I haven’t taken the train for travel since I was a kid and on a recent Amtrak rail adventure, it was just as fun for me today as it was back then. I traveled on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans line, which starts in Chicago, Illinois and ends in New Orleans, Louisiana. There are numerous stops along the route, in a few major cities and also in small towns. I made a few overnight stops in Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi with my travel group.
Traveling by train was such a relaxing experience. I normally fly to destinations, because it’s faster and seems more convenient. However, after experiencing The City of New Orleans, I’m rethinking my mode of transportation. Train travel with Amtrak is what travel by air used to be like. I realize traveling by train is the alternative to driving, but with the craziness of the TSA over the past decade, paired with the airline’s nickel and dime shenanigans, train travel should be the alternative to flying. Yes, it will take you longer to get to your destination, but if you factor in layovers, missed connections, and cancelled flights, Amtrak is where it’s at.
Boarding – I hopped on The City of New Orleans in Hammond, Louisiana. The parking was free, checking my luggage was free, and I was able to wait on a bench (enjoying the free wifi) with a cool breeze and fresh air. When the train pulled up, we boarded the train and were given assigned seats in coach. A few passengers boarded with small ice chests filled with drinks and sandwiches.
Seating – I sat in my coach seat and couldn’t believe how much room was available. I extended my legs completely and still had room between myself and the seat back in front of me. There are also ample power outlets at each seat and I found the interior of the coach car to be much cleaner than airplanes in general. The seats recline pretty far back and pillows are provided free of charge. For passengers wanting privacy or those traveling longer distances, the sleeping cars offer roomettes (for 2) all the way to a family room. Passengers with sleeping car bookings have their meals included in the fare.
Dining – If you don’t bring your own meals, there are two dining options on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans. The dining car is open by reservation for dinner (make the reservations when you board), and also there is a seating list for breakfast. I enjoyed both meals onboard the train. Breakfast is the more affordable meal (less than $10/person), and they do offer a children’s menu. Dinner is a bit more, but definitely worth the experience. The dinners were from $17 -$24 each, but was a delicious three course meal. If you are traveling as a family, the sleeping car upgrades are the best buy, since meals are included. Wine, cocktails, and beer is available for purchase. If you are looking for a light snack or a sandwich, the lounge car offers all types of beverages, along with an upper viewing level.
The Ride – While my coach seat was comfortable and roomy, I enjoyed the observation deck of the lounge car the most. This is the part of the train ride that really made it for me. I was able to sit in a lounge chair, glass of wine in hand, watching the back yards of America pass by. At a nearby booth, a family sat playing Uno, while at another booth, a group of friends traveling to New Orleans for a Rush concert was mixing Bloody Mary’s from their small ice chest. An older gentleman in the corner of the car sat reading the latest spy novel. For me, I could hear the strains of Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans in my head as I rediscovered the love of the journey.
If you have a bit of extra time to spare, I’d definitely recommend taking Amtrak trains for your next trip. They offer numerous routes around the US with weekly deals highlighted on Amtrak’s website. You’ll see a side of the USA that you can’t see from the highways or an airplane window.
Disclosure: This trip on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans was part of the Southeast Louisiana Gumbo Express Tour, where I accompanied representatives from area Louisiana parishes to share the food and hospitality of our state. The purpose was to meet with local media and travel planners to encourage visitors to the Baton Rouge and surrounding areas. To learn more, visit www.SELAGumbo.com.