Monday, November 08, 2010

My review of the Amtrak Roomette

**Note - added 6/7/11 - this review is specifically of a Superliner (2-story) car.  The roomettes on Viewliner (single story) cars are somewhat different.  Please read the comments for more info!**

**Note - added 6/5/17 -This train travel guidebook was published in 2015 and has great reviews on Amazon. The reviewers say that it goes into great detail about every aspect of Amtrak long distance travel. I hope you like it! Now on to the original blog post below...


We recently went on a trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight (Portland to LA and back) and we stayed in a "roomette".  I had some difficulty knowing exactly what to expect - I knew the roomette would be small, but I was trying to figure out exactly how small, since we are 2 adults and a baby and would need to have a few things onboard with us.  The images on the Amtrak site don't really give you the whole picture (literally).  I found this film on YouTube which was very helpful, but in hindsight, I don't think it gave me the detail I was looking for. There are many other YouTube videos, so you might try those too.  This one was the longest so I assumed the most detailed. 

I searched online for other reviews, but found few and with very little detail.  Therefore I decided to post my own review...

If you are planning to travel by roomette, watch the YouTube clip and then continue reading. 
We traveled about 26-28 hours each way by roomette, during relatively decent weather (we did see snow in southern Oregon on the way back from LA, but it did not impact the travel).  Traveling were: my husband who is a bit over 6 feet tall, myself at 5'2", and our 5-month old baby who we brought on board in her infant car seat/carrier.  We arrived at the station about an hour early, which was overkill, and checked 3 pieces of luggage and the baby stroller.  There was no line and no hassle.  We simply handed our bags across the counter after showing our boarding passes, and received a claim check in return.  The baggage handler did warn us that the luggage compartments were dirty, so she was concerned that the stroller would be dirty upon our arrival.  It was not dirty when we retrieved it (either time), but if you are concerned about dirt then you'll want to bring your own big plastic bag to put your stroller (or whatever) in, because they don't provide one like they do at the airport.

We were then told where to wait for the train, and that was it.  There was no metal detector, or removing of shoes, or being yelled at about taking liquids on board.  No pat downs.  No looking sideways at our carry-on luggage. 

Regarding initial boarding and luggage storage:
When the train approached we went to our designated spot.  We were waiting alone, since everyone else was boarding in the coach cars at the other end of the train.  When the train arrived, an attendant came out who greeted us by name, to my surprise.  He told us to go up the stairs, and where exactly to find our room.  Each train car has 2 levels.  The stairs between levels are very steep and narrow, and kind of spiral - you're going to make a lot of turns in the stairwell as you go up.  I'd read a review where a girl mentioned she was having trouble getting her luggage up the stairs and around all the corners, and was annoyed that the attendant wasn't helping her.  In a conversation with our attendant later, we found out that the sleeping car attendants are not required to assist with carry-on luggage, and so most of them do not offer, and many will refuse when asked.  However, keep in mind that each sleeping car has a luggage storage area on the lower level at the base of the stairs.  You can drop things off there if you don't need them right away.  The area is not secure, of course, so be careful what you choose to store there.  Also, the attendant advised us that sometimes the storage area gets too full, so not to bank on the idea of storing things there.  My advice to travelers is that it's pretty safe to bank on it.  The storage area isn't huge, it's just a couple of shelves.  It's similar to the luggage storage that you see on airport shuttle buses.  Each sleeping car has 14 roomettes, and I think 7 or so larger bedrooms.  If the car is filled to capacity, I could see where the luggage storage might be quite full, but odds are you could make it work or just find room in the storage area in another sleeping car if you are polite and discreet.  This is assuming you even need to store luggage outside of your room.  You may find the roomette actually does have room enough for your carry-on.

Speaking of the narrow stairwell, every walkway on an Amtrak train is narrow.  If you are very overweight you may have some trouble navigating the train.  Also keep in mind that the hallways are only wide enough for one person, but they are for 2-way traffic.  Just getting from your room to the dining car or the bathroom will probably require you to step aside to allow someone approaching you to pass. 

When we saw the roomette, I was relieved that it was actually a tiny bit bigger than I thought it would be.  When I had watched video on YouTube, I was concerned about the legroom between the 2 seats.  However, my husband and I could sit opposite each other with no problem.  Each seat is wider than a coach seat, so I could sit next to my baby (not in her car seat) on one seat if I wanted to.

