A Ticket to Ride
Amtrak's in-depth and accessible website includes information on coach and sleeper car options (including virtual tours of the different cars and compartments), as well as routes, schedules, and services. You can book your trip online and pick up your tickets from an agent, or skip the lines and visit a Quik-Trak ticket machine at the station.
If you are planning a trip with children between the ages of two and 15, Amtrak offers rides at half-price (if your child is accompanied by an adult); younger toddlers and infants travel free. Review the Amtrak web site for specific policies regarding seating accommodations for passengers under the age of two.
If you plan to travel for just a couple of hours, your best bet is to reserve seats in a coach car. Coach cars provide wide seats, lap trays, and overhead lights, plus ample legroom—a far cry from the cramped sardine-style seating typical of coach travel in planes. Amtrak allows you to book a number of seats ahead of time, but won't permit you to pick your actual seat arrangements—seating is first-come first-served. So plan on arriving early at your departing station and be sure to ask about preboarding for families with smaller children to ensure that you claim the optimal seats.
If you are traveling for more than six hours, consider taking an overnight train and book a sleeper car. Most children love the novelty of sleeping in bunks. But if you are traveling with an infant, you'll need to sleep with your little one—most passenger trains do not offer cribs or bassinets.
There are various sleeper compartments from which to choose, and amenities range from standard to deluxe. All compartments offer daytime seating, which converts into beds for two to four passengers. Some trains also include suite options for larger groups and families. Deluxe amenities include sinks, vanities, electrical outlets, showers, and bathrooms nearby (sometimes private), movie or TV viewing, special restaurant car seating, and complimentary meals.
Before securing your reservation, take a virtual tour of sleepers (standard, deluxe, family, and handicap accessible) and coach cars on Amtrak's website to get a better idea of which will best suit your family's needs. If you decide to book a sleeper car, keep in mind that most of your luggage will still need to be stored in baggage. Also, ask about activities or a kids' car; many routes have a fun place for children to congregate and play board games and video games, enjoy scheduled activities, and even watch cartoons or movies. Inquire about whether a dining car is available and if you can reserve a seating time. Taking advantage of early seating will give your family more time to get settled and enjoy the meal.
If you belong to AAA (Automobile Association of America) or NARP (National Association of Rail Passengers) you may be eligible for a discounted tickets (information not readily posted on Amtrak's website). To learn more about Amtrak rail schedules, routes, and prices, visit the Amtrak website. (For rail trips outside of the US, be sure to visit Canada's VIA Rail website, and Europe's Eurail website for more information.)