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Chicago to New Orleans Train


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#1 Traveler2017

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 02:44 PM

Hello.

 

My family and I will be traveling from Chicago to New Orleans next month on Amtrak.  It is the first time we have ever even been on an Amtrak train.  We did book the family bedroom.  Some of my excitement for the trip has been tempered by the most recent reviews I have read - mostly that it is a really rough track after Memphis and that the chef has been replaced my microwaveable meals.  So I was hoping to get some answers/advice:

 

  1. How is the food?  How is the ride?
  2. Even though we booked with our reward points, our meals should still be included, right?  Both the dining car and cafe car?  Are non alcoholic drinks included as well?
  3. How does the whole dining reservation thing work?
  4. Is there a limit on how much bottled water you get?  I ask because we will need some to mix up formula for our baby.
  5. How are the blankets and pillows?  Should we bring our own?
  6. I would love to upgrade to a superliner bedroom suite.  Is that realistic?  If so, how would I go about that and how much might it be?
  7. You tip your attendant right?  Before or after the trip?  I once heard tip up front to ensure good service. Not that its guaranteed.  
  8. How early do you need to arrive at the station?  It is a 2 hours before airport type of thing?
  9. Can you bring a small cooler with ice?  For baby food, milk, etc.
  10. Any advice and what we should bring/do to make it an enjoyable experience or just in general.

Thanks in advance for your help.  I like to be prepared!



#2 the_traveler

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 03:19 PM

Meals are included in the sleeper fare for all passengers in that room. Alcolohic beverages are NOT included. You can order anything off the menu. Breakfast includes the entree, beverages (like coffee), juice and a side of meat (if desired). lunch and dinner includes desert. Provided meals are from the Dining Car only. anything from the café must be paid for.

I'm certain if you explain your need for the water, it would be provided to you.

With a room, all bedding will be provided.

You can bring whatever you desire. There is no set time to be at the station, except before the train departs. However, if you are checking bags, I'd recommend at least 1 hour before departure. If not checking bags,15-20 minutes should be sufficient.

I would tip the SCA when retraining. If you tip beforehand, what is the incentive not to provide bad or non-existent service? (S/he already has your tip - you can't ask for it back!)
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#3 Dakota 400

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 03:35 PM

As to dining reservations, the Lead Service Attendant (LSA) will come to your accommodation before dinner and take your reservation.  You will have a selection of times from which to choose.  This may also happen prior to Lunch; listen for announcements with regard to the need for Lunch reservations or ask your Sleeping Car Attendant (SCA) what the train's procedure is.  Breakfast is first come, first served within a defined period of time.  The LSA can inform you those times when you are finished with dinner the previous evening.

 

As to upgrading to a Bedroom Suite, you will need to contact Amtrak to determine what may be available and its cost.

 

Enjoy your journey!



#4 kbmiflyer

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 03:37 PM

  1. How is the food?  How is the ride?
      The food is pretty good.  The ride is rough through Mississippi, but not unbearable.  In the family bedroom it will be a little smoother as you are on the lower level, but it will also be a bit louder being next to the trucks.
     
  2. Even though we booked with our reward points, our meals should still be included, right?  Both the dining car and cafe car?  Are non alcoholic drinks included as well?
      Food in the diner is included along with non-alcoholic beverages.  Cafe car food is not included.  I recommend the french toast for breakfast if they have it.
     
  3. How does the whole dining reservation thing work?
     Not totally sure if the CONO does dinner?  Breakfast does not typically have reservations.  Lunch the dining attendant will walk around after breakfast asking for reservation times (they don't always take reservations for lunch)
     
  4. Is there a limit on how much bottled water you get?  I ask because we will need some to mix up formula for our baby.
     Technically no, but it may be hard to get depending on where you car attendant has the water stored.  I would recommend bringing bottle water for formula
     
  5. How are the blankets and pillows?  Should we bring our own?
    Blankets are nice, but heavy.  Pillows are very small.  I would recommend bringing your own pillows.
     
  6. I would love to upgrade to a superliner bedroom suite.  Is that realistic?  If so, how would I go about that and how much might it be?
    It would likely be cheaper to do that now then to do it on the train.  On the train, you can ask the conductor but two bedrooms side-by-side would have to be available, which is unlikely.  Also, the price will likely be prohibitive on the train.
     
  7. You tip your attendant right?  Before or after the trip?  I once heard tip up front to ensure good service. Not that its guaranteed.  
    I normally tip $10 a day when I get off at the end of the trip.  I might tip a bit more if I had a family in the family bedroom.  Of course, more if the attendant is great, less to $0 if the attendant is poor.  Not everyone will tip, so it is not necessarily expected.
     
  8. How early do you need to arrive at the station?  It is a 2 hours before airport type of thing?
    They board bedroom passengers around 30 to 45 minutes before departure.  As a bedroom passenger you have access to the Metropolitan lounge, which has fee snacks and drinks, and a kids play area).  I would recommend being 1 hour early at the latest, but I personally like to get the 2 hours early just to enjoy the lounge.  Note that if you use the Amtrak App, you don't need to check in or anything at the train station.
     
