9 Reasons Why Trains Are Better Than Planes

It may take longer to get there, a lot longer, depending on your destination, but Ecogeek has found 9 reasons why traveling on trains is better than traveling on planes. No security delays, more legroom and no baggage handlers to lose your luggage is just the beginning. Check out one of our favorite reasons, inside…

5. No NAGGING: It’s a frikkin pleasure not having someone bug me about my seatback and tray tables and whether my electronic device is approved for that particular segment of the trip. And no seatbelts at all! Whether or not that’s technically safe, it’s certainly more comfortable.

We doubt that all the Amtrak cars are as nice as the Silverliner pictured above, but for some destinations we could see trains as a viable and pleasant alternative. When was the last time you traveled a great distance by train, if ever? To see all the reasons, check out Ecogeek’s full article.

Nine Unexpected Benefits of Trains [Ecogeek]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. embean says:

    I would rather pay double than almost die on Amtrak. I speak from experience.
    But in Canada where I live, the train is much nicer, reliable, and doesn’t try to screw you.

  2. Asvetic says:

    My boss never flies. He and his family take a train down to Florida several times a year. They’ll plan ahead if they’re going out to California (from PA, it’s a 2+ day trip). And they love traveling that way. Another benefit to traveling by train, you can take your car with you.

  3. It seems like every day, there is a new reason to not fly. The furthest I’ve taken Amtrak is 4.5 hours from Philly to Richmond. Overall, they’ve been pleasant experiences from the Amtrak side. Dealing with other travelers is always frustrating.

  4. DeepFriar says:

    not plummeting 20,000 feet to your death is a nice benefit. At least for those of us who think about that, alot, during the entire flight, on the white tube rocketing through the sky.

  5. petrarch1608 says:

    i’m taking the train from portland, ore to vancouver BC. Only $42 each way, woo-hoo

  6. xanax25mg says:

    Let me start by saying I love train travel and up until a few years ago when I had to conquer my fear of flying for a conference in spain I only traveled by train (including a marathon 50 hour trip from Albany to New Orleans). Having said that, there are some flaws in the OP’s love letter to trains. First is, not all Amtrak trains are the same. In terms of electrical outlets, while you might have them on the trains leaving Chicago to Detroit, good luck finding any outside of the cafe car on the return trip. Also I’d like to find the mythical sub-$5 danish he waxes nostaligic about. The food on the Amtrak cafe car is the same quality and price of airline food, in fact I think they more or less use the same vendor. The $6 microwaved pepperoni pizza is particularly horrific. Also while coach is roomier it might be a benefit for a 5-6 hour trip; however don’t dare to try a 12-20 hour trip in coach as the comfort level dramatically decreases around the 8 hour mark and you are now in a tube listening and smelling all the other passengers who pay $18 to travel 20 hours.

  7. dwarf74 says:

    I love taking the train. Nowadays, it’s my favorite way to travel.

  8. mac-phisto says:

    philadelphia to orlando overnite (~20 hrs). once we got past d.c., it was really nice (the train stops in everyone’s backyard in the NE corridor), but word to the wise: fork over the extra bucks for a cabin. sleeping in coach sucks what with people dropping luggage on your head as they try to get it in the overhead bin & all.

    even with the constant wake-ups, i was still much more refreshed when we made it to orlando than i would’ve been with the trip by car (or even by plane – that circus certainly drains your energy).

  9. sarcasticwriter says:

    I am an overnight manager at a luxury hotel in a city Amtrak services. People have checked in with me, utterly exhausted, eight, ten, and twelve hours after they were due to arrive! I’ve travelled many times in Southern California and the Pacific Northwest on Amtrak, and have been delayed almost every single time. Not even the worst airlines have that kind of record.

    Passenger trains are the lowest priority on the track. If a freight or cargo train needs to use a track, the passenger train just gets to wait it out. Not even the worst airlines have that kind of record.

  10. Parting says:

    I wish trains looked like it in economy ;)

    Here in Canada, they are pretty comfortable (more than a bus). If you go on a long trip, you can even get a room with shower. Pretty cool, and you can stretch your legs anytime. Also, since they are a wagon or two for ”cafeteria” (basically bring your own lunch), if you have kids, it can pass time quicker, with the tv and games.

