Traveling Across the United States by Train, Part 2

Show the grand hallway of Chicago Union Station. Shows the intricacies of the tan rock and the detail of roof's lattice and the walls of the station. In the middle is the US flag beautifully hanging down.

As we stepped off our train into Chicago, we were quickly taken back to the 1930s golden age of train travel. The Chicago Union Train Station is absolutely beautiful. As we found our way to the Amtrak Cosmopolitan lounge, we couldn’t stop looking around at the incredible stone work and architectural wonders of this station. We truly couldn’t believe that this was the standard way of travel in the first half of the 1900s.

Photo used to show the intricacies of the design of Chicago Union Station. In this image, we see the multi-tiered octagon cutouts in the ceiling and five elegant chandeliers that hang from the ceiling.
Chicago Union Station (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews/Time to See the World)

As for the Amtrak Metropolitan lounge, it was nothing too special. Because we were traveling during 2020, a majority of the lounge amenities were closed. This included both the food area and the bar (free drinks not included). However, this lounge served as a great resting area for our layover and conveniently had luggage holders (though they were unsecured) that we could use while we took a walk around downtown Chicago. As for access to the lounge, we got this included with our sleeping class accommodations. However, guests meeting certain conditions, like having Select Guest or Select Executive reward status, could also visit the lounge. Access requirements for Amtrak’s lounges can be found here.

Outside of the lounge, there are also plenty of to-go locations that offer Chicago classics like Chicago style caramel and cheddar popcorn. You can also get food delivered through Uber Eats, DoorDash, and other food delivery services (but make sure you are clear with the drop-off location as the station has many exits to the street.)

When it came to board the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York, we were greeted by an Amtrak employee who escorted us from the lounge to our train’s platform. Once we saw the conductor on the platform, they provided us with our accommodation for the night.

For this journey of the trip, we were in a Roomette on Amtrak’s Viewliner car. For being Amtrak’s entry-level sleeping car accommodations, these rooms were a lot smaller than the bedroom we experienced on our first leg. While they did not offer a in-room shower, they did offer an a bunk bed (with its own window), two recliners (that transformed into an additional bed at night), a toilet and a sink. For those that appreciate a little privacy, like us, the toilet is unfortunately not private. It sits right next to one of the recliners and has a flip-down lid that doubles as step to the higher bund. Thus, when one of us had to use the facilities, the other one would have to step out of the room. For this very reason, we would only recommend this room for single travelers. However, this train does offer bedrooms that offer more privacy with door-separated bathrooms.

While a roomette is considered entry-level, it still came with many of the same perks as the bedrooms. For instance, we still enjoyed a friendly and helpful sleeping car attendant as well as free food in the dining car. As for the food, it unfortunately was of the same variety as the first-leg of our journey; microwaved. For those looking to travel on the Lake Shore Limited, keep in mind that this train does not have the full-service dining as the California Zephyr does. Thus, we recommend packing some snacks to complement the dining options.

One additional perk that I forgot to mention is that we were each treated with 1 free drink (beer or wine) per leg. While we did wish Amtrak made this a perk available for at least each dinner, it was nice to have the option on our trip.

Image shows the side view of the Lake Shore Limited at the Syracuse train station. Taken from the platform, we see the red, white, and blue ribbon that goes down the length of the train and dual-level windows of the viewliner railcar.
Lake Shore Limited (Courtesy of Kyle Andrews/Time to See the World)

While we did enjoy our time on the Lake Shore Limited, we were happy that it was only a 1 night journey. After being on the train since Monday, we were looking forward to stepping on some stable ground in New York.

As we pulled into the Albany station, we waived goodbye to the passengers traveling to Boston as their section of the train was uncoupled from ours. After this stop was done, we headed off to down the Hudson River Valley to NYC.

This part of the journey was probably the most scenic part. While the train does travel at the base of the Great Lakes after leaving Chicago, this section of the journey happens at night, and prevents us from experiencing the Great Lakes. Thus, we enjoyed seeing the colors of the Hudson Valley and we meandered down the Hudson River.

As we pulled into NYC, we were happy to arrive at our final destination. There is nothing more scenic and nostalgic than stepping off of a train and into the heart of NYC for the first time.

As for our complimentary checked bags, they safely arrived with us after being transferred from Chicago. For those who do check bags, make sure you weigh your bags prior to reaching the station as Amtrak’s weight limit is strictly enforced. We found ourselves moving our belongings around our suitcases since two of our bags were over the 50 pound limit.

Overall, we would highly recommend traveling by train. While it did take 4 days to get from Emeryville, California to NYC, it was well worth the wait. While I would not make this a routine way of traveling, I would like to experience some of Amtrak’s other long-distance routes. The nostalgia and views you can get from the train just can’t be beat.

Part 1 of our journey can be found here!

Kyle’s Tip: While the destination is important, make sure you consider all of the routes available to get there when traveling by train. As some destinations have multiple different routes, consider what you would like to see and how long you have to travel. That way, you can make sure you are getting the most out of your train trip.

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