A few weeks ago we took the Lake Shore Limited from New York’s Penn Station to upstate New York. Currently, due to COVID-19, Amtrak is limiting capacity in the coach cars to 50% of capacity and you have the option on the sleeper trains, like this one, to pay for a private Roomette or a Bedroom.
Surprisingly, Penn Station was spartan. We could count the travelers on both hands. My wife originally had balked at traveling on Amtrak due to the fact that we’d have to navigate Penn Station, but it was a ghost town. The normally crowded lobby was populated with mask-wearing travelers who were easily six-feet or more apart.
Although sleeper accommodations provide access to the Club Acela lounge (and Amtrak Guest Rewards® Mastercard® cardholders have free access through August 31, 2020) we opted to skip the small lounge and stay out in the larger lobby for a few minutes until boarding started.
Signs were posted everywhere in the stations and on the train that masks were mandatory except when eating on the train or in your private room.
This train travels from New York City to Albany where it’s joined by train 448 from Boston. Both trainsets join and travel to Chicago from there. In Albany the dual-mode electric/diesel locomotives are swapped for pure diesel locomotives. There’s always a long layover here (unless the train is late). The small bar outside the Albany train station is nice for a quick drink or snack on the longer layovers.
The outside of the dining car:
Each Viewliner Sleeper car has a display near the door that indicates the car number. We were assigned car 4812, Room B. The two Amtrak Bedrooms are labeled A and B, the 12 Amtrak Roomettes numbered 1 to 12 and the handicap accessible room is labeled H.
The sleeper Rooms have a couch that converts to a bed, a pull down bed, a chair that swivels and a bathroom that is also a shower.
While we didn’t stay on this train overnight, here’s a picture of the bed extended from another trip in a similar bedroom:
Shortly after departure the dining car was open. Our car attendant provided menus before we headed to the dining car so we could carefully review the options.
Contrary to what I’ve read online you are able to eat in the dining car or bring the food back to your room. The dining car had every other table blocked off for social distancing, but it was so empty it didn’t matter.
About a year ago, Amtrak switched to airline style prepared meals. The big kitchen in the Dining car is just used to reheat the meals.
The choices (both going up and returning) were Red Wine Braised Beef, Veggie Enchiladas, Chicken Marsala, Shrimp in Lobster Sauce, or Pasta & Meatballs.
While none of these dishes are remotely healthy or technically very good, they were sufficient to chase away hunger. The meal came with one free alcoholic drink as well.
All meals include a side salad and roll.
I chose the pasta and meatballs based on a review I read that said it was the safest bet. My more adventurous wife decided on the shrimp in lobster sauce – yes, that’s right, shrimp in lobster sauce on a train! She said it was tasty. Not gourmet, but the shrimp weren’t rubbery or over cooked and the yellow rice was a nice change from pasta or white rice.
On the return trip we had the pasta again and the Chicken Marsala.
The highlight of any Amtrak dinner is the Blondie brownie.
After eating we took in the glorious views of the Hudson River. On this particular day, the sun was reflecting off the wind rippled waves and we were delighted to share our love of New York with our sixteen-month-old daughter who was happy to stare out the window and not at an iPad. There is so much to see on Amtrak and plenty of room in an Amtrak Bedroom for young children to move about.
Overall, traveling during COVID-19 (at least in the northeast) was an easy process. It gave me plenty of time to read up on my new hobby: Woodworking.