In the United States, there are few means of travel that inspire more romanticism than the prospect of a road trip. Since the authorization of the Interstate system in 1956 and the publication of Kerouac’s seminal On the Road, our obsession with finding ourselves “on the road” has grown exponentially. Most homes in the U.S. own an average of two cars, and there are 253 million cars and trucks on the road (a huge proportion compared with our 323 million residents).
Funnily enough, I love a good road trip as much as anyone but I’m increasingly distressed by the high rate of accidents (your chances are 1 in 18,585) and the impact of fossil fuel use on the environment. As often as I consider renting a car, I also look for trains that can take me from one destination to another. Blame the inner European in me – I believe the world is far better served by fuel efficient trains connecting places.
It was therefore a great opportunity when Mr. V and I needed to get from New Orleans to New York at the end of April. We also happened to need just one extra night’s accommodation, too. My mind immediately turned to the possibility of taking a train north, instead of a plane or bus or car.
Taking the Amtrak Train from New Orleans to New York City
We decided to book the Amtrak because – for once in my life – the timetable for the train was perfectly convenient for our travels. The Amtrak Crescent line departs New Orleans at 7:00am Central time, and arrives at New York’s Penn Station at roughly 1:46pm Eastern time, barring unforeseen delays along the route. They make stops in many towns, including Atlanta, Charlottesville, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, and the route runs every day.
Tickets start from as low as $124 per person for reserved coach seats under Amtrak’s ‘Saver’ price class. ‘Roomettes’ can be as low as $387 per room and ‘Bedrooms’ start around $560. (I found these prices by checking several dates in the coming months.) Amtrak pricing is demand-based, similar to airlines, so pricing depends on both the number of available seats and how soon you want to depart.
Knowing we would have a somewhat restless night, Mr. Valise and I opted to save on the upfront cost and booked coach seats together. After a charming and gluttonous week in the Big Easy, we stuffed our packs, and boarded the train. Settling in for the 30-hour journey, I loved having a tray table to work on* and the chairs reclined a surprising amount.
*There was a super grumpy guy on the first portion of our journey who hated me using my tray table. Why do people have to be so unpleasant while traveling? Doesn’t he know he’s got a super famous travel writer sitting behind him who’s always behind on deadlines and needed to catch up on work?! ?
Onboard the Amtrak Crescent
30 hours in a single seat is a long time, my friends. You might remember that last summer I took the Rocky Mountaineer, a two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff that should be on your bucket list. On that trip, I spent most of my time in the vestibule between cars, breathing the open air and taking in the scenery. In part because I had a better view, and also because I found that sitting in the train seat lead to me taking roughly 12,398 naps because the rocking of the car was so relaxing.
Unfortunately, the Amtrak vestibules are not open, so I spend the majority of this ride in my seat. Mr. Valise was on the aisle and the window beside me flashed green scenes of the South flash by punctuated by muddy brown rivers and the occasional small town with a characteristic church steeple.
Our fellow passengers changed throughout the ride. Most New Orleans riders got off somewhere before Charlottesville. A new batch of people joined the stretch between Washington D.C. and New York. Mr. Grumpy (see above) left before nightfall, while a noisy group of teenagers at the front of our car provided a soundtrack the next morning with their excitement about seeing The Big Apple.
When it came time to sleep, the lights dimmed (not entirely off), most people reclined, and the car fell into a mechanical silence of wheels on rails and gentle creaking. As predicted, I didn’t get a great night’s sleep. I can’t sleep well on my back, to begin with, and certainly not sorta-upright.
Luckily a combination of napping earlier, wrapping my head in my Encircled scarf, and ZzzQuil helped do the trick. Before I knew it, we were waking up to a new day in the Eastern Seaboard. A few hours later, we pulled into Penn Station; I stretched my wobbly legs on the platform as we disembarked. We were about 30 minutes early. Barring emergencies, the Amtrak’s reputation for delays is clearly overstated.
Food, Drink, and Amenities Aboard the Amtrak Crescent
Can I offer one tip for riding the Amtrak for longer than a few hours? Bring your own drinks and snacks. You’ll probably want to purchase meals, but having your own snacks helps keep the food cost onboard down.
There are two cars where you can purchase food onboard the Amtrak. The first is the cafe car, typically open on shorter train journeys and offering cheap eats, drinks, and breakfast foods. The other is the dining car, open for main mealtimes. Onboard, there is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu that is prepared fresh to order. Choices include omelets, burgers, and pad thai, and there are plenty of drink choices.
Meal prices are pretty high – roughly the same we had been paying in New Orleans, though obviously not the same level of quality. The table service was good; our server was friendly and attentive even as his stern supervisor surveyed us all. My only other complaint was that mealtimes were quite narrow windows, making it tough to fit to my super-busy nap schedule. (Kidding! Though they actually are small windows of time for some people, so be alert for announcements about mealtimes.)
Enjoying Your Trip on the Amtrak Crescent
Here are some final/review tips for your trip, if you’re taking the Amtrak Crescent or another of their lines:
- Like I said, pack your own snacks and plenty of water. The Cafe Car is acceptable, but we saw people with coolers and delicious homemade treats that were far more appealing.
- Bring an eye cover, scarf, blanket, something to throw over your head so you can get a fully dark sleeping experience.
- Consider booking your seats in the middle of the car so you aren’t bothered by door noise throughout the trip.
- If you are booking well in advance for more than one person, consider booking a room in the sleeper car. You’ll have far more privacy, plus a bed to sleep on. I’m hoping to do this going forward, on overnight trips.
The next time the open road is calling your name, consider hitting the open rails instead. You won’t have to argue over who picks the music, wonder where the nearest restroom is (there’s one in every car), or be in trouble if you doze off while traveling. You can see the whole U.S. just as easily, and possibly enjoy it more. Let’s get on board with this whole train thing, okay?
(Get it, ‘on board’ and trains?)
I’ve previously ridden the California Zephyr from Ottumwa, IA to Denver, and have an upcoming trip from Chicago to Milwaukee aboard the Hiawatha. Check out Amtrak’s website to see all routes, plus specials and discounts they’re running (they always have at least some!). This post was not sponsored or endorsed my Amtrak in any way. Happy riding!