The upper bunk is stored upright, not quite flat against the wall.  It can be released to be stored at a 45 degree angle,

or even all the way down, and you can still sit underneath it.  Even if the bunk was fully released, my husband could sit upright in the seat underneath.  You would still have to duck your head to get to your seat, but it is possible to ride that way if you want to use the upper bunk for storage.  We kept the bunk at a 45 degree angle during the day and we stored the baby's car seat up there.

In addition to the car seat, we had brought on the baby's diaper bag, a large backpack that was quite full, a small purse/backpack, a small netbook in a carrier, and 2 medium-weight coats.  We fit all of this in our roomette and could easily have brought on more.  Not that I would recommend more, since traveling lighter is easier, but it was good to know.  The coats were hung up on the only 2 hangers provided by Amtrak, inside the tiny closet you see in the video.  When the 2 coats were hanging there was absolutely no room for anything else to hang.  However, there was plenty of room to store narrow bags in the space in the bottom.  We put the netbook in there and I shoved dirty clothes in there as well.  If you are bringing on heavy weight coats, or more than 2 coats, they won't hang, but you can shove them in.

Inside the closet, there is a small shelf at the top with towels and toiletries provided by Amtrak. 
Back to the room description.  There is a lot of storage room underneath each seat.  I wasn't sure of that after watching the video, so I was glad to find this out on board.  The area is about 10 inches tall and goes all the way back under each seat.  We stored the diaper bag under one seat and could have easily stored more.  The only thing to keep in mind is that the under-seat storage is difficult to get to when the lower seats are converted into a bed.  I would recommend getting out what you need before you convert the seats into the bed for the night.

Additional storage can be found on hooks on the wall and the closet.  In the YouTube video, you see that the wall over the little stairs has a mirror.  Well, one of the trains we rode on had the mirror, the other one did not.  Instead of the mirror, there was a wall hook.  The wall was wide enough there to hold the large backpack.  We hung up the small backpack on a hook next to the other seat. 

In the video, you can see that next to one seat (opposite the closet) are a set of little stairs to help get up to the top bunk.  I was under the impression that the stairs fold away, but they don't.  They are fixed, and we used them like shelves during the day.  So they are very convenient for even more storage.  In the photo above, you can see the stairs on the left, and how we were using them as shelves.

Regarding meals:
Meals (excluding alcohol) are free if you are in the sleeper car.  The train line that we were on (Casade Coast Starlight) had 3 options for food.  I understand this may be different on other lines, so you'll want to check your specific train.  But I believe for all trains carrying sleeper cars, at a minimum there will be a dining car available.  The dining car is by reservation only.  Whether you are in coach or in the sleepers, an attendant will come around to take reservations.  The dining car attendant will page everyone every 15 minutes during meal service, so you'll know when it's time to head over to the dining car for your reservation.  You'll be seated at a table for 4, so if your party is less than 4 you will be seated with other passengers.  Dining choices are on a menu - there are 4-5 choices for each meal. 

There will probably also be a cafe or snack bar available in the sightseer car or something similar.  It is probably not free for sleepers, though I'm not sure.

The Cascade Coast Starlight line also features a Parlour car which is alternate dining specifically for sleepers only.  The menu is different from the dining car, so when you get on board the train, find out from your attendant as to what is being served in each car, so you can make your choice then.  The parlour car has 2 choices per meal, and they are really nice, like duck or salmon or lamb.  The parlour car meals are also served by reservation only.  Your attendant can help you make the reservation, or you can make it yourself.  The parlour car attendant will be behind the bar most of the time.  Your party will be seated alone if you choose to dine in the parlour car.

You may also take your meals in your roomette.  As you saw in the video, the room has a small table that you can pull out from the wall.  Just let your attendant know anytime you would like your meal "to go".  It will be plated and brought to you in a handled paper bag, so you can unpack it whenever you're ready.  We found that the table was a bit too short for my husband, since it hit his knees when it was unfolded.  So we were glad that the meals came plated but packed up, so each of us could take turns eating without using the table, while the other played with the baby.

Breakfast is served only until about 9 or 9:30.  Listen for last call, if you're a late riser.

Regarding the amenities:
If you're a champagne drinker (cheap stuff), the attendant will serve all the sleeper passengers champagne upon arrival, or after lunch. 
The parlour car was an awesome amenity, but I understand that particular style of car is only available on the Cascade Coast Starlight line.  The upper level has the alternate dining room, a bar, and lounge chairs.