  11. geeky_reader says:

    I’ve done the Pittsburgh to NYC trip 2x on Amtrak. And I’d do it again in a second. Relaxing, scenic, spacious, and a slight feeling of adventure.

    Also, it was nice and cheap.

  12. Bladefist says:

    @DeepFriar: How often are there plane crashes? I mean, its pretty safe.

    Also I don’t know how helpful seat belts are in a train wreck or a plane wreck. Really you’re screwed either way. Luckily, it’s very unlikely to happen.

  13. wishing upon says:

    Last time I rode on a train was from London to Paris. Bonuses? Much easier to sleep without constant flight attendant announcements, and an amazing salmon dinner with unlimited wine that supplemented the already-cheap ride.

  14. TropicalParadise says:

    Yea, that article is written when he JUST got on the plane.

    Taking the train from Halifax to Montreal, normally a 4 or so hour flight, was supposed to take 24 hours, instead took 28. We were in a sleeper car but people came in and out at all hours of the night, boarding and departing at their stops. The train was so loud that I couldn’t sleep, so 28 hours without sleep. A sandwich was four dollars and there was not enough room to put all my stuff in and only ONE plug for the entire train, which had to be fought over and camped out at.

    However, when I went from Halifax to Moncton, a 4 or 5 hour train ride. It was lovely, got to see lots of beautiful things and it was really enjoyable. I would never do it again for anything longer that maybe 6 hours.

    The big plus is that with via rail,if your train is delayed by two hours, they give you a 50% voucher for your next trip.

  15. azntg says:

    The longest train ride I’d ever had was the F train from Kings Highway, Brooklyn to 169 Street in Jamaica, Queens. That was one heck of a long ride.

    As much as I want to ride Amtrak and go long distance, it’s still fairly expensive for me. Flying was cheaper, though with recent unfolding of events, that may not be the case anymore.

  16. Chairman-Meow says:

    The only problem with train travel in the U.S. is that Amtrak is at the mercy of the host railroad (the exception is the Northeast Corridor which are the only tracks that are owned & operated by Amtrak).

    The host railroads do not like Amtrak since trains hauling freight makes way more money for them. So what they do is assign Amtrak trains a low priority status which in-turn makes them eternally late to their destinations.

    In order for passenger train travel in the U.S. to be competitive with air travel is to changes the rules in regards to Amtrak trains or pay more to the host railroads for on-time delivery of Amtrak Trains. Until something like this happens, Amtrak will never be able to compete.

  17. mgy says:

    I took a high-speed train from Madrid to Algeciras last summer (4-5 hours or so). The train was silent, we had enough leg room to not only stretch out, but to place our bags in front of us, and seeing the countryside up close was a beautiful.

    I dream of the day when the US has some sort of infrastructure like they have in europe.

  18. I read in my local paper yesterday that the trip from Utica, New York, to Boston before World War Two might have taken six hours. Now, since Amtrak has to share track with CSX (who has priority), the same trip is scheduled at almost nine hours. All the schedules are padded like this for this reason. People had no idea how fast the trains USED TO BE.

  19. picardia says:

    I take Amtrak for any trip that will take (on train) less than six hours. Yeah, it might only be a two-hour flight — but once you factor in getting to the airport, the security line, the all-but-inevitable flight delay, then getting your baggage at the end and getting from the airport to your actual destination, there’s actually not much time difference at all. Not all cabins are as nice as the ones above, but I have found the trains just as clean and infinitely more comfortable than planes. Sometimes there are train delays, but in my experience they tend to be more of the “20 minutes late” variety than the “5 hours of hell” the airports love to dish out. Not all cabins have laptop outlets, but many do, and the quiet car is actually quiet. You can get up and walk around if need be, and when you get where you’re going, you already have all your bags, and most train stations are located right in the heart of the cities/towns they service — boom, you’re there.

    More than six hours, the plane actually does save time, and the costs don’t tend to be much different, so I usually suck up the inconvenience and go. But I’d rather take a train trip than a plane trip any day.

