Updated 4/2/2021: It’s taken me a long time to compile this list of tips for traveling in an Amtrak sleeper car. I’ve learned a lot about train travel in the U.S. since Amtrak officially began in 1971.
If relaxing in your Amtrak sleeping room to travel cross-country sounds like a break from the rat race, maybe you’re ready to forget flying. Buying an Amtrak sleeper is your ticket to an adventure like no other.
Here are my tips for traveling overnight in an Amtrak sleeper, whether you choose a deluxe bedroom or a cozy roomette.
Tips for Amtrak Sleeper Car Passengers
Amtrak, America’s passenger railroad, is unique and so are the people who travel on it. When it’s time to board Amtrak, passengers don’t push and shove to get on their train.
I can’t say the same for the popular European trains. In Europe, everyone shoves their way to be the first to board. Suitcases are tossed onto the train like misguided Frisbees even though their owners have reserved seats or an overnight sleeper.
So, let’s begin with the basics. What to do when you arrive at the train station.
What to Do When You Get to the Train Station
Unlike at an airport, with Amtrak, you simply walk into the station with your luggage and check-in at the desk. Depending on your departure city will determine how you’ll spend your time until the train arrives. You can even pre-purchase a parking space at many Amtrak stations.
While almost every station has an indoor waiting area, seven Amtrak stations feature a private staffed lounge for those who booked a sleeper. You’ll find private lounges (also used by Acela Business Class passengers and select others) in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland OR, Washington DC and Philadelphia.
The station agent or front desk person will note that you’re there, and ask if you will be checking luggage. In major stations, there are Red Caps, (people who help with luggage) to assistance you when boarding the train.
Some trains are really long and a good walk from the lounge or waiting room. Having a Red Cap to help can be extremely helpful. You will ride on their golf cart/tram to your designated sleeping car.
If you’re traveling with a lot of luggage, you might want to check the largest bags…as long as you don’t need anything from them. Always pack a small overnight case with whatever you’ll need for your trip.
How to Check Baggage with Amtrak
When you have your own deluxe bedroom or roomette, you can bring your luggage into your compartment. But, if you are traveling with more than one or two bags, you can check them for free on Amtrak.
Arrive at the train station at least 45 minutes before your train is due to arrive. The station attendant will attach bag tags to your luggage and they’ll go directly to the baggage car.
Tip: Make sure the correct city code is used when the tags are attached.
When you check your bags at the station, make sure the tag that’s put on your bags has the proper city code for your destination. For example, WPK is Winter Park, Florida and very close in the tag bin to WPB for West Palm Beach. Maximum weight for checked baggage is 50 lbs.
If you prefer to bring your luggage onto the train, there is a small luggage storage area on the first level of the double-decker Superliner. On the Viewliner, there’s really no space to stow your luggage except in your compartment. If you’re in a roomette where space is limited, you might want to check that oversized suitcase.
How Much and When to Tip Your Amtrak Sleeping Car Attendant
How much and when should I tip my sleeping car attendant are commonly asked questions. While tipping isn’t required, leaving a gratuity is the norm.
Usually, for one night in a sleeper, I suggest about $10 per person/per night. If your room attendant brings your meals to you in your room, then think about adding more to the tip as you would have left a tip anyway for the dining car waiter.
Sometimes I’ll hand the attendant a $20 at the beginning of a two-night journey, especially if it’s a sold-out sleeper. Things can get pretty busy for one attendant to handle and it’s a nice gesture.
If service has been excellent, I’ll add in another $5, $10 or even $20. These people work really hard and put in long hours to make sure your Amtrak sleeper experience is a good one.
Be Thoughtful of Your Room Attendant
Because Amtrak trains make station stops all night long, your room attendant sleeps in small bites of time. If you suspect he or she is getting a much-needed nap and your request isn’t urgent, wait a few minutes until either the next train stop or if you see or hear your attendant in the corridor.
Your car attendant will probably tell you when they plan to call it a night, albeit a short one. You’ll be asked what time you’d like your bed turned down as well as when you’d like it put away in the morning. For me, I always request to be one of the last to turn down the bed at night. In the morning, usually right after breakfast.
Don’t Overcrowd Your Amtrak Sleeper Space
An Amtrak tip that I mentioned earlier, if you’re traveling solo in a roomette, you can bring your carry-on luggage in the sleeping room with you. With the top bunk empty, you can stow your smaller bags and carry-ons “upstairs” on the upper bunk or the hard-to-reach shelf. Your room attendant can hoist your bags up there.
On the other hand, you can sleep in the top bunk and keep your luggage downstairs. The upper bunk on a Viewliner has a full-width window.
But remember, if you’re traveling with huge pieces of luggage, you can check them through baggage at almost all Amtrak stations. If you opt for the larger deluxe bedroom, there’s room for two or three pieces of medium-sized luggage.
Amtrak Tip: Ask Your Room Attendant for More Pillows
Amtrak pillows are pretty thin. If you like to read in bed, you might need an extra pillow or two. They’re easily available to grab from the upper bunk; just ask your room attendant. While extra pillows can be used for sleeping, they come in handy to cover the air vent by the window, if you’re uncomfortable.
