29 Best Tips for Taking an Amtrak Overnight Train

Amtrak Superliner Bedroom

Make the most of your next Amtrak overnight train trip.

Not everyone can afford to spend their train journey in a private sleeping compartment. While these tips are aimed at those in a sleeper, almost all of these tips will apply to overnight coach passengers as well.

I just completed a circle America Amtrak train journey that included seven overnight trains.  From my experience, here’s my list of what I hope will help you on your Amtrak overnight train trip.

1. Pack a roll of tearable duct tape.

Let’s face it, unless the train is moving at a snail’s pace as it climbs up and over mountains, there are bound to be some bone-rattling moments. Old equipment plus freight line maintained tracks can cause sliding doors and various in-room mechanics to loudly clank.  Using a wash-cloth or towel plus duct tape can help ensure a better night’s sleep.

Duct tape and a towel helped redirect the continual blast of cold air.

2. Bring rubber flip-flops

Whether it’s for the public bathroom and shower room or your en suite bathroom, you’ll be glad to have them.

3. Bring fives and ones for tipping in the dining car.

Suggestion per person: $2 breakfast, $3 lunch and $5 dinner

4. Have one bag as a designated overnight bag

In here you’ll pack only what you’ll need for your overnight journey; toiletries, meds, clothes, computer/iPad etc.  It will make searching for items so much simpler.

5. Clothes

For a two-night train trip, bring at least two extra tops. Only one extra pants, really – depending upon length of trip.  Leaving on an Amtrak overnight train from Montana to sunny Florida in the winter? You’ll want to put a change of summer clothes in your overnight bag.

6. Contact lens wearers

If you will need to remove or insert contact lenses, do it at a station stop. Don’t poke your eye while going 80 mph.

7. Washing/make up removal before bed.

Again, plan ahead and do this at a station stop. It’s much easier than trying to get ready for bed while the train is in motion and your bed has been turned down.

8. Bring Clorox wipes.

For wiping down tray table, door handles, toilet seats etc.

9.  Download any videos before you leave home.

Internet on a moving Amtrak train isn’t always possible.  Besides, most long-haul trains don’t even have wifi. You will travel through No Service areas quite a bit. Tethering to your mobile network isn’t speedy enough to download videos.  Even if it was, you’d probably exceed your hotspot roaming plan.

10. Try to plan your meal times not to conflict with longer station stops.

The conductor will announce “Fresh Air Stops”.  These are longer station stops  so you can step off and walk a bit outside. Read your timetable carefully.  Check to see if any long station stops coincide with your dining time.  The dining car manager will hand out reservations for dinner.  If you know when you want to detrain for air, request a non-conflicting dinner time.

11. Keep a sweater or light fleece handy.

In case the A/C is blasting in the dining car. Temperatures fluctuate between train cars as well as in geographic areas.  Freezing at dinner isn’t fun.

12.  Understand accommodation size.

Two large-size people may be uncomfortable in a small roomette with an upper and lower narrow bed. If you can book your accommodation way in advance, you might be able to snag a deluxe bedroom at a lower rate.

13.  Know how dining car seating procedure.

It’s community seating in the dining car.  Wait at the entrance for the dining car attendant to seat you.
Be ready to sit backwards.  Don’t bring your backpack or large purse…there may be very little room between you and your table mate.

14.  Remember to tip your room attendant.

Depending on your needs, $10 – $20 per night is thoughtful.

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15.  Take lots of photos.

Please turn your flash off.  I see people shooting photos through the window and have the camera flash turned on.  Photos are a great way to share your cross-country photo with friends and family and spread the word.  It’s the only train system we have…let’s keep ridership on Amtrak overnight train trips growing!

16.  Order room service in your sleeper.

Sleeping car passengers can order room service. It’s complimentary, too! Simply ask your room attendant. He or she will deliver your meal direct from the galley. When you place your order, try to include everything you want so your attendant doesn’t have to run back and forth.

17.  Reservations are taken for lunch and dinner in the dining car.

The good news is that sleeping car passengers get first dibs on dining times. Be sure to leave your compartment door and curtain open. The dining car manager doesn’t knock in case someone is sleeping. If you miss getting a reservation, a wait list will be announced for sign-up.

18.  Social gatherings

Aboard the Coast Starlight, complimentary wine tastings aren’t offered any more. Instead, for $7.50 you can join fellow travelers in the refurbished Parlor Car for a fee-based wine and cheese party.

19.  See the scenery from the observation car.

If you have an observation car on your train – Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle – know that seats are first come, first served. Sometimes coach passengers will try to spend the day in the Observation car…but it’s not the place to bring a pillow and sleep. The conductor will ask loiterers to return to their seats. And similarly, since seats are at a premium, be sure not to overstay too long and give others a chance to experience this window on the world.

