If you've been following my blog, you might get the impression that I'm a Traveler. I'm really not. But I do like to see new things once in awhile and traveling is therefore a necessary evil. Having just returned from a whirlwind tour of the Grand Canyon via Amtrak, I thought I'd talk about that experience. When David and I went to Washington DC we traveled via sleeper car. Going to the Canyon, we took coach. The difference between the two is dramatic and anyone considering Amtrak should weigh their options carefully.
I feel like if traveling by bus was 2 (scale of 1-10, 10 being best), then Amtrak coach is 4 while Amtrak sleeper is more up around 7, maybe 8. There are several reasons why. In coach, you don't have nearly as much privacy and control of your surroundings. The coach seats themselves are fairly comfortable, but I never could find the right balance between the leg rest and the foot rest. There's no center arm rest, so you end up dangling that arm unless you set some luggage on the seat. If you have a seat partner, they'll limit your seating position. You can move to the view car and ride comfortably, but you'll also have to deal with noisy conversations and maybe conversations that you don't want to hear. Your meals are not part of the ticket. And lastly, the coach bathrooms can be really bad as they don't seem to be maintained nearly as well.
In the sleeper, by contrast, you can control your surroundings so much better. Want privacy? Just shut the door and pull the curtains and you can ride along in total isolation and darkness, if you want. There are arm rests on both sides and since your companion sits across, instead of next to you, you have a lot more freedom of movement. Face to face is more conducive to conversation, too, at least for me. In the sleeper, you have all the coffee and water you want, and your meals have already been paid for. Yes, you paid dearly for the sleeper, but it's nice not messing with expenses on the train. Walk up to the view car for an hour or two and then retreat when you want. Sleepy? Drop the upper bunk and one person can stretch out and totally sleep while the other person reads or writes down below. Both parties can be comfortable at the same time. And because the larger sleeper compartments have a private bathroom, a lot less people are using the community bathrooms, plus there's a car attendant whose job it is to keep these things in good condition. I never saw a mess in the sleeper car bathrooms (except right after David threw up...). Don't forget the shower and dressing facilities in the sleeper, either.
All in all, the sleeper's advantages really stack up. We boarded the train at 3 am coming back from the Canyon and I really considered getting a sleeper for that leg of the trip and skipping the motel for the night. If I'd have known of a place to hang out until 3 am, I would've done just that. If I were to do it all over again, I think I would pop for the extra $200 or so and get the sleeper anyway.
One other thing about riding to the Canyon is that we were on the train for a long time. When David and I went to DC we were on the train for more hours, but those hours were broken up by sleep. We boarded at 5 pm (7 pm because the train was late), ate supper, hung-out, then went to bed. We woke up, ate breakfast, chilled, walked around, ate lunch, napped, and ta-da... we were in Chicago. Every leg was like that- board, eat, sleep, eat, free-time, eat, un-board. But when we rode to the Canyon, we boarded and then rode for 11 hours. We didn't get that big sleep break. That made a difference.
But, on the whole, it was still a fun experience. I mean, I drove for an hour to get to the station and then I went 1400 miles w/out ever driving again. If you're considering an Amtrak trip, just consider my experience and apply it appropriately.