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- If you're planning to travel a long distance but don't want to board a plane or drive for hours, train travel is another option experts consider to be relatively safe.
- I traveled 30 hours from New Orleans to New York City in a private Amtrak Viewliner Roomette for extra social distancing and sleep comfort.
- One-way fares on this route start at $139 for a coach seat and $478 for a two-person Roomette, and I didn't have to enter an airport or contend with parking or traffic.
- Amtrak also implemented new cleaning and hygiene protocols at stations and on trains to minimize COVID-19 risks.
With a rail network that covers most major US cities, train travel is an increasingly viable option during the pandemic for those who wish to avoid flying or multi-day road trips.
Long-distance rail journeys require a significant time commitment, but if schedules allow, Amtrak's Roomette — a private two-person sleeper cabins with basic amenities — is an intriguing choice that allows for a reassuring degree of personal space. Roomettes are totally private from the rest of the train and come with seats, two bunks, and basic bathroom facilities. Unless you plan to spend a lot of time roaming the corridors, you'll barely come into contact with anyone outside your group. And if traveling solo, know that Amtrak won't sell space in your Roomette to random customers.
Additionally, medical experts agree that train travel is relatively safe, especially if you opt for private cabin accommodations and take the proper precautions. And with the airline industry still somewhat inconsistent in its cleaning practices, Amtrak stands out for promises of enhanced hygiene and safety protocols regarding COVID-19, and requiring passengers in coach and public spaces to wear a face mask at all times.
Of course, without a vaccine, there is no firm guarantee with regard to safety and travel. It's crucial to follow guidelines from organizations such as the CDC and WHO, and practice safety measures including wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distance. Additionally, consider your own level of risk, individual state quarantine restrictions, and whether you're traveling from or to a hotspot, so as not to increase the rate of infection.
With all that in mind, and given the fact that I always wanted to experience a long domestic train journey, I booked an Amtrak Viewliner Roomette on the Crescent Route when I needed to travel from New Orleans to New York. Sure, the travel time was around 30 hours, but I was still wary of full flights and didn't want to worry about the stress of driving. Plus, I was excited by the prospect of sitting in my cabin and watching the world go by as I read, ate, and slept. After all, I had just been cooped up at home for five months.
The guaranteed social distance did come at a premium with a starting price of $478. Two people sharing a Roomette would find greater value splitting the cost at $239 per person, compared to $139 each for a one-way ticket on the same route. Roomettes also include meals and dedicated attendant service.
This form of travel might not appeal to people in a hurry, but if you like unrushed travel with time to sit back, read a good book and switch off for a while, it's close to perfect. Split the cost with a partner or friend and you'll find even stronger value.
- The first impression
- The room
- On-board amenities
- What others say
- What you need to know
- COVID-19 policies
- The bottom line
- Book the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette starting at $478
Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette.
From Louisiana, the Crescent Route passes through Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and major cities along the Eastern seaboard up to New York City. There are 32 stops in total.
My train was due to leave at 7 a.m. from downtown New Orleans and board starting at 6:30 a.m. I arrived at around 6:35 a.m., which was convenient compared to arriving two hours before a flight, which would have meant an exceptionally early wake-up call had I booked a flight leaving at the same time.
I was greeted on the platform outside my designated car by a masked attendant who politely introduced themselves from an appropriate distance and asked if I wanted to check luggage. Since I needed access to mine, I declined.
There were relatively few people boarding and the process did not feel crowded. There was no line, and the Roomettes were among the first carriages, so I was on the train before I knew it. Social distancing was managed by the Amtrak staff, and signs were in place at the station for busier times.
The masked attendant explained that masks were compulsory in public areas and in coach, but I was permitted to remove mine if I closed the door to my cabin. Be sure to bring your own as Amtrak does not provide masks to travelers but requires them for travel.