Additional bench seating:

  The lower level has a movie theater which shows 2 movies each day, at 3pm and 8pm, and I think shows TV the rest of the time.  I popped my head in during TV time and found the theater to be really comfortable.  There are only about 10-15 seats.  A wine and cheese tasting is hosted in the parlour car once a day.  I hope the other lines have comparable amenities, but I'm not sure. 
Sleeper cars are the only cars that have showers.  I understand that the coach car, regrettably, starts to smell bad by day 2 of travel.
Each sleeper car has a refreshment station at the top of the stairs, that has juice, coffee, bottled water, and maybe some fruit.  This is also where you can pick up a newspaper in the morning.  For sanitary reasons, ice can only be obtained from the sleeping car attendant.
Our train also included a few amenities available to all travelers, including an arcade and an observation car.

Regarding restrooms:
There is one shower in each sleeper car, located on the lower level. The towels provided were not very big. And you'll want to wear your shower shoes, so don't forget to pack those in your carry-on. The shower room contains the shower with a hand-held shower nozzle, and a changing area outside of the shower. There is a shelf and a big mirror and 2 electrical outlets. I think you can find video on YouTube if you need an image.

Each sleeper car contains one restroom on the upper level and 3 on the lower level.  One of the restrooms on the lower level also has a baby changing table.

On one of our trips, our roomette was opposite the restroom.  On the other trip, our room was on the same side of the train as the restroom.  During this trip we could smell the restroom the entire time.  I am not sure if it was because we were lined up with it and were somehow sharing air flow, or if it was a fluke and a problem with that particular car.  I had overheard 2 attendants referring to a restroom problem in another car, so perhaps the same issue was in ours?  At any rate, on a future trip we will request to occupy a room opposite the restroom, if at all possible.  And we'll also bring our own air freshener, just in case.

Regarding sleeping:
Each sleeper car has 14 roomettes and I think 7 other types of bedrooms.  There are 10 roomettes on the top and 4 on the bottom.  The bunks run parallel with the direction of the train.  In the bedroom suites that contain bathrooms, the bunks are perpendicular to the direction of the train.  In the family bedroom that has 2 full length bunks and 2 little bunks for children, the adult bunks are perpendicular and the children's bunks are parallel.  What this means is that you may get better sleep in the roomette, since the momentum of the train starting and stopping may not be as jarring as it would be if you were laying perpendicular to the direction of the train.  This is what the sleeping car attendant told us, anyway.  I'm not so sure, since the train does PLENTY of side to side rocking as well.  If you are concerned about falling out of the top bunk, a safety net is provided that you can hook up after you get settled.  The top bunk is slightly narrower than the bottom bunk. My husband took the top bunk and reported that his head touched one end of the room while his feet touched the other.  I slept in the bottom bunk, with the baby sleeping in her car seat set up at the foot of the bottom bunk.

Coach seats have lights out and quiet rules after 10pm, so around that time you get a lot of announcements on the squawk box while everyone gets on to announce that this is their last announcement.  If people are being loud in the hallway, you'll hear it even if your door is closed.  If it persists, give 'em the stink eye.

I think the squawk box starts up again around 8am.  It's kind of annoying if you're still trying to sleep.

My husband and I slept relatively well, though we're used to waking a lot since we have a baby.  Other people reported sleeping well, others not well.  It just depends on how picky you are, I guess.  One passenger I spoke with said she slept lousy, but also complained that she barely fit into her roomette, and she was traveling solo!  Which I think is just proof that it's all in your attitude.

Regarding privacy and security:
The rooms have doors that slide shut to offer some quiet and privacy.  Curtains fasten to the wall with velcro all the way around.  The curtains are good at blocking light in the morning. 

You can lock your door from the inside, but not the outside.  Therefore it is not advisable to travel with a ton of stuff, and certainly not valuables.  The sleeping car attendants know who's who in their cars, so they keep a pretty good eye on things and we never felt a concern.  But I did take my purse with me to all meals.

Regarding the service:
I would say that on our southbound trip we had gold star service, and on our northbound trip it was only silver star.  I think this is a combination of the actual staff on board, as well as the fact that on the southbound trip the sleepers were virtually empty, and on the northbound trip they were sold out.  On the gold star trip, not only did our attendant know our names, but the parlour car attendant did as well.  Every time we went to dine she would greet us by name.  She also really tried to go above and beyond to make sure everyone was having fun.  The northbound crew seemed frazzled.  The train was delayed 2 hours from it's initial station, and as I mentioned, the sleeper rooms were all sold out and I overhead the attendants saying there was waiting list in Coach of people who wanted to upgrade.  The attendants also mentioned that this took them by surprise, though I'm not sure why.  We did take one of our meals in our room on the northbound trip, and I must say our attendant did an outstanding job of cheerfully taking our orders and bringing us the meals, trying to think of all the little details we might need (lemon for the tea, etc).

