I decided to break this into mutiple posts or it will end up being too long.
My train left Houston at the Amtrak train station on Washington, close to downtown Houston. I took an Uber from the rental car place to my favorite Pho restaurant in the Heights to have pho one last time in Houston (for a while at least). I’ve been going to Nam Eatery for over a year and knew the owners and employees well. Sun and Annie called me by name since the second time I showed up there and they have the best Pho in the area, hands down. I showed up with my 3 bags and after an explanation on my travel trips for the next month, I sat down. During my bowl of noodles, Sun brought me a banh mi sandwich, on the house. He said it was in case I got hungry on the train ride. It’s funny how many people don’t know about train travel. Besides the two of them, many of my Facebook friends also had no idea.
My Uber driver from Nam Eatery to the Amtrak station was Colombian. He moved to Houston from Bogota 7 years ago and ended up staying after meeting his wife in Houston. He was very excited for me and gave me some tips on things to do in Colombia. I’m taking
I arrived 45 minutes before the scheduked departure time. Check in at the train station was easy. There were about 20 people in the waiting area and no one in line at the window. The customer service rep asked for my ticket and identification and asked how many checked and carry-on bags I had. Reading the Amtrak site before showing up, I saw that you are allowed 2 carry-on bags and 2 checked bags. There are size and weight limits and anything over size, weight or number came with an additional cost. The rep told me I was only allowed 2 carry-on bags, but I had 3 bags total and I needed all three with me in my room. My backpack had my laptop; I had a second backpack that I bought specifically for my camera and it also held my Surface Pro that I use for work; and the main bag had all my toiletries and clothes. She, along with everyone with Amtrak, was very nice and explained to me that the backpack was a personal item and didn’t count towards the 2 carry-on bag limit. Excellent. I’m not sure how they enforce the bag size and weight limits since no one weighed or checked my bags. There’s also no security at this station that I saw, but their website assured travelers that there are many security processes in place behind the scenes.
I was directed by another Amtrak employee at the station to which car I was in after he scanned my printed ticket. The roomette I reserved was upstairs on the main deck and it was a tight fit navigating the hallway and stairs up to it. There’s only room for one person at a time almost anywhere you walk, so keep that in mind when you pack your bags. I got to my roomette and settled in. There’s just enough room on the side of the seats to store bags and narrow bags can fit under the seat, but will have to be moved when the roomette is in sleeper configuration. Each roomette has two seats facing each other and I used the seat across me to store my large bag, but found out that I could store it on the top bunk and still have the bunk in day time mode.
The seats also convert to a lounger seat if you want to nap during the day or you can always put it in bed mode yourself, but at night, the attendant assigned to your car does it for you. The seat across from me has a small area next to it for storage which is where I store the pillows during the day and my camera/laptop bag.
The side next to me doubles as stairs to climb to the top bunk. Since I won’t need that, I use it as a shelf and nightstand. Under the bottom step is a small trashcan. The middle area is great for storing small things like my iPad. And the top step I have been using as a place to hold my laptop when I am in bed.
I have my iPhone and Apple watch plugged in and on the armrest next to the window when I’m sleeping so the cables aren’t in my way.
I was getting settled in when the attendant showed up. He introduced himself (Efrem), made sure I had bottled water and gave me my dinner reservation slip which had my dinner time. Since I just had pho, I asked for the latest time I could eat and he said to just head to the dinner car when last call was being announced.
There’s only one plug per roomette, but knowing this, I had brought a power strip with me.
The pull up table in the middle of the car works ok, but is in the way when I want to stretch out if it is fully unfolded. I mostly use it to hold my laptop when I’m tired of it in my lap. I found it useful when I had my Wacom tablet connected to my Mac, but after a few minutes of trying to ink, I realized that it was too bouncy for that. Saying that, the ride is actually much smoother and quieter than I expected.
The car I am in is all sleeper roomettes and a bathroom at the end of the hall. The bottom level has an additional 3 bathrooms and a shower. Towels are in the luggage rack right by the bathrooms. The luggage racks also can be used for storage, but I wasn’t crazy about having to go downstairs every time I needed something in my bag.
At last call for dinner, I headed to the dining car which was 2 cars down from mine. I was seated by the waitress there and had a table to myself. The table was set and had the menu on it and the waitress brought me a form which needed my car number, my room number and my signature. They use the form to keep track of who has to pay at the end of the meal or who has meals included. Sleeper car tickets include 3 meals a day. Alcohol and snacks outside of the 3 meals are not included. Coach ticket holders have to pay for food and drink. I ordered the seared shrimp which came in a red sauce that was a little spicy and very tasty. It came with mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley. And I ordered a half a bottle of white wine with my meal. Outside the dining car and lounge, you are not allowed to drink unless you have a roomette or room. They also allow you to bring your own alcohol, but you have to drink it in your room.
After dinner, I brought the rest of my wine back to my room. About an hour later, the attendant came by and asked if I wanted him to change my room to sleep configuration, which I did. I remove anything that could be in his way and waited for him to change the room. It took about 3 minutes and then I set everything back up for bed.
On a side note, I have been tipping the attendant, the wait staff and other Amtrak crew. I accidently walked to the crew quarters where they live on the train when they are working so I’m sure they are limited in rest and catch zzz’s whenever they get a chance.