Are Amtrak Sleeper Cars Worth It?


Amtrak sleeper cars are a great way to see everything this country has to offer. Like something out of a travel brochure, many travelers imagine riding through the picturesque countryside of Europe in a comfortable train, watching the beautiful mountains, streams, and historic cities pass by on a dream vacation. While some have actually experienced such a trip, for many others crossing the ocean for a romantic rail vacation is only an experience they can daydream about. Or is it? The US has no shortage of breathtaking views accessible by passenger trains.

Airport Lounge Access Comparison
Airport Lounge Access Comparison

So, are Amtrak sleeper cars worth it? Yes! Amtrak sleeper cars provide all the amenities of home, including your own bathroom with shower, included meals, and a large picture window to take in the breathtaking views.

From coast to coast and north to south, Amtrak runs over 21,000 miles of track that traverses the United States. For those travelers who are interested in seeing the sights by train, experiencing a sleeper car along the way is a fantastic way to travel in style and on budget while still enjoying a luxurious vacation. Let’s look at what it’s like to book a space and experience traveling in Amtrak sleeper cars.

Amtrak sleeper cars
Jeff Hampton Photo

Types of Sleeper Cars

Traveling by rail overnight for most people means reserving a sleeping berth of some sort. Amtrak offers up a few different options for rail travel sleeping arrangements, all of which include somewhere to sleep as well as access to bathrooms. But choosing the right room configuration for your trip depends on what you need during your time on the train and your budget.

Roomettes

The most budget-friendly choice, a roomette is essentially a private room for seating during the day with convertible beds that open up at night. Roomettes afford travelers some privacy as well as offer all the perks of a private car. A roomette comes with:

  • two seats for daytime that convert to beds (linens provided)
  • priority boarding
  • car access for restrooms and showers (towels provided)
  • lounge access and meals provided
  • private attendant service included

Bedroom

An upgrade in size and price from the roomette, a bedroom car provides more privacy and room for those who book Amtrak trains overnight. With a separate armchair as well as a sofa, two adults can stretch out in this sleeper car option. Included in a bedroom:

  • armchair and sofa that converts to beds (linens provided)
  • twice the square footage of a roomette
  • priority boarding
  • private bathroom, sink and shower inside the room (towels provided)
  • lounge access and meals provided
  • private attendant service included

Bedroom Suite

By connecting two adjoining Bedrooms, this suite is a very spacious option for Amtrak long distance trains. Holding up to four guests, the bedroom suite provides two separate rooms to spread out and enjoy the train traveling experience. Included in the suite:

  • two armchairs and two sofas that convert to beds (linens provided)
  • twice the square footage of a bedroom
  • priority boarding
  • two private bathrooms, two sinks, and two showers inside rooms (towels provided)
  • lounge access and meals provided
  • private attendant service included

Family Bedroom

Ideal for families of three or four, this larger bedroom spans the width of the car and has private bathroom facilities within one larger room. Unlike the suites, this one-room space converts to two larger beds and two smaller, child-size sleeper berths to accommodate traveling families, as well as:

  • two sofas that convert to beds (linens provided)
  • access to a private bathroom, sink, and shower in car (towels provided)
  • lounge access and meals provided
  • private attendant service included
Amtrak Southwest Chief
Jonathan Lee Photo

Traveling Overnight Without a Sleeper Car

Arranging and budgeting for rail travel can be challenging for many, and it is commonly asked whether a traveler can choose to reserve a regular seat on a train for overnight travel. The short answer to the question is yes but understanding what this experience is like is important for travelers before deciding on buying a coach ticket for traveling on Amtrak trains overnight.

The Coach Experience

For the budget-minded traveler, spending the least amount of money possible is often the goal so purchasing a coach ticket for a rail trip might be considered. When riding Amtrak long-distance trains, however, spending days and nights all in the same assigned seat can be a challenge for even the most modest of spenders. Seating in coach can be comfortable enough for day travel but sleeping with only a slightly reclined chair can be less restful or comfortable for all but the very young.

Railcars can hold dozens of rows of coach seats, so an overnight coach sleep experience will be shared with all others in the same train car. Families with young children, light sleepers, or those who don’t sleep comfortably without laying flat may find coach seating too uncomfortable for overnight travel. For the lucky few who end up with an empty adjacent seat, spreading out might be an option. Just remember that any overnight stops might onboard new passengers so that seat might just be filled at any time during the journey.