  9. Can you bring a small cooler with ice?  For baby food, milk, etc.
    Yes, you can also get ice on the train.

     
  10. Any advice and what we should bring/do to make it an enjoyable experience or just in general.
    I will post a separate response to this question.

Edited by kbmiflyer, 25 August 2017 - 04:15 PM.


#5 Johanna

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 03:47 PM

I haven't been on the City of New Orleans since 2014, when they still had the regular diner, but I experienced the microwave meals on the Cardinal last year.  I thought they were OK - I wouldn't pay those prices for that food in a restaurant, but it's way better than airplane food.  The selection and the portions are not the largest, though, so if anyone in your party has dietary restrictions or a big appetite or is a picky eater, you probably want to bring plenty of snacks with you.

 

I find that the pillows and blankets provided are kind of flimsy, and the train can get cold at night.  Your attendant might bring you extra bedding if you ask, but you might not realize you need it until after they've gone to sleep.  I like to bring warm pajamas and an extra sweater to roll up under the pillow.



#6 kbmiflyer

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 04:07 PM

10 Any advice and what we should bring/do to make it an enjoyable experience or just in general.

This depends on your family, I can tell you what I do for myself and my son (now 13 but several trips since he was 8)

The City of New Orleans is not an overly long trip, so don't pack too much for the train, by the time you eat meals and sleep, you won't have a ton of time in your room..  Also, even though you have a family bedroom there isn't alot of room once you get 3 or 4  people in there.

Must haves (for me)

  • Duct Tape (this can be used to fix banging of doors, holding curtains in place, holding extension cords in place, and covering up vents)
  • Extension cord with outlets.  I don't know if the family bedroom has 1 or 2 outlets, but keep in mind you will need to charge phones, Ipads, computers, whatever else you might be bringing
  • Snacks and drinks.  You can buy some at Union Station but they are a bit pricey, and on the train they are really pricey.  Note that there should be coffee in the morning and juice (apple and orange) available all day.
  • Entertainment with headphones and/or toys.  The kids will think the train is cool for a while, but depending on their age, they will get bored a bit quickly
  • Small bills for dining room tips ($1 and $5's) you aren't paying for the food, so you can't leave a tip on the credit card.
  • If you or your kids are light sleepers, earplugs are helpful.  Either way, don't expect a great nights sleep on the train.
  • Soap and Shampoo if you plan to take a shower (towels are provided, along with bar soap)

Other tips

  • Take advantage of the Metropolitan lounge in Chicago, it is brand new and very nice inside.  They also have luggage storage if you want to arrive early then go out in the city a little.  There is also have a dedicated kids room and free snacks and drinks.  They will board bedroom passengers directly from this lounge.
  • There is also a lounge in New Orleans (the magnolia lounge?), that you can use if you are returning on the train.
  • Dine early, the food service can be slow and kids will get hungry.   Also, sometimes the reservation times can get delayed for the later times (for example 7:00 dinner won't actually seat until 7:15).
  • The family bedroom is downstairs, so every chance you get hop of the train for a bit of fresh air and let the kids run around, just stay close to your car.
  • Also, the luggage storage is just outside your door, which is convenient.
  • Enjoy the trip and spending time with your family.  Train travel with the family can be awesome.

Edited by kbmiflyer, 25 August 2017 - 04:12 PM.


#7 Dakota 400

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 06:27 PM

Yes, the New Orleans room is called the Magnolia Room.  Coffee and water are available with comfortable seating and a TV.  An Amtrak employee "fetched" us from the Room to early embark the Sunset Limited which was most appreciated by me.  I don't recall any other amenities available prior to when I boarded the Sunset Limited.



#8 Tennessee Traveler

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 07:08 PM

The City of New Orleans departs Chicago at 8:05 PM.  Depending on when the equipment and on board staff are available they sometimes board sleeper passengers as much as an hour prior to departure.  There is only one sleeping car so dinner reservations are not made.  The Sleeping Car Attendant will direct you to go to the dining car adjacent to the sleeping car as soon as the dining car server is ready and usually prior to actual departure.  The actual express menus are available on line on Amtrak.com.  Just look for where all the dining car menus are posted.  What is served is good but choices are limited and the "ONE" server does everything including seating you, taking your order, preparing the food, and serving the food.  So be patient and understanding and you will have a good experience.  I have traveled the CONO several times and the on board crew is one of the best.  If you are lucky and get Rion as your Sleeping car attendant you are getting one of the best. The on board crew is based in New Orleans and arrives on the morning arrival and then returns on the evening departure from Chicago.  

 

Since there is only one sleeping car on the CONO, there is only one family room and only two possible suite accommodations.  Since there are only five bedrooms they tend to sell out early.  The only two combinations that can be converted to a suite are bedrooms D & E or B & C since there are only removable partitions between those two combinations. Expect to pay $1500 or more if you can even get the reservation which requires two bedrooms.  Waiting until you board and hoping for upgrading on board to a suite is probably not much better than winning the lottery. Depending on the size of your children there will be more room in the family room especially if one is a baby than in two bedrooms combined to be a suite.  There are three restrooms and a shower down the hall from your family room.  The in room toliet and shower in the bedrooms take up much of the room space and when the bottom bed is down there is less that 4-6 inches to pass to get to the hall.

