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Train Travel: Amtrak’s City of New Orleans

I haven’t taken the train for travel since I was a kid and on a recent Amtrak rail adventure, it was just as fun for me today as it was back then. I traveled on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans line, which starts in Chicago, Illinois and ends in New Orleans, Louisiana. There are numerous stops along the route, in a few major cities and also in small towns. I made a few overnight stops in Memphis, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi with my travel group.

Train travel is a fun adventure with AmtrakTraveling by train was such a relaxing experience. I normally fly to destinations, because it’s faster and seems more convenient. However, after experiencing The City of New Orleans, I’m rethinking my mode of transportation. Train travel with Amtrak is what travel by air used to be like. I realize traveling by train is the alternative to driving, but with the craziness of the TSA over the past decade, paired with the airline’s nickel and dime shenanigans, train travel should be the alternative to flying. Yes, it will take you longer to get to your destination, but if you factor in layovers, missed connections, and cancelled flights, Amtrak is where it’s at.

Train Travel - Boarding Amtrak's City of New Orleans in Hammond, LouisianaBoarding – I hopped on The City of New Orleans in Hammond, Louisiana. The parking was free, checking my luggage was free, and I was able to wait on a bench (enjoying the free wifi) with a cool breeze and fresh air. When the train pulled up, we boarded the train and were given assigned seats in coach. A few passengers boarded with small ice chests filled with drinks and sandwiches.

Plenty of legroom in coach on AmtrakSeating – I sat in my coach seat and couldn’t believe how much room was available. I extended my legs completely and still had room between myself and the seat back in front of me. There are also ample power outlets at each seat and I found the interior of the coach car to be much cleaner than airplanes in general. The seats recline pretty far back and pillows are provided free of charge. For passengers wanting privacy or those traveling longer distances, the sleeping cars offer roomettes (for 2) all the way to a family room. Passengers with sleeping car bookings have their meals included in the fare.

Roomette on Amtrak's City of New Orleans

Dining – If you don’t bring your own meals, there are two dining options on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans. The dining car is open by reservation for dinner (make the reservations when you board), and also there is a seating list for breakfast. I enjoyed both meals onboard the train. Breakfast is the more affordable meal (less than $10/person), and they do offer a children’s menu. Dinner is a bit more, but definitely worth the experience. The dinners were from $17 -$24 each, but was a delicious three course meal. If you are traveling as a family, the sleeping car upgrades are the best buy, since meals are included. Wine, cocktails, and beer is available for purchase. If you are looking for a light snack or a sandwich, the lounge car offers all types of beverages, along with an upper viewing level.

Dining Car on Amtrak's City of New Orleans train

Pancake breakfast in dining car on Amtrak City of New Orleans

The Ride – While my coach seat was comfortable and roomy, I enjoyed the observation deck of the lounge car the most. This is the part of the train ride that really made it for me. I was able to sit in a lounge chair, glass of wine in hand, watching the back yards of America pass by. At a nearby booth, a family sat playing Uno, while at another booth, a group of friends traveling to New Orleans for a Rush concert was mixing Bloody Mary’s from their small ice chest. An older gentleman in the corner of the car sat reading the latest spy novel. For me, I could hear the strains of  Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans in my head as I rediscovered the love of the journey.

Observation deck on lounge car Amtrak City of New OrleansView of Mississippi fields from Amtrak's City of New Orleans

If you have a bit of extra time to spare, I’d definitely recommend taking Amtrak trains for your next trip. They offer numerous routes around the US with weekly deals highlighted on Amtrak’s website. You’ll see a side of the USA that you can’t see from the highways or an airplane window.

Arlo Guthrie singing City of New Orleans

Disclosure: This trip on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans was part of the Southeast Louisiana Gumbo Express Tour, where I accompanied representatives from area Louisiana parishes to share the food and hospitality of our state. The purpose was to meet with local media and travel planners to encourage visitors to the Baton Rouge and surrounding areas. To learn more, visit www.SELAGumbo.com.

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  1. Nice, just the sort of thing that I’d love to do some day. A relaxing way to see the US at leisure 😉

  2. Nice! I’ve only taken Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor line, but this looks like something else altogether. I’d love to take a long distance ride one way, it looks really nice.