Coach seating also only provides access to a shared car bathroom or two, and showers are not available with a coach overnight ticket. Coach riders do have access to a café or dining car to purchase and enjoy food in, but any food brought along for the train ride must be eaten in the passenger’s assigned coach seat.

Upgrading to Business Class

For a bit more money, overnight travel in a roomier leather chair is available in Amtrak’s Business class seats. The experience in Business class seating will be much the same as coach for overnight travel, but just with a little bit more room, fewer passengers in the car, and possibly free coffee and tea refills (check with the car attendant to be sure). This car might be quieter overnight than coach, but the possibility of new passengers at overnight stops still exists to potentially disrupt sleep.

Amtrak sleeping cars
Jeff Hampton Photo

The Sleeper Car Experience

Electing to travel by train reflects a conscientious decision to enjoy a more gracious, slower-paced travel method. Sure, travelers could hop on an airplane where the bulk of the travel time is spent above the clouds and with the gorgeous mountains, hills, rivers, and wonders too far below to be really seen or experienced in any meaningful way. But choosing to travel a longer distance by train during the day and overnight means a chance to really experience the awe and wonder of the countryside and cities on the way to the final destination. And choosing a sleeper car ticket is just the start of this magical experience.

Pre-Boarding Experience

When a sleeper car is reserved for train travel, much of the pre-boarding experience is the same for all passengers. Arrival at the station about an hour early to check bags is suggested, but for passengers not checking bags only 30 minutes is necessary. Many stations are manned with staff to assist passengers, and boarding is usually fairly quick once the train has arrived since each sleeper car will have an assigned attendant to help passengers find their accommodations. Once situated in your reserved room, the train experience has just begun for sleeper car ticketholders.

Getting Acclimated

Since overnight travel guests can onboard at any hour, what you do once the train begins its journey depends upon the hour. Many times, however, travelers will have plenty of time to get settled in their seating areas. All sleeping quarters, from roomettes to bedroom suites, provide plugs for keeping devices charged, places to store smaller bags or items and sit comfortably. Passengers can talk freely, listen to music, watch videos, or even stand to stretch their legs at any time without the fear of bothering other passengers. Younger children are also able to make themselves comfortable in private sleeping accommodations the whole time without disturbing other passengers in adjacent seats. If travelers have not yet done so, they will meet the cabin attendant shortly as well where they can learn about the food car and observation car location, as well as get clarification about the restroom or bathing facilities at this time. Most importantly, though, is that the first part of the journey is a comfortable and private start to the train travel experience to come.

Mealtimes for Sleeper Car Guests

Guests who choose overnight sleeping accommodations on Amtrak have multiple options for meals. Of course, with a private room or suite, guests can eat any food they bring with them at any time without worrying about bothering other guests.

Since meals are included with overnight rooms, though, most train travelers choose to trek to the dining or café car for meals or snacks. These cars allow for traditional booth-style seating as well as some other options, based on the train, and smaller parties may be asked to sit with another couple if the dining car becomes crowded. Meals are served restaurant style, with all food and non-alcoholic drinks included for each meal. Bar service may be available, as well. Breakfast and lunch are come and go, but dinners may require a reservation so be sure to check with the room attendant for clarification.

Café cars are another great option for guest traveling on sleeper cars. While not included in the cost of accommodations, purchases in this casual dining car are perfect for picky eaters or those who are looking for a different experience on longer venues. Also, since the café car is usually open all day, it is a great spot to grab a quick snack in between meals.

Lastly, sleeper car passengers will have a self-service area in their car with a few basic drinks or even snacks. The car attendant will keep it stocked and might even include dining car or café menus for passenger perusal. This is a great perk when you want to snag a hot coffee or cold bottle of water but don’t feel like the trek to the dining or café cars.

Amtrak Superliner sleeper
Jonathan Lee Photo

Overnight in a Sleeper Car

When the time to turn in finally arrives, passengers in a sleeper car will be ready to snooze. Prior to bedtime (usually during the dinner hour or later if in a roomette or bedroom), the car attendant will prepare the sleeping berths with linens and pillows. As guests return to their spaces with beds ready, the quiet of private sleeping quarters is appreciated the most.

