Thursday, June 23, 2016

NYC Notes: We {Heart} Amtrak

Welcome to our last day of New York talk!  Or semi-related to New York talk.  It's related for us at least!  I've talked about where we ate and what we did and now it's time for how we got there.  Which normally isn't that noteworthy but, in my experience especially over the last few weeks, people are pretty fascinated and/or interested in the Amtrak.  Before we first rode it 5½ years ago, I had only known people who had done it for the short trip (from here) to Chicago.  Nobody who had spent a good portion of a day on the train with logistics to think about like eating and sleeping.  Pinterest, if it existed, wasn't much of a thing back then and I don't remember doing any googling before our trip.  We went in knowing we'd be spending a long time on the train and that was basically it.  Now, 6 rides and 100 hours later, we're certainly more knowledgable although riding with a 3 year old made the experience very different this last time! 

Here are some things I wish I had known before our first ride (or things I wished I had remembered between trips) and then some tips for enjoying the ride.  We're obviously fans, seeing as we've willingly done this trip 3 times. 

(Disclaimers: 1) we've ridden the Lake Shore Limited train every time and this is our experience with that train/line.  There are probably some differences between trains but most of this should be pretty similar. 2) These pictures come from multiple trips, in case you notice my changing hair and wardrobe.  3) Amtrak is not sponsoring this or even knows who I am other than as a past passenger.  We just like the Amtrak and I wouldn't turn down a free ticket if they wanted to give me one!)

What I Wished I Knew
1) You don't need to print your ticket.
Since I've had an iPhone I just pull up the ticket barcode on my phone and have it scanned by the conductor.  This works fine both in Indiana and in Penn Station, NYC.

2) The seats are MUCH roomier than airplane seats.
We've done red eye plane flights and have never slept great.  Until this last trip with Luke, we slept pretty soundly on the train.  The seats are spread out enough that I can almost stick my feet out straight while sitting and not have them touch the seat in front of me.  They recline.  There is both a foot rest that comes up and one near the ground.  The seats are wide enough for me to sit "crisscross applesauce" (that's what we say now, right?) without infringing on Matt's space.  Basically like double the space of an airplane.  And it's awesome.

3) Luggage Storage
There are overhead shelves for stuff and a few larger racks in each car.  We've always traveled with just one carry-on sized suitcase (suitcase wise, also backpacks and my purse) between the 2-3 of us and easily got that over us.  It's not fighting for space like on a plane.  When we took my little sister and her friend, they each had a large suitcase (that was one large suitcase each to our shared carry-on bag.  They have gotten much better at packing since) and put those on the overhead shelf as well.  We've always had plenty of room at our feet for backpacks (seen above) and I usually keep my purse next to me.  We've never had so much stuff that that we've needed a lot of space or extra help/storage.

4) They Keep Track of Your Seat
When we board in Indiana and after the train is leaving Penn Station, the conductor or an employee comes around and asks where you are going and sticks a tag with your destination over your seat.  This is so they can wake you up if needed to make sure you make your stop or just to remind you, if you are awake.  It's also helpful for you to know if your possible seatmate is getting off before you (which was not the case on this last trip for Matt and the guy spent about 2 hours in the evening watching a Russian (??) tv show loudly on his phone without headphones.  Awesome.)  They also have a list of how many people (and who?) should be getting off at each stop but then if you move seats and don't move your card they have to track you down (we've seen it happen).  We've never had a problem staying in our same seats the whole time.

5) Seats Aren't Assigned
It's not like a plane where you can pick your seats online when booking the flight.  We've always been able to sit together, very easy when there was just the two of us.  Boarding in Indiana they've always just told us to pick a seat because our stop is fairly early in the trip and there are plenty open.  In Penn Station we got priority boarding this last time because we had a kid (SCORE) and we had a whole car for pick of seats.  But other wise we just get on and look for open seats.  It's not a big deal although if you have a bigger group it might be.

6) There are Outlets
Outlets at each seat which is great for charging phones/laptops/tablet.  We've used those a lot.  There are also outlets in the bathroom which I used this time for straightening my hair on a moving train.  First time for everything!

7) There is also (spotty) Wi-Fi
This last trip was our first with free wi-fi.  It wasn't great but it worked for checking e-mail and the basics.  Not so great for trying to read blogs with a lot of pictures.  But better than nothing!

8) The train stops for about 5 minutes
These are not long stops.  There is no security.  The train only stops for a few minutes at each stop.  People get off.  Conductor scans tickets.  People get on.  You go, maybe even before you are seated.  Be on time and be ready to go.  

