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- If you're avoiding planes and long car rides but need to travel far, experts say trains are safe.
- I traveled 30 hours from New Orleans to New York City in an Amtrak Viewliner Roomette sleeper car.
- My socially distant trip cost the same as flying and I didn't have to deal with airports or traffic.
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Long-distance train journeys require a significant time commitment, but if schedules allow, Amtrak's Roomette — a private two-person sleeper cabin with basic amenities — offers a socially distant alternative to flying or long road trips.
Roomettes are private from the rest of the train and come with seats, bunks, and a basic toilet. If traveling solo, Amtrak won't sell space in your sleeper car to random customers.
The guaranteed social distance starts at $478 for two, which I paid entirely as a solo traveler. However, for two people splitting the cost, the value is strong considering it includes meals and dedicated attendant service.
Additionally, the CDC says fully vaccinated travelers can travel in the US, and medical experts agree train travel is relatively safe. Amtrak also has enhanced hygiene and safety COVID-19 protocols.
I've always wanted to experience a long domestic rail journey and booked an Amtrak Viewliner Roomette on the Crescent Route from New Orleans to New York, which took around 30 hours.
- The first impression
- The room
- On-board amenities
- What others say
- What you need to know
- COVID-19 policies
- The bottom line
- Book the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette starting at $478
Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette.
From Louisiana, the Crescent Route passes through Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and other cities along the eastern seaboard up to New York City. There are 32 stops in total.
My train was due to leave at 7 a.m. from downtown New Orleans and start boarding at 6:30 a.m. I arrived at 6:35 a.m., which was more convenient than arriving two hours before a flight.
I was greeted on the platform outside my designated car by a masked attendant who politely introduced themselves from an appropriate distance and asked if I wanted to check luggage. Since I needed access to mine, I declined.
There were few people boarding and no line. The Roomettes were among the first carriages, and social distancing was managed by the Amtrak staff with signs in place for busier times.
The attendant explained that masks were compulsory in public areas and in coach, but I was permitted to remove mine if I closed the door to my cabin. Be sure to bring your own as Amtrak does not provide masks.
Amtrak's Viewliner trains on the Crescent route are single-level railway cars. The Roomette's configuration (3'6" wide by 6'6" long) was two seats facing each other with a large picture window.
There was another window from the top bunk, plus curtains for both sets and a (lockable) door, ensuring darkness and privacy when needed.
It looked bright and roomy and smelled clean. The Roomette would best suit solo travelers or companions who already have a basic level of social intimacy.
I'm 5'8" and could stretch out comfortably, but tall passengers with lots of luggage might feel cramped and should check larger bags to maximize the space.
There were plenty of plugs for devices and free Wi-Fi, however, the strength and consistency were variable. It was best for web browsing or responding to email rather than streaming. Plan to come with pre-downloaded entertainment.
The fabric seats were comfortable and a pull-out table could be set up in between for meals or board games. There were also hooks and spaces to hang jackets and coats.
The design felt utilitarian and dated but was functional. The interfaces were easily identifiable with AC and heat controls, though it was very much an analog setup with dials, buttons, and switches rather than digital controls.
There was also a pull-out sink with a mirror and a side table with a hinged top that revealed a toilet. This was fine as a solo traveler, but it's not separate from the cabin.
There were traditional restroom and shower facilities within the train carriage, though those were public and shared among other riders.
However, as Amtrak debuts new Roomette sleeper cabins, they will be removing this toilet and replacing it with a private shower and restroom in the car.
The Roomette is a sleeper cabin and the main amenity is its ability to transform into a sleeping arrangement with two configurations.
A bottom bunk was formed by reclining the seats to their full extent and sliding them together to form a comfortable bed.
Guests are also able to pull down a ready-to-sleep bunk from the ceiling, which was my preference.
It required a basic amount of maneuverability and a safety harness attached to the side to ensure lively sleepers don't roll off their perch. I managed to climb up easily and felt comfortable and safe.
Both beds came with reading lights, linens, pillows, and sheets. They were not Egyptian cotton, but the quality was sufficient. Towels, face cloths, soap, and toilet paper were also provided with quality comparable to a three-star hotel.
At night, the natural movement and rhythms of the train made for a great sleep aid, though sensitive sleepers might feel otherwise.
It was not as comfortable as a hotel, but it was better than a seat on a plane and the train turns off public announcements after 10 p.m. If you need to disembark at night, the crew will wake you with plenty of time.
Larger rooms (dubbed Rooms) are also available and twice as big with room for two adults and two children. They have private showers and bathrooms and start at $692 for a one-way ticket on the same route.