The overnight passage on a train might mean heading to bed before the sun sets, so private rooms of all sizes will be equipped with window-darkening shades that seal out the bright sunlight or train station lights for those evening train stops. Sleeping in a private accommodation means that overnight stops will not include the disruption of a new passenger’s arrival in the seats next to you, so sleeping all night comfortably and soundly is possible in Amtrak sleeper cars.

Late-night visits to the bathroom are discrete and not disruptive for private or semi-private facilities for all overnight sleeper guests, too. Two-room suites with double facilities make the overnight sleeping even better for families with little ones who might need attention during the night, too. Waking up conveniently or leisurely is an option, too, since sleeper cars are quiet with fewer passengers and no disruptive movements inside a securely locked room or suite.

Enjoying the Ride in a Sleeper Car

Choosing a longer adventure on a train doesn’t just mean overnight time. The train experience during the daytime can be just as relaxing and entertaining as well when a sleeper car is a rider’s home base for the duration of a lengthy train trip. With more space and the privacy afforded by a larger overnight accommodation, passengers will find that their day train time is much more enjoyable, too.

Groups that include younger passengers will appreciate the ability to move around freely without disrupting other passengers. Sleeping rooms all provide significantly more space for riders, and small children especially will be able to take advantage of standing or moving around easily within a reserved, private room on a train. Children and parents alike will love being able to stand, walk around, and speak with only minimal restraint within a sleeper accommodation.

For travelers who are always squabbling over who sits in the “best” seat, usually, the window seat, reserving an overnight sleeper car solves that problem. With large windows easily visually accessible to all, everyone in the room will have a front-row seat to the gorgeous countryside the train passes by. Younger children will be able to see all of the exciting views at any given time without having to peer over other passengers or take turns sitting next to the view.

Individual bath facilities, or even shared bath areas within Amtrak sleeper cars, all give passengers peace of mind with a private restroom. No longer do parents of young children have to escort their little ones across a train, only to wait in line, in order for them to access a facility. Parents and co-travelers can also be assured that their facility remains clean and stocked since the cabin attendant is only a call away when maintenance or supplies are needed.

Amtrak Chicago sleeper
Jonathan Lee Photo

Accessibility on a Sleeper Car

While all modes of transportation have methods of accommodating different kinds of special needs, Amtrak has a convenient sleeper car option available for those with mobility challenges. At special request, an accessible sleeper car reservation can be made that is set up to comfortably accommodate wheelchair guests and their co-riders. These bedrooms are on the first floor of a train, and the traveler will be assisted as needed by cabin attendants who are versed in assisting guests in this location. Rather than attempting to travel in the coach or business class areas set aside for passengers with disabilities, reserving a sleeper car will provide wheelchair-dependent guest with the peace of mind of a comfortably sized space, access to a semi-private bathroom, and extra room for caretakers or co-passengers to accompany them on longer overnight travels on an Amtrak train.

Are Amtrak Sleeper Cars Worth It?

Traveling by train used to be a luxury for most people. But experiencing travel without having to navigate the drive oneself while simultaneously being transported in a welcoming rail car equipped with everything you need provided to you or easily accessible is the definition of modern comfort as well. Hopping on an airplane to quickly arrive at a location might be ideal for some but choosing train travel, specifically, Amtrak sleeper cars, is more and more a popular option with travelers who wish to soak in the travel experience itself instead of only focusing on the destination.

Choosing to travel in a well-equipped overnight Amtrak car is the perfect solution for many people who wish to travel without having to sacrifice travel comfort or overall experience for other crowded, rushed modes of transportation. Overnight sleeper cars allow guests to ride and sleep comfortably with their traveling companions without having to be concerned about noise or interruptions from nearby travelers. Room to stretch out, the ability to converse comfortably with fellow travelers, and delicious food included in the price all make reserving an overnight sleeping car accommodation on an Amtrak well worth the money. Options for the budget-friendly as well as luxurious multi-room suites provide more than enough choices for most groups or solo travelers planning an overnight on Amtrak to find a room that fits their needs and wants to create a memorable and unique train travel trip.

Josef

Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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