    My only gripe is that about one out of every five Amtrak cars is air conditioned to the point of insanity — like, it must be about 60 degrees in there. But I’ve learned to carry a blanket.

  20. Superawesomerad says:

    MetroNorth in the NYC area is an interesting trade-off with regards to rail travel. Fares are reasonable, schedules are accurate, but the trains are dirty as hell and always smell like an overused chemical toilet.

  21. @mgy: Unfortunately, the last time we spent that kind of dough on infrastructure, we got the Interstate Highway System. Good for cars and trucks; not so good for anything else.

    Still, you would think the rights of way for these highways can be widened a bit for intercity rail.

  22. kthxbai says:

    @azntg

    The F train is a mistake to put it simply.

    A train FTW!!!…. too bad I take it from the rockaways into Manhattan everyday…. Hour and a half each way just to get down town… :-(

  23. Snakeophelia says:

    I just scheduled yet another Philly-NYC run on Acela. One thing that seemed new – the phone system had a recorded message stating that passengers were limited to two pieces of luggage, not counting purses/laptops, etc. Is this in fact new? Is it just for ACELA? Are the trains trying to lighten their loads as well now?

  24. ameyer says:

    The real fun was a few years ago, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when I was trying to get out of Carbondale, IL, along with all the other students. There was a train derailment between there and Chicago. What should have left at 4 PM via train and arrived in Homewood, IL sometime around 9 PM left at like 11 PM via bus and got to Homewood like 10 AM.
    That said. there’s not really any viable alternative to Amtrak for getting from Chicago to Carbondale without driving, and the other 15 or so times I’ve taken the train between Chicago and Carbondale it’s been reasonably hassle-free.

  25. Too bad about the 3-5x the cost, 10-15x the travel duration…(speaking for the trans-continental routes I’ve looked at). It takes a lot of qualititatives to make up for those quantitatives.

  26. mermaidshoes says:

    trains are stupid expensive. it’s usually at least $100 each way boston-NYC on amtrak, at least for those of us who always end up getting tickets at the last minute. i’d rather risk my life with fung wah for $15.

  27. humphrmi says:

    We doubt that all the Amtrak cars are as nice as the Silverliner pictured above

    I used to take the Hiawatha service from Chicago to Milwaukee for work a few times a week, this line uses regular coach cars. The seats were easily 33% wider, more likely 50% wider than coach seats on any major airline. The seat pitch was unbelievable … if you wanted to rest / sleep on the trip, you could. Plenty of legroom for the tallest person and room to recline without impacting your neighbors. These are the cheapest seats that Amtrak offers, and they blow airline seats away by a longshot.

    I would say that the only downside is, you should come on board prepared for weather conditions, especially in the winter. Twice on my trip, the train broke down and they had to bring in another engine. Which left us sitting in southern Wisconsin in the middle of winter with no engine running to heat the train. Keep a parka handy if you travel in the winter.

  28. apotheosis says:

    Trains are better than planes because you can stand between the cars with one foot on either side of the joint, watch the two sides move up and down independently of each other, and feel as though you’re doing something extremely dangerous.

    I was about 8 the last time I rode an Amtrak, is it obvious? Simple pleasures, people.

  29. ScubaSteveKzoo says:

    My first time on the Amtrak was even worse than any poor experience on a plane. Five hour delay because they thought they hit someone on the tracks in Ann Arbor.

    But at least the train was nearly empty and outlets were plentiful. Those can often be well worth the quality of a trip, compared to a plane.

  30. darkryd says:

    Amtrack is HORRIBLE. They’re way overpriced, all of their cars have been used as the “smoking car” at one point or another, and there’s no such thing as assigned seats, even if the ticket tells you there is.

    Avoid, avoid, avoid.

  31. skittlbrau says:

    Amtrak is the ONLY way to travel in the Northeast. New York to DC is heavenly compared to the drive or flight.

  32. I count a train trip from Chicago to Flagstaff as one of my favorite all-time travel memories. We had a sleeper, which obviously made it a lot better, and I was 10 and not 6-foot-4 as I am now, so I don’t know how roomy that sleeper would seem today. Planes are definitely the way to go for business/weekend trips, but I definitely will look into it for my next vacation.