20.  Yes, you can take a shower.

Sleeping cars are equipped with a communal shower at the end of the car and are remarkably well maintained. Deluxe bedrooms feature an en suite combination toilet and shower stall. Towels and soap are furnished but there isn’t a hair dryer, so B.Y.O. if needed.

21.  Pack an extra pair of socks.

You might want to bring a pair of running socks to wear in your room. More cozy and you may not want to walk barefoot in your compartment or in your “good” socks.

22.  Dietary or medical needs

You will need to bring your own cooler. Amtrak cannot heat or store personal items. Your room attendant can get ice for you to replenish as needed.

23.  Mobility limitations

Amtrak has lifts for wheelchairs or if you are unable to climb the steps onto the train. Make sure Amtrak is notified that you’ll need lift assistance. Lower level accommodations include roomettes and a wheelchair accessible room with en suite facilities.

24.  Staying charged

There are electric outlets in every room so you can keep your phone etc. charged.

25. Waiting in line for dining

If you’re waiting in line to be seated in the dining room and the line is too long, do not stand in the vestibule. It’s way too dangerous. Just wait in the previous car until you can safely cross into the dining room.

26.  B.Y.O.B. – Yes, you can.

If you’d like a cocktail before dinner in the comfort of your room, you can bring your own booze. Just ask your room attendant for a cup with ice. Or you can buy beer, wine and spirits in the café car.  You can’t bring your own alcohol into the dining car, but you can order it.

27. Ask your attendant for a second blanket.

You never know how cold or drafty it might get during the night. The new blankets are thinner and each one is cleaned and sealed in plastic.  Don’t open the second blanket unless you need it. Keep it clean for the next passenger.

28. Take advantage of the longer train stops.

What used to be called “cigarette stops” are now called “fresh air breaks.” You can get exercise walking the length of the train. For me, a train car length is about 35 steps. If an average Amtrak overnight train is 10 cars (not including the engine or baggage car) then I can walk about 1500 steps in a 10 to 15-minute stop (dodging other passengers and smokers slows you down). To make the most of your Fresh Air Break, be ready to detrain as soon as departing passengers have stepped outside.

29.  BONUS TIP!

If there happens to be a long stop that coincides with meal time, call ahead and order train delivery! Yes, you can! For example, in Havre, MT, you can order a Domino’s Pizza and they’ll deliver it when your train arrives. Just quickly hop off the train and look for the delivery person.

Sit back, take a nap, read or gaze for hours at the changing scenery. You’re finally off the grid…enjoy it!

I hope that I’ve covered everything you need to know for a fabulous Amtrak overnight train trip. If you think of something I’ve missed, please let me know. I’ll share it with others. All Aboard!

By |September 19th, 2017|Amtrak, Travel Tips|

6 Comments

  1. Pam September 20, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Great list!!! Thanks so much????

  2. Sherry Kennedy
    Sherry Kennedy September 24, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Pam,
    Thanks for your comment!
    Sherry

  3. KELLY September 28, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    How do we go about looking at train trip from Florida to New York and a returning as well?

  4. Sherry Kennedy
    Sherry Kennedy September 28, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Kelly,
    Thanks for reading my Amtrak article. You can find a travel agent who books Amtrak (not everyone does) or call Amtrak yourself at 1-800-USA-RAIL. When “Julie” answers, you say, “Agent”. Say “Agent” again for the next two or three questions. That will put you through to an agent as quickly as possible. Accommodations are lower priced and have better availability the further out that you make your reservation. Remember, on the NYC-Florida route, only the Silver Meteor has a dining car.
    Have a wonderful train experience…Happy ‘Rails to you!
    Sherry

  5. Diane September 30, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    How can you score discount Amtrak rates, I don’t fly at all and need to travel back and forth across the US to travel. We are a family of three (3) so they force us to get two roomettes or a deluxe room which can be upwards of $2000 one way!!!! Any hints or tips on how to reduce that cost?

  6. Sherry Kennedy
    Sherry Kennedy October 1, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Hi Diane,
    Thanks for you comment…great question. Unfortunately, there are really no discount rates for Amtrak. The best thing to do is to book as far ahead as possible to get the lowest rates. As space becomes unavailable, prices go up. I can’t imagine three people in a two-person roomette, unless one or two are infants. Usually, if you book far enough out, you can get two roomettes for less than a deluxe bedroom.

    Also, and I’m sure you’ve done this already, apply for the Amtrak Guest Rewards credit card. For Guest Reward points, whenever there’s a Buy Points promotion, I always max out and buy the most amount and receive the most percentage in bonus points. You can do this once a year. If you don’t have the Amtrak Mastercard, login to your Guest Rewards account for online shopping, and go through their portal to get as many points as possible through their list of merchants that you use. Even Walmart is listed.

    Last but not least, if you qualify for any discounts (AAA, AARP, Student etc) it will deduct a small amount from your rail fare portion (not sleeping accommodation.) But for me, every penny saved helps.

    Happy ‘rails to you and thank you again for your email.
    Sherry

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