I was traveling on the Crescent service, which is one of Amtrak's Viewliner trains, a single-level railway car. For the Roomette, this meant the configuration (3'6" wide by 6'6" long) was two seats facing each other with a large picture window to enjoy the scenery.
There was another window from the top bunk, plus curtains for both sets of windows and the (lockable) door, ensuring darkness when needed, and privacy.
It looked bright and roomy to me as a single traveler and smelled very clean. It would best suit solo travelers or companions who already have a basic level of social intimacy such as romantic partners, family members, or good friends.
I'm 5'8" and could stretch out comfortably, but tall passengers with lots of luggage might feel cramped and would certainly benefit from checking larger bags to maximize the space.
There were plenty of plugs for devices and a free Wi-Fi connection, however, the strength and consistency were variable. I found it was best for web browsing or responding to email rather than streaming movies. Plan to come with pre-downloaded entertainment.
The fabric seats were comfortable and a pull-out table could be set up in between for meals or board games. There were also hooks and spaces to hang jackets and coats.
The design had a utilitarian feel, and although it looked dated, it felt functional and was clearly designed to last through a long period of constant usage.
Everything worked and seemed sturdy. All of the interfaces were easily identifiable, with AC and heat controls, though it was very much an analog set up with dials, buttons, and switches rather than digital controls.
There was also a pull-out sink with a mirror for washing and brushing teeth, and a side table with a hinged top that revealed a toilet when pulled up. This was fine for me as a solo traveler, but it's not separate from the cabin. Expect zero privacy from your traveling partner.
If this kind of set-up doesn't suit, there are more traditional restroom facilities within the train carriage, though, those are public and shared among other riders.
The Roomette is a sleeper cabin, and the main amenity is its ability to transform into a sleeping arrangement with two configurations.
A bottom bunk was formed by reclining the seats to their full extent and sliding them together to form a comfortable and accessible bed.
Guests are also able to pull down a ready-to-sleep bunk from the ceiling, which was my preference.
It required a basic amount of maneuverability and is probably best for spry travelers. A safety harness attached to the side to ensure lively sleepers don't roll off their perch. I managed to climb up fairly easily and felt comfortable and safe.
Both beds came with reading lights, linens, pillows, and sheets. They were not Egyptian cotton, but the quality was sufficient. Towels, face cloths, soap, and toilet paper were also provided with quality comparable to a three-star hotel.
When it was time to sleep, the natural movement and rhythms of the train made for a great sleep aid, though sensitive sleepers might feel otherwise.
No, it was not as comfortable as a hotel, but it was better than a seat on a plane and the train turns off public announcements after 10 p.m. so you won't be disturbed. If you do need to disembark during the night, the crew will come and wake you with plenty of time.
Larger rooms (dubbed 'Rooms') are also available that are twice as big and can accommodate two adults and two small children, and come with private showers, as well as bathrooms. These upgraded fares start at $692 for a one-way ticket on the same route.
Overall, I found the Roomette to be a commodious, intelligently-designed space that, while not state of the art, offered a well-equipped set-up for a 30-hour journey with more privacy and comfort than I'd find in coach.
For travelers who prefer not to use the toilets in their Roomette, public bathrooms are available in each carriage. There's also a shower, which I did not use, but it looked clean and hygienic, even if it might require a remedial degree of balancing.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included in my Roomette fare. Due to pandemic safety rules, the attendant took my order from the menu and delivered my food in a bag with all the utensils, plus drinks (Roomette fares include one alcoholic drink, and unlimited coffee, water, and soft drinks).
If you're peckish outside of meal times, the Cafe Car sells alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, as well as salads, coffees, confectionery, light snacks, and more.
Sadly, the dining car experience so beloved by many Amtrak regulars was not available due to COVID, and guests were instructed to take their food and drinks back to their seats.
The menu was limited but surprisingly esoteric. Breakfast had cereals, yogurt, oatmeal, muffins, and a breakfast sandwich. Lunch and dinner included international entrees like braised beef, enchiladas, chicken marsala, shrimp in lobster sauce, pasta with meatballs, and brownies for dessert.