Regarding capacity:
A question I saw a couple times during my search for roomette reviews is whether the roomette can hold more than 2 people.  It's a good question, because the Amtrak site itself only says it's "recommended" for 2 adults, but doesn't indicate that 2 adults is the maximum capacity.  I was especially interested in this question myself, since we were 2 adults and a baby.  The general answer on the forums was "no". Well, I disagree.  If you are 3 adults who are small, creative, with a good attitude, and comfortable in very close quarters, you could pull off 3.  At least.   There was a family of 4 in the roomette across from ours.  2 adults, an infant, and a little girl about 6 years old.  They had traveled this way at least once before, so they knew what they were doing.  I guess they slept one adult and one kid in each bunk.  They brought virtually no luggage into their room with them.  During the day, they moved at least one adult and one kid into the parlour car all day.

Another passenger I spoke with mentioned that her elderly parents had once traveled by roomette, and since neither of them could manage to climb into the top bunk, they shared the bottom bunk by sleeping head to toe.

During the day, you could also have the option of leaving the bottom bunk as a bed instead of 2 seats.  It could then seat 3 people across like a bench seat.  The 2 people on either end would have to sit cross legged.
  Or 2 people could be seated while a 3rd person lays in the upper bunk.  There is lots of room for creativity but you have to be quite friendly for it to work.  It wouldn't work for 3 people on a business trip.

The only thing I'm not sure of is how friendly Amtrak would be to providing free meals to 3+ adults in a room recommended for 2.  Consider buying meals or bringing food on board so you don't mess it up for everyone else.


For more current info about Amtrak travel, check out this book that was updated in 2015.


Anonymous said...

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for a very informative post - we are not from the US but plan to cross the country this coming summer.

Posts like this is what the internet is all about, really!

Heather said...

I'm glad this helped you. thanks for commenting, and have a great trip this summer!

Anonymous said...

Hey Heather, thanks so much. Where did your baby sleep? did i miss that. My wife and I are planning a trip and I am trying to convince her this is the way to go. thanks again

Heather said...

We brought the baby's infant carrier on board with us, and she slept in that. We put the infant carrier seat belt on her and tucked her in, then I put the carrier at the foot of the lower bunk. I slept on the lower bunk too. I am short (5'2"), plus I was already used to sharing a bed with bed-hogging baby. So, I couldn't exactly stretch out, but I could tuck my feet around her seat and get some sleep too.

Anonymous said...

Hey Heather... I'm an avid Amtrak fan and just ran across your blog. Great job. Very informative.

One small nit: The name of the train is Coast Starlight (not Cascade Starlight.)

Also, not sure if you're aware, but there are two types of cars that Amtrak uses that have roomettes. Single-level cars are called "Viewliner" and the roomettes have toilets and sinks in them (albeit, they are right in the room, there's no wall/curtain for privacy) the top bunks slide straight up and down (rather than folding to a 45 degree angle) and there's a storage area for luggage that extends out above the hallway from the upper-bunk level. The Viewliner roomette is a little more spacious than the Superliner roomette -- but Viewliner does NOT have a luggage rack, so all luggage must be kept inside your roomette. Viewliner doesn't have family bedrooms or accessible/handicapped bedrooms, but does have both roomette and full bedroom accomodations. One nice feature of Viewliner roomettes is that the top bunk has it's own window and curtains, so one passenger can watch the world go by while the other sleeps.

The Superliner is the double-decker car that you were on. The roomettes a a little narrower, and lack the toilet, sink, and luggage storage, so you have to use a separate restroom and luggage area. The top bunk folds up on a hinge (rather than sliding up/down on a track like Viewliner) and there's no (separate) window for the upper bunk. But the seats are the same size in either car... and the general layout is the same. Superliners have all of the bedroom types, and hold more passengers. Being on the second story of the Superliner puts you further from the track, so there's less track noise which I really like... and there's also more side-to-side swaying, which helps rock you to sleep.

Personally, I love them both.

Heather said...

Thank you so much for the added info! No, I didn't know there are Viewliners vs Superliners. This is really great info that you've added.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this review! I will soon be taking an overnight Amtrak trip, and I found your thoughts very helpful. A few questions about dining and luggage: Must reservations be made by phone, in advance, or will the attendant take reservations just before the meal(s) in question? I may have missed this, but I'm still a bit unclear as far as reservations go. Also, what times are lunch and dinner served? How did you find the food/beverages, overall?

