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Helpful hints for a memorable Amtrak adventure.
If what I’ve read is accurate, there isn’t much etiquette to be found when it comes to flying. Since I haven’t been on a plane in over 20 years, I tend to believe most of what comes down the pike.
Amtrak, America’s passenger railroad, is unique. When it’s time to board, I’ve seen people form proper queues or at least they’re not pushing and shoving to get on their train. I can’t say the same for the popular European trains. Everyone shoves their way to be the first to board, suitcases are tossed onboard like misguided Frisbees even though the passengers have reserved seats.
Let’s start with my favorite way to travel on Amtrak; in a sleeping compartment. Here are a few etiquette tips and helpful hints I’ve learned over the years.
Your Car Attendant.
While not required, a gratuity is the norm, usually about $10 per person. If you and a companion are in the deluxe bedroom, then $10 per person ($20 total) is okay. 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.
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.
Don’t overcrowd your space.
If you’re traveling solo in a roomette, you can bring your carry-on luggage in the room with you. To clear up space, stow your smaller bags and carry-ons “upstairs,” (on the upper bunk) or shelf. You can ask your room attendant to place them up there. However, if you’re traveling with huge pieces of luggage, you’ll want to check them through baggage. If you opt for the larger deluxe bedroom, there’s room for a few pieces of luggage.
About checked luggage.
If you decide to check your bags at the station, make sure the tag that’s put on your bags have the proper code for your destination (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. And it’s free!
Available from the upper bunk, they can be used for sleeping, but also to cover the adjustable air vent along the window. Ask for an extra blanket if you tend to get cold during the night. I’ve used my coat over my blanket when I forgot to ask.
Using the “facility” in a roomette.
Whether you have bashful kidneys or just want to block a draft in winter, here’s a solution. Take one of the hand towels from your sink, roll it lengthwise and set it along the gap under your door.
What’s included with a roomette or bedroom?
All meals, bottled water and juice are included for those in roomettes and deluxe bedrooms. Alcohol is additional.
Dining car procedures.
It’s community seating, four passengers per table. If you’re in a sleeper, walk towards the front of the train. Enter the dining car and wait to be seated.
To avoid congestion at peak dining times, the dining car attendant will walk through the sleeping cars and offer you three dining times to choose; usually around 5pm, 6:30pm and 8pm. Like buying a Groupon restaurant coupon, it’s courteous to leave a gratuity for your dining car server based on 15%-20% of the cost of the meal. Guidelines: $2 per person Breakfast; $2-3 Lunch, Dinner $5 or so.
There’s On Time and then there’s Amtrak Time.
Being “on time” on Amtrak means to allow a little bit of leeway. For me, anytime within 60 or so minutes is as good as on time. More times than not, though, we arrived on time.
Except for parts within the Acela network and the northeast corridor, Amtrak doesn’t own or maintain the tracks. Amtrak trains are at the mercy of the freight trains corporations like CSX and Burlington Northern. They own the tracks and have right-of-way privileges over passenger trains.
When a long delay happens, you have the best of both worlds. You’re relaxing in the privacy and comfort of your accommodation, there’s the observation car to pass the time and you don’t have to drive!
Whether you are going only a short distance in coach or coast-to-coast in a deluxe sleeper, knowing the lowdown on Amtrak etiquette and how to plan will help you to arrive rested and ready to hop off when you reach your destination.
For my Amtrak Etiquette tips for riding in coach, click here.
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