I was heading to DC for work and planned to meet my wife and daughter in New York. Our plan changed a bit, and instead of meeting downtown I needed to heat out to Staten Island (gosh, I hadn’t been there since late 2018 or early 2019). So my plan to arrive at New York LaGuardia at 5 p.m. on a 7,000 mile award wasn’t looking so good. Maybe it would take just an hour to get over to Staten Island, but it could easily take two.
Prices for most alternatives were pretty ugly. I wanted to fly into Newark but United was getting $450 for that. To get a reasonable price I considered the 1:55 p.m. JetBlue flight into New York JFK ($120) and that would get me in at 3 p.m. which was probably early enough to avoid traffic, but also I didn’t actually need to be in Staten Island so early.
So I checked on Amtrak to Metropark in New Jersey. The 2:15 p.m. would get me in at the perfect time to cruise up to dinner at 6 p.m. if everything was on time.
$170 for coach or… $352 for a private room? I looked a little deeper because in all of my time taking Amtrak (I lived in DC for 18 years) I’d never done a sleeper car!
It turned out that $352 was for a ‘Roomette’ rather than a ‘Bedroom’. The bedroom was sold out, but an accessible bedroom was available. It wasn’t that much of an upcharge from the roomettte, but $434 seemed insane. At that price I’d fly to Newark. And besides I felt a little like I was doing something wrong, booking an accessible accommodation I did not need.
I figured I’d never done a roomette, that was kind of interesting!
The Roomette comes with access to Amtrak’s ClubAcela or in this case Metropolitan lounge. I took a meeting at Union Station around 12:30 p.m. for my 2:15 p.m. train, and at 1:45 p.m. went to the lounge. Even though there are staff at the entrance, the doors are locked and you have to buzz for them to be opened. They open them for anyone who buzzes.
An agent at the desk scanned my ticket. They told me that my train would be called from in the lounge, and then seeing that I was in a sleeper seat they told me that “someone should be collecting you any minute.” No one ever did.
I went inside the lounge to wait, figuring either someone would come or the train would get called. The space itself is rather sad and soulless. There is no natural light. There are no windows. There is furniture, some packaged snacks, and people waiting for trains. The people are either on important-sounding calls that all can hear, or they look sad too.
The lounge is on two levels, in the sense that one level is raised slightly, and it wraps around with some different seating areas.
The nice thing to say about the food and beverage options is that while there is no alcohol, there is plenty of ‘to go’ bottled water, juice and soda. Take what you wish. There’s popcorn, pretzels, and chips plus some cookies and clif bars.
After 20 minutes train Crescent 20 was announced, about 10 minutes to scheduled departure. Everyone on that train (there were four of us) gathered by one of the exit doors to the lounge. She walked us out Gate F, onto the platform, and back inside to track 25 where she sent us down the escalator to our train saying “it’s the one on the left.”
I walked into the train cabin and was shown to a different roomette than the one on my ticket. I was told that that one had just been vacated and needed to “air out.” But there were several that appeared to be open. I was struck by how small the roomette was, a contrast to the full-sized rooms I’d see later. The knobs and electronics looked like something out of the late 1960s, maybe a Bond film where a train car murder takes place.
There are two seats opposite from each other, and there’s a fold out seat and a hidden toilet. Above the seats is a bed – but boy it is close to the ceiling of the train car, and anyone that’s large might squeeze between the mattress and ceiling possibly touching both?
There’s towels, pillows, and bedding. You open a latch and the sink pops down. You lift a cover and there’s a toilet. You can draw the curtains for privacy, which of course is good because the room is also your bathroom.
The train has power and wifi, neither of which worked at the station, but once the train got going both were fine. Wifi wasn’t nearly as good as satellite internet in the air on Delta, American or JetBlue – but much better than the last time I used it.
The trip came with a meal and beverage, though alcoholic beverages were charged. The attendant came by and asked if I’d be eating. He said “most people take the beef.” I took that as a hint and ordered it. And it was genuinely disgusting – like a frozen dinner reject, because the meat was too low quality. It was chewy and tough. I ate a piece and then tried a second piece to make sure the first wasn’t an outlier. Genuinely terrible. There was a small salad, a dinner roll (unheated), and a shrink-wrapped dessert. Good thing I was going to dinner at my destination.
I worked on the train for awhile, and then got up to walk around and stretch my legs. There were a couple of empty full-sized bedrooms, and those looked far more comfortable – much larger, and with a private shower inside. However the bunk bed is still way too close to the ceiling, just as in the roomette.
Anyone staying in a roomette has access to a shared shower at the back of the train car. I did not avail myself of this. Bags of dirty laundry were piled in the space between the shower and the towel rack in any case.
After a short three hour journey I disembarked at Metropark Station in New Jersey.
It took me half an hour to get on the road from there. I requested an Uber, but they insisted they didn’t have their toll transponder and wouldn’t take the ride. I approached the one waiting taxi and he wouldn’t go to Staten Island. A Lyft driver who didn’t speak English couldn’t find the station (?). Another taxi refused the trip. Finally another Uber still picked me up after a 10 minute wait.