It takes special skill to shower on a train…

Riding the rails gives you time to soak in the scenery, meet new people, or reflect on the meaning of life and a good cup of coffee…

One mode of travel from Hampton Roads to anywhere in America is Amtrak. I know there have been a number of negative stories circulating about the trial and tribulations of traveling this country’s rails. Taking a trip short or long by train can be a rewarding experience. In order to make a trip work you need plenty of patience, plenty of free time and you must have a sense of adventure about you.

There can be no denying that Amtrak’s equipment is old and has not been maintained as well as it should. Most of the cars do not have Wi-Fi which is an inconvenience no matter how you slice it. There are times when the trains run behind schedule, but unlike airline connections there are long lead times between connections. Being late at one point does not mean your whole schedule is ruined.

For short trips, traveling the rails has its advantages. In the summer for trips to D.C. you may not want the hassle of fighting traffic on I- 64 and I- 95. The seats in coach are comfortable and provide the occupants with outlets to plug in their electronics. At the end of each car there is a rest room. An Amtrak attendant is assigned to every two cars to assist the passengers. Every train has a snack bar where food and drinks are offered for sale. I will be the first to admit that the food is overpriced.

For long distance travel you have two options, coach or the sleeper car. I will tell you right off the sleeper car is expensive. My wife and I have taken 2 round trips to New Orleans and one to Atlanta; we have not had any major problems.

The compartments are small, but comfortable. The sofa turns into two beds for sleeping. They are equipped with private bathroom with shower. A word about the shower, it’s hard to shower when the train is moving. It is better to schedule a shower when the train is in a station for more than 10 minutes.

Buying a ticket for a sleeper car includes all meals. The dining car is on the small side so more than likely you will be seated with other passengers. This gives you the opportunity to meet people that may offer insight into making your trip more enjoyable. The entrees are cooked to order and I must say the cooks in my opinion do a good job. They are supposed to rotate the menus, but in the four trips I have taken it was the same menu.

Each car has its own attendant for the duration of the trip. I have found them to be knowledgeable, witty and full of antidotes about the American traveler. They usually are assigned to the same route, so I have run into staff members on more than one occasion.

I have found that the rules governing checked bags differ from station to station. D.C., Charlottesville, Va. and New Orleans all are lax on the times you can check bags. Atlanta was a different experience; bags have to be checked at least one hour before the train arrives period. On our way back, from Atlanta we tried to check our bags 30 minutes before the train departed and were told our bags would make the next train. Luckily the attendant assigned to our car recognized us from a previous trip. He stowed our checked bags in an empty compartment saving us heartburn.

After getting off the train the final step is getting from the station to your hotel. Most cities have metered cabs, but be careful. I arrived in New Orleans and hailed a cab from the train station to our hotel which was only 5 minutes away. I was not paying any attention to the meter, so when we arrived I discovered the driver had not turned the meter on. When it came time for payment the driver over charged me. I was more upset with myself than I was with the driver, because I know better and pride myself on not falling for common scams.

Before checking out my hotel on the return trip to Virginia Beach, I asked the clerk at the desk how much is the cab ride from the hotel to the station. I was told that it was a flat rate and all the cabs turned off their meters for the short ride. He told me what the going rate was and sure enough the quote the driver gave me matched what the clerk had suggested.

Amtrak is not for everyone, but if you are the type of traveler who is looking for a challenge and adventure plus you have plenty of time to get to where you are going you may consider riding the rails.