Ask for an extra blanket, too, if you tend to get cold during the night. I’ve had to use my winter coat on top of my blanket when I forgot to ask at turndown.
Tips for Using the “Bathroom” in a Viewliner Roomette
How to Use an Amtrak Sleeper Car Bathroom
There seems to be a mystery surrounding how to use an Amtrak sleeper car bathroom. Unlike the old days of train travel, you can use the toilet in your Viewliner roomette or community bathroom down the hall, when the train is standing in the station.
If you’re sharing your roomette, you may want to make arrangements for privacy, if that’s your thing. Just sayin’.
In a Viewliner roomette, there’s a one-inch gap at the bottom of the sleeper room door. If you’re concerned about “air quality” wafting under the door and offending your neighbors, you can take one of the hand towels from your sink, roll it lengthwise and set it along the gap under your door. Bring a can of Febreeze to spritz your sleeper afterwards.
Having your own toilet in your Viewliner roomette will eventually be a thing of the past. New Viewliner II sleeper cars are slowly being rolled out to the five east coast overnight trains. The new roomette design does not have a toilet. You’ll have to use the communal bathrooms. So…
Amtrak Tip: Be sure to pack some extra Clorox or Lysol wipes for the community bathrooms.
How to Use the Public Shower in Your Sleeping Car
If you want to shower before bed or in the morning, there’s a shower room at one end of your car on the Viewliner, or downstairs on the Superliner.
Here’s my tip when traveling overnight in an Amtrak sleeper car in a roomette and you plan to shower. Bring a pair of rubber flip-flops to wear in the community shower. And a ziplock bag to put them in afterwards if they won’t have time to dry. Fresh bars of soap and towels are provided. You’ll need to bring shampoo.
What’s Included with an Amtrak Sleeper?
There’s always coffee, tea, juice and bottled water available at no charge to sleeping car passengers. One tip I’ll share is to ask your attendant for a couple of extra bottles of water, especially if you’re a water drinker like me. You can also request a bottle of water with your meals from the dining car and that way your room attendant’s inventory isn’t depleted.
In addition, all meals are included when you travel in an Amtrak sleeper. Alcohol, other than one complimentary beer or wine, is additional. The good news is that you can BYOB to consume in your compartment. Need ice? Just ask your attendant. There’s also the Café car where you can purchase snacks and beverages.
Tips for Dining on Amtrak
Unfortunately, unless there’s a drastic change, dining car food is now all microwaved. However, it’s nice to have room service; necessary during the pandemic and as well as at the end of a long vacation.
Back in 2018, Amtrak was forced to switch from fresh meals prepared in the dining car galley, to these boxed microwaved meals. Since then, due to an overwhelming disgust from passengers over these chemical-rich meals, Amtrak has improved in their packaged food selections.
That said, and even though your meals are included with a sleeping room, here’s another Tip for Traveling on Amtrak. You might want to think about bringing snacks. On a crowded train, there’s a chance that some of the better boxed meals will be gone if you choose a late dining time for any of your meals.
Eating in the Dining Car
During the pandemic, Amtrak halted their dining car service. When it returns, hopefully May 2021, and eventually gets back to normal, the dining car has community seating with four passengers per table. Your sleeping car attendant or the dining car chief will come to your sleeper for dining reservation requests. There are set seating times to choose.
To avoid congestion at peak dining times, reservations are required. There are usually three or four dinner dining times to choose; around 5pm, 6:30pm, 7:15pm and 8pm.
Remember to tip your waitperson. Because your meals are included, it’s still courteous to leave a gratuity for your dining car server based on 15%-20% of what the meal would have cost. Guidelines: $2-$3 per person Breakfast; $3-$5 Lunch, Dinner $5-$10 or so.
Amtrak Tip: There’s On Time and There’s Amtrak Time – Plan for Delays
Being “on time” on Amtrak means to allow a little bit of leeway, maybe an hour or so. Having your own sleeping compartment means that you have more time to relax and enjoy the scenery. And if you’re on a Superliner train, you can while away the delay in the observation car.
For me, anytime within 60 or so minutes is as good as on time. More times than not, though, I’ve arrived on time.
Except for the Acela network and some of the northeast corridor, Amtrak doesn’t own or maintain the tracks. Amtrak trains have always been at the mercy of the freight trains like CSX and Burlington Northern. They own the tracks and over the years, have dominated right-of-way privileges over passenger trains.
Whether you are going only a short distance or coast-to-coast in an Amtrak roomette or deluxe bedroom, it really helps to know these tips for traveling in an Amtrak sleeper. A little information and a set plan will help you arrive at your destination rested and ready to roll.
Conclusion: Tips for Traveling in an Amtrak Sleeper Car
In case this seems like a lot of information to absorb, here’s a recap of the Amtrak tips I’ve mentioned in this complete guide.
- What to do when you arrive at the station
- Check excess baggage
- Tipping your sleeping car attendant (room attendant)
- Be considerate of your room attendant, they need to sleep, too.
- Arranging luggage in your sleeper so you still have space to move
- Ask for extra pillows and a blanket
- Using the community bathroom or your Viewliner roomette toilet
- Taking a shower on the train
- What’s included with the price of an Amtrak sleeper
- Dining on Amtrak
- Plan for Delays
- And most important…enjoy the journey!