, especially if you have a last minute trip and there are unsold rooms.
Amtrak's Safety Net
Bunk bed safety: AMTRAK provides netting on the side of the bunk bed but it only covers part of the bed. That made me a little nervous for my 5-year-old who moves a lot while she sleeps. I therefore bought a bed rail at a kids consignment shop for $15.00. It worked out great! If you have small children, I would suggest doing the same.
My Safety Rail on the Amtrak Bunk
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