9) You can get up and walk around
You can easily move between cars.  We took Luke on a few walks, just because. We've visited the snack bar every time and sat in the seats there, just for a change (leaving our main luggage at our seats, just taking my purse and electronics with us.  We've never had a problem.).  You can't walk super far but sometimes you just need to move after HOURS of sitting.

10) Trash/Recycle
There are trash cans on the train, near the bathrooms but NO recycle that I've ever seen.  That means I keep mine with me until I find bins. 

1) Bring your own food
We've eaten both at the snack bar and at the sit down restaurant.  Both are pricier, the sit-down obviously more so (although we had great table mates and a great discussion on one of our two times eating there).  We didn't know the first time we could take our own food so we didn't.  Now we do.  This trip we bought sandwiches for lunch on our way out, milk twice for Luke (once each way), and coffee for Matt on the way there.  We had brought from home breakfast for both mornings, juice, chips, and waaay more snacks than we probably needed.  We always pick up sandwiches in Penn Station (cheaper) for supper on the way home (we board at 3:30pm).  Basically, bring your own food.  It'll save you some money.
Luke was thrilled to be in the lounge car.

2) Bring something to hold water

There are faucets outside of the bathrooms with drinkable water (or I assume so, I've drank a lot of it).  We own two Vapur anti-bottles and have taken those each time but also, as seen above, used a cup we've gotten for something else (must have been Luke's milk this time?? I don't remember.).  I drank A LOT of water on the last few hours of this last trip, it was an excuse to move and hydration is maybe even more important while traveling. 

3) Try other bathrooms
Our biggest complaint about the Amtrak are the bathrooms.  I mean, it's wonderful that they have them, but it seems that a lot of people either can't read or just don't know how to use a bathroom.  We've had two bathrooms per car each time.  One handicap (which we prefer since it's larger) and one not.  By 7am this last trip, less than 6 hours after boarding, one of them was clogged.  The attendant was NOT happy about it.  Neither were we. We used the bathrooms in 3-4 different cars each trip, just going to where we could find a clean(ish) and open one.  I mean, they usually aren't horrible, definitely not porta-potty bad but still, if people could just have a little more decency and common sense when using them...if I can take my 3 year old, and hold him over the toilet on a bumpy track AND not have drips on the seat or problems flushing...adults should be able to manage.

4) Take a toothbrush
We sleep on the train on the way out and the way home.  And I've brushed my teeth each morning.  It's hard to wash up in the little sinks but just that much makes a big difference in how clean I feel.

5) Download the Amtrak app
It's free.  You can put in your trip and it'll tell you if you are running ahead or behind schedule.  VERY handy when you are coordinating with someone to pick you up.

6) Take a pillow and/or blanket
I've taken a (not at alllll stolen) airplane blanket on every trip.  Luke took the blanket I made him.  Even if it's not cold, I like having something wrapped around me for sleeping at night. (I also need a sheet on me, even in the summer, so maybe that's just a personal preference).  I took a small pillow on our first two trips which really helped me get comfy for sleeping and for reading during the day.  I didn't have room in my backpack for it this time with Luke's extra books but I wish I had one!

The train was also FREEZING on our trip home which I seem to remember it being on our other trips too.  I don't think it's really well insulated and it was a cold day when we were coming home.  I was cold all night, with even my small blanket and a 3 year old all over me, and could barely feel my toes by the time I got off.  So if you are traveling during colder months, I would definitely take along some kind of blanket.  If you don't need it for warmth it can be used as a back-up pillow!

7) Enjoy the Ride
I know that is cheesy.  I know.  But we've really enjoyed almost all our hours on the train (the 4am screaming kid...not that part so much...or when the train has been running 90 minutes late and we were starving...but most of the time.).  The trips before Luke were especially relaxing.  We slept pretty well then had almost a whole day to just hang out together, no to-do list, no cleaning.  Just being together, reading, napping, eating all day.  Pretty much my dream day other than the mostly sitting for 17 hours.  (I did jump squats in the bathroom on our last trip.  It helped.)

The views aren't always great but sometimes:

Our route takes us around Lake Erie and then drops south through New York state, spending the last 4-5 hours maybe along the Hudson River.  That part is quite scenic and beautiful!

We've long talked about taking the train to Colorado or trying the sleeper cars (something that would be awesome but also pricey).  We are already planning our next trip to New York which will definitely include the Amtrak.  Even if that's the only destination we ever make, it's served us very well so far.  Our complaints and problems are pretty few and the experience has been almost completely positive. I'll gladly talk our train rides and experience and answer any questions I can!  We highly recommend trying it out, especially to New York. =)  (You may have picked up on that these last few days...).  We will ride again. 

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