  33. aviationwiz says:

    I’m flying from London to Amsterdam on BA for about 58 pounds, and the flight takes around an hour and 20 minutes. Or, for nearly 200 pounds, I could have taken the train which would have taken 5.5 to 6.5 hours.

  34. kc2idf says:

    I like the train. Despite how bad Amtrak is, it’s a great deal better than flying.

  35. battra92 says:

    I plan on taking the train next month to an anime convention and maybe another one next year. When I can grab the train for $17 each way why drive in all that crap? My car gets 34 mpg and at $4 a gallon I can get approximately 150 miles for the price of that ticket which is approximately the same BUT I don’t have to pay parking (which is $40 a day at some hotels in the big city!)

    I’m not much for going green but having the ability to stand up once in a while, read a book, go on my laptop, draw, go use the john etc. instead of being stuck on cruise control and getting tired.

    I suppose trains make less sense the more people you have, but that may change as gas goes up or if the government decides to invest in better passenger trains which I doubt. Too bad they won’t privatize it. Get us some high speed trains so we can go from Chicago to NYC in 5 hours.

  36. quail says:

    My only train experience was two rides on the Amtrak train that ran from Dallas down to San Antonio (or did it go farther south?). Here’s what I learned on those rides:

    *The train ride took an extra 4 hours than if we did it by car.
    *Both times the train was hours late in leaving the station to head back north.
    *Food is expensive and crappy unless it is the inaugural run.
    *Heading one way is fine, the extra time on the train can be fun and part of the vacation.
    *The return trip is hell because all you can think about is how late it is and that you have to work the next day.

    In the end train travel for much of the US is a joke. Yes, the seats are comfortable and you can move about easily during the trip. But train travel misses on too many important points for it to be feasible for the general public.

  37. Bramble73 says:

    I take the train from Portland to Seattle all the time, although I wouldn’t fly if I wasn’t, I’d drive. It takes a little longer then driving, the tracks take a less direct route along the bottom of Puget Sound, but its much less stressful and I can sleep, read, whatever. The dining car isn’t much, but they serve Ivar’s Clam Chowder so if nothing else that’s usually good. The only problem is that I often take the train after sporting events (the Seattle train station is right next to the baseball and football stadiums) and the train is usually full of people who’ve had quite a bit too much to drink at the ballpark and keep drinking on the train.

  38. FatLynn says:

    Amtrak has done a nice job of increasing demand on its Illinois-wide routes (Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Carbondale, Chicago to Quad Cities). One of the best parts, IMO, is that you can bring food and drink right on the train. I have been on several that involved consumption of adult beverages and other things that would NEVER make it on a plane.

  39. bohemian says:

    Yes, they really do need to do something about Amtrak sharing the rails with freight lines. IIRC that was implemented in the 70′s when they were ripping up rail lines all over the US. That ranks right up there with all of the 70′s urban renewal that gutted cities of buildings that would today be considered treasures and the trendy part of many cities.

    It is 3.5 hours to the nearest rail terminal for us but we are still considering Amtrak for any of our long trips. We can usually take the train for 1/4 the cost of plane tickets.

    The real incentive is room, freedom and avoiding the security theater that is the airlines. Airline seats are way too small and I am only 5’7″. I have to get up and move around every so often or I literally will not be able to stand up after a while. I would also rather be stuck on a train for double or more the supposed air travel time to avoid psycho flight attendants, being stuck on the tarmak for 5+ hours or the chance of having your flight canceled and left stranded in some airport.

    As for $4 sandwiches, that is pretty much the norm anywhere that has even a semi captive audience.

  40. The longest I ever went by train was, I think, Moscow to St. Peterburg. (I might have been on longer-distance trains in Western Europe, but they were shorter-time trips if so.) Sleeper car, and it was relatively awesome. I slept really well, personally, with the swaying and the clacking lulling me to sleep. It was also really old-fashioned, with porters and everything, and a toilet that opened right down onto the tracks (which freaked me out a little).

    There was — I am not making this up — a mafia killing on the next car in the night. We all slept through it, but our tour group leader was a catastrophic wreck from sitting up all night terrified we were going to get killed next. We still got into St. Pete on time, though. This was in 1994ish; things were pretty disorganized and law was more of a nice idea than an actual fact. (But the trains ran on time!)

