Having survived the Megabus and The Seat of Death, it was time for me to cross the street to Chicago's Union Station and the next step in my adventure to New Orleans: Amtrak.
Every mode of travel has its nightmare stories and Amtrak is no exception. For example, the main reason I took Megabus to Chicago instead of Amtrak were the horror stories about delayed trains west of St. Paul and the very real possibility of that meaning I would miss my connection in Chicago. Uh-uh, no way. It was bad enough that there were so many other things that could go wrong after getting on the train.
Armed with my sleeper car ticket and pleased at how well the first leg of the trip had gone, I strode through the door to Union Station mildly optimistic about what would come next. I was headed for Amtrak's Metropolitan lounge, which is available to all first class passengers.
My optimism was rewarded by two nice ladies who greeted me at the lounge entrance and quickly filled me in on the complimentary pop, coffee, snacks, and wi-fi, all of which were in plentiful supply. Amtrak doesn't serve adult beverages, but just out the door and down the hall is a "drinks to go" vendor and Amtrak has no problem with passengers bringing those drinks back to the lounge. Another nice feature is a short term luggage check if you want to stash your bags and wander around a bit. The service is complimentary, though as might be expected a small gratuity for the attendant is appreciated and in good form.
Amtrak's Chicago lounge is clean and spacious with plenty of seating and plug areas for electronic devices. As I noted, the wi-fi service was excellent. It was a great place to relax, recharge myself and all five of the gizmos I was traveling with. It was also a chance to kind of reorganize, because the Megabus trip had shown me that my first efforts at packing my laptop bag were grossly inadequate. Not that I needed to prepare for my room on the train the same way as the bus, but it reinforced what I had learned.
After replenishing my snack supply at the store down the hall and chilling out a bit in the lounge, it was time to head out to the train. First class passengers board first, so they led us out to the uncrowded platform and we boarded the sleeper car. Here's a link that shows the layout to the Superliner sleeper car. I was in room E.
It was sort of self-indulgent to splurge for a room, but each of my 3 prior journeys via train had all been coach and I wanted to see what the sleeper car was like. Here's the view from the door:
Couch on the left, single seat on the other side next to the window, and a fold-out table in between. Between that towel holder on the near right and the single seat is the toilet/shower compartment. Just out view in the lower right is a small sink. The couch folds down to make a bed that is spacious for one and cozy for two. In the upper left you can see the bottom of the upper bunk that folds down to accommodate one. Here's the view from the single seat by the window:
The "closet" is by the door. You might be able to fit two winter coats in there.
That's an Amtrak Superliner bedroom. The other main Superliner Sleeper option is a "Roomette." It's about as wide as the part of the couch by the window and maybe a little more than six feet in length. It has two facing seats with a table like the one above in between them and the lower seats fold down to make a bed while an upper bunk folds down to make a second bed. It is very cozy for two people in either mode, but I would very much consider it if traveling alone again.
Sleeper car tickets are first class on Amtrak. Besides access to whatever first class lounges may be available at the stations and the sleeping accommodation on the train, there is a car attendant to see to any passenger needs and maintain the communal facilities for the roomettes. And whatever dining car meals that are served on the trip are included in the ticket price(any alcoholic beverages are not included). The train I was on was also configured for ease of sleeper car access to the dining car and the observation/cafe car. It went engine, crew car, sleeper car, dining car, observation/cafe car, and three or four coach cars.
I settled into my room at about 7:30 PM and was told they would call sleeper car passengers to the dining car shortly before the scheduled departure of 8:00 PM. I decided to take advantage of my private room and clean up and put on a nicer shirt.
The trip down to New Orleans on "The City of New Orleans" in the next post.