Overall, I found the Roomette to be an intelligently designed space that, while not state of the art, offered a well-equipped set-up for a 30-hour journey with more privacy and comfort than in coach.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included in my fare. Due to pandemic safety rules, the attendant took my order and delivered my food in a bag with utensils and drinks. Roomette fares include one alcoholic drink, unlimited coffee, water, and soft drink.
Outside of meal times, the Cafe Car sells alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza, as well as salads, coffees, confectionery, light snacks, and more.
Sadly, the dining car beloved by many Amtrak regulars was not available due to COVID, and guests were instructed to take their food and drinks back to their seats.
Breakfast had cereals, yogurt, oatmeal, muffins, and a breakfast sandwich. Lunch and dinner included international entrees like braised beef, enchiladas, chicken marsala, shrimp in lobster sauce, pasta with meatballs, and brownies for dessert.
It's possible (though not ideal right now) to stretch your legs walking up and down the cars, but the train also makes a couple of longer stops where riders may step out for fresh air on the platform. I did so in Washington, DC as the platform was wide enough to maintain distance.
Amtrak also checks luggage, though access is not possible until you reach your destination. Checked luggage is not cleaned during the journey, but attendants are gloved.
Amtrak's Crescent service receives a 3.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor, with the vast majority of the reviews that are specific for the Roomette nudging that score up to 4 out of 5.
For most reviewers, the privacy afforded by a sleeper car was the main selling point. One reviewer said, "I would definitely recommend a train ride with a private Roomette if you get the opportunity. My husband and I liked...having our own personal toilet/sink, and being able to sit or lie down as I felt the need."
Having a dedicated attendant was a big hit as well, as one reviewer puts it, "We rode in a roomette so there was an attendant that was assigned to our car. The attendant has a huge bearing on the quality of your trip. Ours were excellent!"
The dated interiors put some people off, though, with one reviewer described it as "run down," and others lamented the slow internet. Overall, though, it's a resoundingly positive assessment.
Read reviews for the Amtrak Viewliner Roomette on Trip Advisor
Who stays here: Couples, good friends, and family members that need to travel long distances but aren't comfortable flying or driving.
We like: The chance to close the door, remove your mask, sit back, and enjoy the scenery. The rhythms and nature of train travel are extremely relaxing.
We love (don't miss this feature!): Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included in Roomette rates and delivered at a time that suits you (within a set window) by your dedicated attendant (don't forget to tip them when you disembark!).
We think you should know: The toilet within the cabin is going to divide opinions, but there's always the option of using the public facilities in the same train car. Also, with COVID protocols, there's no communal dining car right now.
We'd do this differently next time: I would be more prepared and take out everything I might need from my suitcase so I could check my luggage and enjoy more space.
Amtrak upgraded all of its cleaning and hygiene protocols to protect travelers from exposure to COVID-19.
All sleeper cabins are subject to newly-enhanced cleaning standards, with high-touch surfaces such as handles and countertops cleaned with EPA-registered disinfectants. These procedures also extend to their stations, with bigger and busier stations employing plastic barriers and safer seating arrangements. Boarding procedures are subject to distancing enforcement.
The Amtrak online booking engine now also displays how full each train is to inform ticket purchasing, which is especially helpful if travelers are considering regular seating options in coach.
The company also produced a video outlining its current protocols explained by its Medical Services Team, and an air filtration system keeps the on-board air fresh, cycling 44 times an hour.
I felt very safe at all stages of my journey. The staff all wore masks and made sure that anyone in the public spaces did as well.
While some might balk at the thought of a long-distance train journey, I'm officially an Amtrak convert.
I enjoyed the privacy and comfort of the Viewliner Roomette sleeper car and felt Amtrak delivered on promises for strong COVID-19 policies. The journey was smooth and we arrived on time.
Although the cabin felt old, and Wi-Fi wasn't dependable, Roomettes are similar in price to flying or the cost of a multi-day road trip. They also provide good value for two people traveling together, given that the fare includes meals.
Of course, there's also a larger time commitment, but the convenience of showing up right at boarding and arriving directly into a city center with no public transport, traffic, or parking, was reassuring. It's definitely a slow travel experience, but if you're someone who can find joy in that, it's near perfect.
Book Amtrak Roomette one-way fares from $478
Freelance Reporter, Insider Reviews
Paul Oswell is a British freelance journalist based in New Orleans. He's been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveler, and Travel & Leisure. His specialist region is the Deep South, but he love exploring all of his adopted home country of the United States. Learn more about how our team of experts tests and reviews products at Insider here.
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