  41. @FatLynn: Cross your fingers we get Amtrak in Peoria! They’re telling us 2010!

    For those of you bitching about the food, you usually can buy or bring your own and not lose it to the security theater people. Most train stations even have restaurants and fast food joints RIGHT INSIDE THEM!

  42. JDAC says:

    I took a pretty long Amtrak journey last year from Temple, TX to Charlottesville, VA via Chicago. All told it took 50 hours but I actually enjoyed it, for the most part.

    The Texas to Chicago part was easily the best leg as it used the double deck trains and there weren’t that many passengers so I had the double seat to myself. I got to see parts of the country I’ll almost certainly never see again.

    Chicago to Charlottesville was not so great on the older single deck train. It was packed and went through more major cities so a seat-mate was pretty much guaranteed all journey. Worse, the part of the journey descending the mountains in WV was so rocky I thought the train would derail.

    So plus points were it was much cheaper than any alternative, I had plenty of leg room and could get up and walk at any time.

    Negatives were the aforementioned shared tracks. We had to wait 40 minutes outside Chicago while a slew of freight trains went ahead. The food was pretty bad, but it didn’t pretend to be something it isn’t (how many ways can airlines dress up shite chicken?)

  43. MrEvil says:

    Unfortunately, there’s no money in passenger rail to make it very profitable for the big freight railroads to get back into that business. They’re quite content with the freight traffic they have now. So privatizing Amtrak won’t work.

    As for those who say Amtrak is more expensive than flying, that may be true for those of you living next to a major hub airport. But even with the Greyhound bus ticket to catch the train at Albuquerque (Albuquerque’s bus station is also the amtrak station), Amtrak coach is HALF the price of flying Southwest Airlines from Amarillo TX. If I spend the same amount on the train as I would to fly I can get a nice private room on the train.

  44. SharkD says:

    10. It’s always fun when that 4 hour car trip, scheduled to take 8 hours by train, leaves 3 hours late and takes 12 hours, instead. (See: Amtrak, D.C. to Durham, N.C.)

  45. Mr. Guy says:

    i take amtrak frequently from NYC to Albany and back again over weekends. it’s way more comfortable and relaxing than driving, but there are some disadvantages. For one thing, they really do overheat in the winter and over- air condition in the summer. also- sometime in the last few years they took out the snack car from most NYC-albany trains (only those that continue on to niagra falls and canada still have food service).

    my real problem is this though- for a state subsidized agency from which they’ve been cutting service recently (like those snack cars), amatrak still isn’t really competitive on price. An acela ticket isn’t much less than a shuttle flight between NYC, DC, or Boston, and even worse is the comparison with driving. Look at these numbers:

    NYC-albany distance = 160 miles
    car gas mileage= 25mpg
    gallons needed for round-trip=12.8
    gas price= $4.50 per gallon
    cost of gas for round trip= $57.6
    Cost of peak fare 1-way ticket from NYC-Albany= $59

    Basically, gas would have to go up to about $9/gallon before amtrak represented a cost advantage over driving, at least on this particular route. Of course, that could happen by summer of 2010, so who knows. Maybe sooner if israel pulls the trigger on iran.

  46. fizzyg says:

    I’ve taken several trips via Amtrak and have generally had a pretty good experience. As far as price I’ve almost always managed to get a better deal than a plane ticket due to specials they were running or searching for coupon codes. If one doesn’t bother to look through these then you’ll often pay more than you need to. I also take on a soft-sided cooler with snacks & little bottles of wine or liquor. Makes for a nice trip. :D

  47. revmatty says:

    Train travel is ideal in the northeast. Outside of that it’s absurd. It would cost me significantly more to take a train from St. Louis to San Diego than it would to fly non-stop on American. And it would take THREE DAYS instead of three hours. Since I don’t want to spend 6 days of my one week vacation on the train and spend substantially more money to do it, not really a viable option.

    I’d love to take the train, but they seem to make sure it’s as hard as possible to do.

