I recently spent 30 hours on an Amtrak train traveling from New York City to Miami.
I found the ride to be rough and bumpy, with far too much time spent in a cramped space.
But if you value the journey as much as the destination, you might enjoy the ride.
Living in New York City, I take trains nearly every day.
I’m no stranger to trains.
When I was a kid growing up in Stamford, Connecticut, my family started taking me on trains to New York City before I was even potty trained.
Now, as an adult living in Brooklyn, I’m on trains more than I’m in cars. Every time I leave my neighborhood, I take subways above and below ground to get around town.
So the idea of making the 30-hour trek from NYC to Miami via train seemed like a good one.
I’ve flown a few times during the pandemic and found wearing a mask the entire time and sitting uncomfortably close to other passengers less than desirable. I thought I’d give another mode of transportation a try this time and figured having a room on a train where I could close my door and be alone would be more comfortable.
Even though the train ride was more expensive than an economy flight to Miami, and it took 10 times as long, I booked my ticket.
The ticket cost about $US500 ($AU670). Depending on the day, a flight from NYC to Miami in basic economy could cost around $US50 ($AU67). So I was anxious to see if it would be worth the extra time and money spent.
But I didn’t anticipate how poorly the constant motion and length of the trip would make me feel.
As someone who deals with travel anxiety, I found the length of the trip to be overwhelming. It’s tough for me to relax when I am in-between destinations, and, for some reason, I struggled to view the train as a destination in itself.
The constant motion of the train didn’t help, either. In fact, I ended up feeling a little queasy.
My journey began at Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station in NYC.
Waiting at the train station felt a lot like waiting in an airport, but with less security. My train ticket got me into the waiting room, where I sat until it was time to board.
Once it was time to board, I learned that sleeper cars are at the back of the train.
The sleeper cars are right behind the dining car.
Once on the train, I walked down the narrow corridor of three sleeper cars to find my room.
The corridor was so narrow, you could only walk down it single file.
Called a Roomette, this tiny, private suite is the cheapest way to travel by Amtrak if you want a bed.
A step up from sitting in coach, where you get a regular train seat, a Roomette is a private space with a door and blinds to cover up the windows.
Inside, there are two seats across from each other, a table that folds out in-between, and a bed above the seats that pulls down. The seats also pull out into a bed.
In some Roomettes (mine included), there’s a side table that swings open to reveal a toilet. Above, there’s a folding sink and mirror.
With the seat down and the sink folded up, you’d never know there was a bathroom in the room.
With two seats to a Roomette and no privacy curtain around the toilet, I was grateful to be a solo traveler.
There are only a few people I’d go number two in front of, but I prefer to be alone.
I recommend bringing Poo Pouri with you if you plan to take a similar trip.
A decade ago, I may have had a bigger problem with the toilet situation next to my bed in the Roomette. But, thankfully, I had packed some Poo Pourri, a spray that goes in the toilet just before you poop to eliminate odors.
Due to Roomette availability when I booked my ticket, I had to switch to another Roomette that didn’t have a toilet but still had a sink partway through my trip.
There was a bathroom at the back of the sleeper car where I could use the toilet.
The room had storage features that reminded me of a tiny home, like a pullout table between the chairs.
The table had two fold-out leaves, too, for more space.
One thing that surprised me about the Roomette was the variety of lighting options, which seemed to be more than what you’d get in economy on a flight.
Aside from the ceiling light, each seat had its own area light, reading light, and night light. I counted 11 light switches in my Roomette.
I was also surprised to be able to control the temperature inside my Roomette.
My Roomette had a temperature dial and air conditioning vents, and I kept it cool in my room, around 66 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the train started moving, I noticed it was a bumpy ride, like a flight when the seat belt sign is on. I figured this was temporary, but I thought the whole ride was shaky.
When I stood up to walk through the train cars, I felt like I was on an airplane trying to use the bathroom during turbulence. It felt like this the whole journey, and I ended up feeling motion sickness for the majority of the trip.
Since I felt my train ride was so bumpy, I tried not to leave my room too much. But, come dinner time, I decided to head to the dining cart.
Even though eating in my room was an option, I didn’t want it to smell like food in my bunk all night.
Since I got a Roomette, my ticket came with a meal, and I thought it wasn’t too bad.
I had braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, and a hard roll. While I didn’t love the meal as it came, I made a little sandwich out of the ingredients, which tasted better to me.
When it was time for bed, I chose to sleep in the top bunk to see what it felt like.
The seats in the Roomette fold out into a bed on the bottom level, but I wanted to try out sleeping up top.
The bed was suspended in the air, and there were blankets wrapped in plastic that I found surprisingly soft and comfortable.
I thought the bed was comfy enough, but I found the shaking to be much worse on the top bunk than it was in the seats throughout the day.
As I nestled into a sleeping position, I listened to the choo choo of the train whistle and pretended I was on the Polar Express until I finally fell asleep.
I woke up a few times in the night feeling disoriented, and I had to remind myself where I was. There were also times where I was worried I might fall out of bed.
While I didn’t sleep well, I enjoyed waking up to the sun rising over Georgia.
Even though I didn’t sleep well, I’m glad I went with the top bunk because of the views I had in the morning.
I woke up at around 8 a.m. with about 11 hours left on my journey.
I passed a lot of the time working.
I used my Nintendo Switch, watched movies I had previously downloaded, and did work to fill the time.
While the train had internet, I found the connection to be unreliable. So I was glad I had downloaded movies, TV shows, and podcasts to my phone and iPad before my trip.
I was so grateful when I finally arrived in Miami, and I decided that long train journeys aren’t for the faint of heart.
In my opinion, taking a long train journey is a lot like taking a road trip — if you consider the ride a part of the vacation, then maybe it would be worth it for you.
But, personally, I’ll catch a flight next time I want to get out of the city for a week.