It's possible (though not ideal, especially right now) to stretch your legs walking up and down the cars, but the train also makes a couple of longer stops where riders may step out for fresh air and a walk up and down the platform. I did so in Washington, DC as the platform was wide and long enough to maintain distance.
As mentioned, Amtrak also checks luggage, though access is not possible until you reach your final destination, so plan ahead and keep whatever you think you might need on hand. Checked luggage is not cleaned during the journey, but attendants are gloved.
Amtrak's Crescent service receives a 3.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor, with the vast majority of the reviews that are specific for the Roomette nudging that score up to 4 out of 5.
For most reviewers, the privacy afforded by a sleeper car is the main selling point. One reviewer said, "I would definitely recommend a train ride with a private Roomette if you get the opportunity. My husband and I liked…having our own personal toilet/sink, and being able to sit or lie down as I felt the need."
Having a dedicated attendant is a big hit as well, as one reviewer puts it, "We rode in a roomette so there was an attendant that was assigned to our car. The attendant has a huge bearing on the quality of your trip. Ours were excellent!"
The dated interiors can put some people off, though, with one reviewer describing it as "run down," and others lamenting the slow internet. Overall, though, it's a resoundingly positive assessment.
Read reviews for the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette on Trip Advisor
Who stays here: Couples, good friends, and family members that need to travel long distances but aren't comfortable flying or driving.
We like: The chance to close the door, remove your mask, sit back, and enjoy the scenery. The rhythms and relatively slow nature of train travel are extremely relaxing.
We love (don't miss this feature!): Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included in Roomette rates and are delivered at a time that suits you (within a set window) by your car's dedicated attendant (don't forget to tip them when you disembark!).
We think you should know: The toilet within the cabin is going to divide opinions, but there's always the option of using the public facilities in the same train car. Also, with COVID protocols, there's no communal dining car right now.
We'd do this differently next time: I would be more prepared and take out everything I might need from my suitcase so I could check my luggage and enjoy much more space within the cabin.
Amtrak recently upgraded all of its cleaning and hygiene protocols to protect travelers from exposure to COVID-19.
All sleeper cabins are subject to newly-enhanced cleaning standards, with high-touch surfaces such as handles and countertops cleaned with EPA-registered disinfectants. These procedures also extend to their stations, with bigger and busier stations employing plastic barriers and safer seating arrangements. Boarding procedures are subject to distancing enforcement.
The Amtrak online booking engine now also displays how full each train is to best inform ticket purchasing decisions, which is especially helpful if travelers are considering regular seating options in coach.
The company has also produced a video outlining its current protocols explained by its Medical Services Team, and an air filtration system keeps the on-board air fresh, cycling 44 times an hour.
I felt very safe at all stages of my journey. The staff all wore masks and made sure that anyone in the public spaces did as well.
While some might balk at the thought of a long-distance train journey, I'm officially an Amtrak convert.
I enjoyed the privacy and comfort of the Viewliner Roomette sleeper car and felt Amtrak delivered on promises for strong COVID-19 policies. The journey was smooth, aided by helpful staff and attendants, and we arrived on time, almost to the minute at New York Penn Station.
Although the cabin was definitely on the older side, and the Wi-Fi wasn't dependable, Roomettes are similar in price to flying long distances or the cost of a multi-day road trip. They also provide good value for two people traveling together, given that the fare includes meals. Of course, there's also a larger time commitment than flying, or in some circumstances, driving.
However, the convenience of showing up right at boarding and arriving directly into a city center with no complicated public transport, traffic, or parking, was reassuring. It's definitely a slow travel experience, but if you're someone who can find joy in that, it's near perfect.
Add the soporific motion of the train itself and beautiful stretches of the American countryside passing slowly by, and it's a trip that's not only functional but incredibly relaxing and civilized.
Book Amtrak Roomette one-way fares from $478
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