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“Whatever you do, don’t get the roomette.” This warning came from a colleague regarding our trip from Chicago to Sacramento on the Amtrak California Zephyr. This input would have been most welcome … if we hadn’t heard it a scant 36 hours before our scheduled departure. A quick phone call to Amtrak sealed our fate. The train was completely sold out, no larger rooms were available for our three-day, two night journey.

So, we arrived at Chicago Union Station with a mix of pre-trip excitement and a sense of dread regarding what the roomette experience would be like.

The Amtrak porters guided us to our roomette and when they slid open the door, and we got our first look, it is 100% accurate to say that the roomette is the size of a closet. But to ensure we are all on the same page here, I am not talking about a Kardashian-sized closet. I am not even talking about a walk-in closet in a new Florida subdivision. I am talking about a Victorian era closet, specifically 3’6’ x 6’6.

Neither my spouse nor I are very tall (5’10” and 5’ 3” respectively) but when I realized we would be living in 28 square feet for the next 2000 miles, it’s safe to say I began preparing a groveling apology before we even sat down.

The roomette set-up is pretty basic; on the lower level are two seats facing each other that fold into a single bed. A bunk drops down from the ceiling for the second bed. The porter is available to set up the bedding when you are ready to sleep.

Now, it is worth noting that there are different types of roomettes depending on your train. One type has a sink (yay!) and a plein air toilet (yuk!), a window for the top bunk (which is really nice), storage for carry-on sized luggage and HVAC controls. For our 2000-mile trip, our roomette did NOT have the sink, window, luggage storage or HVAC. As I said, I was working hard on that apology and trying to think how I could possibly make this up to my spouse. The entire trip had been my idea.

However, after a bit of adjustment, we quickly settled into our comfy cozy space and were captivated by the gorgeous panorama displayed through our private windows. In fact, my spouse, far from being bothered by the size of the roomette, noted with delight that there was more room and privacy (all roomettes have a locking door and privacy curtains) than what you get in a typical airline first-class sleeper seat, and the pillows and bedding were clean and comfy. NOTE: One member of your party will need to be agile enough to climb up to and down from the bunk as there is no ladder per se. And of course, you are not bound to your room. There is the viewing car, dining car, and café car if you want to move around and mingle.

So, was the ominous warning about the roomette correct? Truthfully, for my next Amtrak trip, I want to try the Amtrak sleeper room which has roughly 49 square feet with a couch and a private in-suite full bath. However, if that isn’t available or funds are tight, I would rebook the roomette in a second. The languid pace of traveling across the US by train is a treat not to be missed, no matter how many square feet you do it in.

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7 Comments On "A Little Room With a View: Traveling Cross-Country in an Amtrak Roomette"
  1. Lillie Bee|

    My family and I have traveled Amtrak between Georgia and Florida for over 40 plus years and absolutely love it ( both Coach and Sleepers.

  2. PJenkins|

    I’ve traveled a number of times cross country both by air and rail. Some time ago I lost my last shred of confidence and respect for the air mode realizing I’m nothing more than 180 ponds of cargo that unfortunately to them has certain rights and opinions. In the later portion of my life without the ridiculous time constraints and short attention spans that have been forced upon us by our so called capitalist system I opt for the train for travel whenever possible. Though frequently not perfect the experience is almost always better than the dehumanizing drudge of air travel.

  3. Donna|

    We chose the sleeper room for our trip from redding ca. to whitefish montana. From the beginning of our trip the train was 3 hours late and we had to stay over in portland Or. Which caused us to lose our first night in a very nice condo in whitefish.The toilets and shower were inoperable in our whole car. We had to go to another car to atleast use the toilet.
    On our return trip back the toilets in our car were still not working. I’m not sure we would try this again. Amtrak did refund us $500 but that only covered the condo for the first night. The food was great and so was the staff.

  4. Ignacio Ruiz|

    I prefer train travel…I do it whenever I have time to kill…once to Kansas City once to Philadelphia via Chicago, both from Los Angeles. once to Boston from NYC. Twice from DC to Baltimore, and Twice from NYC to Philadelphia. Trains are so relaxing…I’ve been all over Europe on trains…and took the train from Guadalajara to Mexicali….not so much drama like the airlines…just hop on and go…don’t have to wait in long lines to take shoes off…lol…airports are a madhouse…not a good way to start a vacation…

  5. Barbara Pearson|

    We have traveled with Amtrak several times with Tucson as our home. All the way to Albany and Buffalo thru Atlanta , up to LA and San Luis Obispo and to El Paso and up to Chicago where, because of weather, we were put up in a hotel at the expense of Amtrak because we missed our connection to Minneapolis. We continued the next day without trouble. We’ve used, and enjoyed the sleeper car and the attendant’s service and will do so again!

  6. Dave|

    Rode the Crescent from the Big Easy to the Big Apple in a roomette solo. Loved it.
    If two are sharing that space, they better be small framed and in honeymoon mode!

  7. Ken Paul|

    Over the years I’ve trained cross-country via the Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, Pioneer, Capitol Limited and the LakeShore Limited both in coach and first class.
    We’ve also run the North/South gauntlet several times between Wash DC and Boston on the east coast and between San Diego and Seattle on the left coast.
    Accordingly, I can say with great confidence that we’ve accumulated enough stories to comprise a year’s worth of scripts for a TV sitcom. And despite these serial fiasos, we wouldn’t trade a one of them for a year of free flights aboard Air Force One in the Presidential Cabin.

    They all have both high and low pounts

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