 

Others have responded to most of your questions.  I love riding trains and personally am not bothered by "rough" riding tracks so don't really notice them.  Most of the countryside is rolling terrain similar to Illinois so the main scenery highlight is going around the Lake Pontchartrain between Hammond and New Orleans.  You will go across the Ohio River middle of the night and along side the Mississippi River as you enter Memphis early in the morning just before breakfast time.



#9 the_traveler

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 08:40 PM

Actually there is a (roundabout) wayto charge tips in the diner. I do it most times.

Since alcoholic beverages are not included, I buy wine or beer with lunch or dinner. I use my credit card to pay for it, and I include my tip with it! Thus, I also earn AGR points on my tip amount!:)
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#10 Don Newcomb

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 08:47 PM

I was going to suggest some sort of power splitter or extension cord. You might want to load some movies on your laptop or iPad. Many trains have WiFi but it's not very fast and not available 100% of the time. It's always nice to have your own pillow. Most of the time the SCA has a coffee maker going. If you drink tea, you might want to bring an immersion heater, metal cup and your own tea bags. 



#11 PVD

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 09:21 PM

I guess every trip is different, but I've never had a problem getting an extra pillow from the attendant...The movies are a good idea, even when the wi-fi is ok, it is not meant for streaming.



#12 Maverickstation

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 06:35 AM

Riding the City of New Orleans from Chicago, to it's namesake, do yourselves a favor and have dinner in Chicago BEFORE boarding the train.

 

The CONO has a VERY limited menu, and in fact the "Express Dinner" served upon leaving Chicago is only sandwiches/salads.

 

Read for yourself..........

 

https://www.amtrak.c...Menu-0517,0.pdf

 

Ken 


The poster formally known as Peconicstation.

Location: Boston MA, the greatest city in America, and home of South Station, Amtrak's best large city station.

 


#13 Don Newcomb

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 08:16 AM

I guess every trip is different, but I've never had a problem getting an extra pillow from the attendant...The movies are a good idea, even when the wi-fi is ok, it is not meant for streaming.

 

Not extra pillow. Some people are particular about having the "right" pillow. (My wife is one of them.)



#14 PVD

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 08:21 AM

good point, as different sleep styles (back, side, stomach) often call for a different preferred pillow type or construction. I actually know somebody who needs a wedge style setup because of a GI tract condition they cannot lay flat.. they carry there own



#15 the_traveler

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 08:55 AM

Many are "concerned" about the "microwaved food" on the CONO and Cardinal. Most passengers do not realize, or think, that except for a few things like steak or eggs cooked to order, EVERY MEAL on EVERY TRAIN is prepackaged and rehearsed in a microwave (actually a convection oven)! Almost nothing onboard is made from scratch anymore.
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead and enjoy the ride!

The view is much better at 3 feet than it is at 30,000 feet!

#16 sechs

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 04:11 PM

I would tip the SCA when retraining. If you tip beforehand, what is the incentive not to provide bad or non-existent service? (S/he already has your tip - you can't ask for it back!)

I'll point out that "tipping in advance" is called bribing.



#17 Palmland

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 05:15 PM

If you have a young family and you've been sightseeing all day, I think you may want to get pizza or burgers before you board. An 8pm departure is pretty late for little ones and they may be cranky by then. If the food was something special it might be worth it, but it's pretty sad. Breakfast and lunch seemed better to us. We prefer to eat before departure then enjoy the lounge car to see the lights of Chicago with a cool drink as we depart. Or they may have fun just exploring your family room. While the windows are a bit small, it does have a window on both sides of the room so it's easy for little ones to look out. I wouldn't worry about getting a suite unless you have lots of kids.

The track is rough south of Memphis, but that's in daylight and shouldn't bother you much.

Edited by Palmland, 26 August 2017 - 06:46 PM.


#18 SarahZ

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 05:57 PM

For reference, this is what the pillows look like. If they're too thin for you, you can ask for an extra pillow. You can also ask for extra blankets if needed.

 

Apologies for the image quality. This was taken at night, on a rocking train, using my old iPhone.

 

Attached File  10449995_10101680691742374_3251392171615625861_o.jpg   123.58KB   21 downloads


Edited by SarahZ, 26 August 2017 - 06:00 PM.

Amtrak Miles: 39,318

 

Amtrak Routes: Blue Water, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine

 

Metropolitan Rail: Chicago Metra, Chicago L, Dallas TRE, Detroit People Mover, New Orleans RTA, San Francisco MUNI, Seattle Monorail, South Shore Line (NICTD), Toronto Subway & RT, Washington DC Metro


#19 Dakota 400

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 06:27 PM

On the EB, I found the pillows in my Roomette to be very acceptable.  I slept better during both nights on the train that I often do at home!



#20 Don Newcomb

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 07:52 PM

Just OBTW, I paced the CONO on US-51 & I-55 for a time today between LaPlace and Ponchatoula, LA.  Some day I'll have to ride that train just to see what it's like to look out the window and see nothing but swamp. 






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