  3. Well, if I were to ride an Amtrak train (Since I live near D.C.) I would say the best part would be entering the yards, seeing CSX and Amtrak engines, lots of tracks and switch’s and every time you hit a switch the whole car vibrates and you hear: “BRUMP-A-BRUMP!…BRUMP-A-BRUMP!” That probably what I love about riding Amtrak trains. I also would like a trip on the Aclea and “fly” to Boston… :]

  4. I enjoyed your article immensley. Reminded me of my family travels aboard Amtrak. From Los Angeles to Chicago and my children’s first experience on board the Southwest Chief. The kids and I had our own compartment while my mother and aunt stayed in the handicapped compartment for my aunt. I still have pictures of that venture. Amazing!

  5. I took this trip in January 2011. We reserved a roomette and my daughter and I had the most enjoyable time.Service was great,food and drinks plentiful and the staff on board couldn’t be nicer. Enjoyed from beginning(N.O.) to end(Chicago). I can’t recommend this trip enough.Thanks to everyone at Amtrak for a memorable time..GO AMTRAK!!!!!

  6. I just did a roundtrip on the City last week myself and loved it too. Train travel is a magical experience – the atmosphere captured in Goodman’s song is still alive and well on Amtrak. If you really want to see the country and be fascinated by the fellow travelers you meet along the way, it is the only way to go. As their slogan says, “Enjoy the journey.”

  7. Taken many trips on Amtrak, the latest being the Maple Leaf. Great ride and beautiful trip. Next trip will be on 29 from Harpers Ferry to Chicago, got a roomette for that trip. I almost never fly there days if I can take Amtrak. Last trip to Chicago I left at 5pm and arrived at 9am, $800RT dollars for 2, first class and about the same as two plane tickets. First time on a train for my wife and she loved it. We will be traveling on Amtrak again 🙂

  8. Nothing like traveling by AMTRAK, I have traveled over 6,000 miles by rails in the states. Have meet alot of nice people.

    The rooms are great just for some quiet time. The Observation cars for a movie or discussion on Indians. ( Southwest Chief ). The food is better than fast food or on planes. The staff on the trains are very cheerful and helpful.

    I take the train if my scheduling allows it.

  9. I have traveled on Amtrak about six times in the last 15 years. The last trip was from Kansas to Arizona this year. I love that the seating is roomy and a lot more comfortable than taking a bus.
    However, there was a problem I had never noticed on any of my other trips; the bathrooms were very dirty and were only cleaned one time in 22 hours.

  10. Hi. Based on the dates on the comments it appears this article is now a year old.

    I have imagined riding the “City of New Orleans” since Steve Goodman wrote the song and Arlo Guthrie and Willy Nelson popularized it. Monday, July 2, 2012, I caught the train in New Orleans (NO) and headed north to Chicago. The first good point was that the train and bus terminal in NO is clean, efficient, and relatively close to the heart of downtown NO. Airports can never say that. Second, security was present, but it wasn’t the overbearing, personally intrusive and way to costly security routine to air travel.

    Third, I echo all the comments of the original author relative to the cleanliness of the train, the seating spaces, the lounge car and the clear sense of adventure one, at least me, still gets while riding the train.

    ANother great feature of this service was that it was “ON TIME.” In fact we had to wait a little longer in Memphis because we were early.

    I suggest you won’t find a better vacation than hoping the train, exploring some of the larger or smaller cities along the route with a planned over night here and there, and sitting back and seeing the best and sometimes the not so best this great country has to offer.

    My last comment is the only point where I mildly diverge from the article by the regional author. You do see the backyards, but they are seldom the backyards of the so called 1%. More likely they are the backyards of people, likely for a whole host of good and not so good reasons, living, at least by appearance, near the bottom of the 99% group.

    I don’t mean to be sanctimonious here, hopefully not particularly judgmental, I’m clearly closer to the top 1% than that bottom 1%. I only say we acknowledge it exists when we see it, and, in our own ways, at least wonder what individually and collectively we can do to spread the great hopes and dreams of this our homeland.

  11. This seems like a Win win for me and my 3 kids. We often drive thru Chicago (twice a year) to see grammy just north in Wisconsin. Instead of killing myself with the drive and the crazies on the Interstates, maybe we should try the train.

    Round-trip price estimates are about twice as much as my gas for driving but heck – It would probably be a great experience and my kids might start to love me again. ha ha.

    Is parking really free in Hammond, La.? Wow, that is almost an oxymoron – free parking. Great idea.

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