As far as luggage goes, I'm wondering about the actual luggage limits. I read one set of guidelines on the Amtrak website, but my family was given an entirely different set of guidelines by phone. Exactly how many suitcases can you check, and how many carry-ons? Is it true that laptops, purses, etc. are not counted in the carry-on luggage count? Thanks.

Heather said...

I'm glad you found this helpful. Regarding dining, on the line that I took (Cascade), the attendant made dining reservations for you. I believe that was the only way to get a reservation (no option for making them by phone or otherwise in advance). This was true whether you were in coach seats or sleepers. The attendant will come to you and ask you when you wish to dine. On one of our trips we boarded pretty close to a meal service, so our attendant had already made reservations for us before we even boarded. No worries about missing a meal.

I'm afraid I don't recall exactly when lunch and dinner were served. Maybe 11-2 for lunch and 5-9 for dinner...? Something like that. I just remember that I felt like breakfast cut off pretty early for a late riser like myself.

Regarding luggage, I recall that it is true that laptops and purses do not really count as carry-on, but rather as "personal items". But I don't remember an exact limit for checked bags. My guess is that if you are seated in coach that you would need to adhere to limits posted on the website. But if you have a sleeper, my guess is that "anything goes" with regard to carry-on, but be aware that you might have to find a way to fit all of it in your roomette if there is no room in the luggage racks provided. So don't go too crazy.

Anonymous said...

Heather, just found this great post of yours via Google search & was wondering if you happen to remember if there would be enough space on the floor, between the two seats when the room is in the 'daytime' configuration to place a baby carrier?

Heather said...

yes, there is room between the 2 seats to fit an infant seat. When it was our baby's naptime we put her in her infant carrier on the floor. My husband put his feet up on the opposite seat, and I did the same, or sat sideways. It was cozy but comfortable!

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

I just want to say thank you so much for this informative post! We are considering a trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles, and we have a 2 1/2 year old daughter. I've been trying to figure out if we could get a roommette (they are sooo much cheaper) or if we needed to spring for the larger family bedroom. It sounds like from your review that if we're willing to be in tight quarters for the 46 hour trip, it's doable. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this review! I'm taking a Superliner (by myself with a 3 year old and a 6 month old) from Seattle into Montana and have been going back and forth about getting a roomette or not. From Amtrak's photos I just wasn't seeing the added benefit, but I think it will be worth the extra money after reading your review and seeing YouTube video. At the very least I'll be able to sit my baby down somewhere if I need to!

Heather said...

I now have 2 babies myself, and I would highly recommend the roomette over coach seats if you can afford it. You will be much more relaxed with your babies in the privacy of your own room!

Sarah said...

Heather, I only wish I had come across this great post weeks ago! We're just about to take a long trip on Amtrak's Empire Builder with our 6 month old son. Your description of your experience, the storage and the sleeping arrangements really puts me at ease! Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Great Review. My daughter and I took the empire builder to Seattle last Fall. And you were very accurate in your description of the train.

Heather said...

Thanks for your comment! Glad to hear your confirmation that this info is still accurate for the Empire Builder.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the great information!

Trevor Rose said...

I'm very grateful for your account of the Amtrak Roomette. I'm in the UK and I never knew about it before but it was mentioned as part of a 7 day cruise to Alaska from Seattle, prior to the cruise there;s a Chicago to Seattle leg being on Amtrak.
Your account and the onboard photos were really helpful.

Anonymous said...

Greetings Heather, thank you for the Roomette review. My wife and I are taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle next month and have been looking for information on the Roomette so we're prepared for it. While looking, I found a nice virtual photo tour of an Amtrak train you might appreciate as well.

Anonymous said...

Thnx Heather for all your effort. Very good and very helpful. I am going Chicago to Sacramento in 2wks in a roomette. I really appreciate the good advice

Ray B

Nicholas Rogers said...

Hi Heather, really great review - thanks for posting.

My partner and I are going to be getting the Coast Starlight from Seattle to SF later this year and I'm trying to decide whether to pay the extra for a proper bedroom.

Do you think that we could fit two suitcases into the roomette? If so, we'd probably go for that and save the money!!

Heather said...

Hi Nicholas, glad you found this helpful. I would say no, 2 suitcases would not fit in the roomette. You'd want to leave the suitcases in the separate baggage area. But 2 duffel bags could work. If they are small-medium you could squish them under the seats or something.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your input, Heather. The information you provided was very helpful since I'm planning a trip on Amtrak this September. Anita


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