  48. CharlieInSeattle says:

    Seattle (Where I live) to Las Vegas 2 adults and my 4 year old:
    Amtrak (3 Days) = Over $1200 dollars that does not include a sleeper cabin.
    Southwest Airlines = $985.50

  49. tkozikow says:

    Acela from Boston to Philly last week was very pleasant. I needed a one-way plane ticket in the afternoon and the best airfare was $460…the train was $179. Comfortable seat, super sandwich that I picked up before I left, lots of legroom, good sized and reasonably clean bathrooms, and internet service the entire way. Door-to-door in about four hours which is not that much longer than it would have been to fly without the TSA and weather hassle.

  50. CharlieInSeattle says:

    @MrEvil: Those nice private rooms are more expensive than hotel rooms.

  51. badgeman46 says:

    Is this author on crack? I could stay a long weekend at the Ritz Carlton for what it cost to get a prison cell like cabin on Amtrak. Its not even close to competitive to the airlines unless you live near New York. And even then you are sure to derail/hit a car/hit a pedestrian.

  52. zibby says:

    I was going to go ahead and assume that this was going to be about all trains BUT Amtrak, but he says the dreaded word right there in the first paragraph – and right after “no waiting”. Uh huh.

  53. MercuryPDX says:

    @petrarch1608: Ooooo… tjat sounds like a great way to go visit Hez when we do that West Coaster Commenter meet-up.

    As to visiting family back east… I’m still captive to the airline industry…

    PDX to Penn Station NY: 65 hours and 50 minutes over three days, with two transfers.
    [Portland, OR -> Chicago, IL -> Washington D.C. -> NY Penn Station]

    PDX to Tampa, FL: 82 hours and 30 minutes over four days, with three tranfers.
    [Portland, OR -> Chicago, IL -> Washington D.C. -> Orlando, FL -> Tampa, FL]

    The above assumes a “picture perfect” trip with no delays. As romantic as it sounds, it’s not realistic. :(

  54. witeowl says:

    What’s always stopped me is that any booking attempt for a two-state route always landed me with an odd combination of train-bus-train-bus (one way, mind you). If I want to ride the train, I want to ride the train!

    Re-inspired by this post, I called to speak with a human being. She assured me that I could, indeed, take the entire trip by train, but I’d have an overnight layover. Well, OK. That’s actually what I’d rather do. They really need to improve their web booking.

    Now I’m beginning to plan a 3-week train/bicycle/camp tour around California. Thanks for the nudge!

  55. tape says:

    The picture you chose to go along with this post is of a lounge car, so of course, not all cars are as awesome as the lounge car.

    But yeah, trains are awesome.

  56. Daniels says:

    My only train experience was two rides on the Amtrak train that ran from Dallas down to San Antonio (or did it go farther south?). Here’s what I learned on those rides:

    Here is my one train experience that is obviously indicative of every train ride in the United States!

    I don’t know how the Northeast corridor flights stay open. If you factor in the times to get out to JFK, the cost to get out to JFK, the security, the traffic, the lines, then waiting for baggage…. the two wire to wire times have to pretty much equal.

  57. @sharkd: Boy, if you’re making DC to Durham in 4 hours, you must be leaving from Fredericksburg on a weekend! My husband and I lived in DC and Durham, separately, when we were first married, and getting into or out of Arlington ROUTINELY took 6 to 8 hours.

  58. Speak says:

    I started taking the train between NYC and DC when I figured out time was money–though the cost of a train ticket was higher, the faster travel time was worth more to me than the money I could have saved by taking the bus, which is much slower and always filled to capacity.

    Another thing I like about the Regional train is the quiet car. It’s not always available but when it is, it’s a fantastic option, being able to choose a seat where you know you won’t be disturbed by other passengers.

  59. orielbean says:

    Hey Eyebrows – I also took a Russia trip w/ the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg around that same time. We went as a high school theatre troupe trip. What a lot of fun that was. The majority of Russian people were very friendly and helpful to us and I had a blast learning about their pre-Soviet history. We also got to see Novgorod after St. Pete and Moscow

  60. Mom2Talavera says:

    My mom bitched me out last week when I told her I took the train to Chicago(from Michigan) a couple weeks ago.According her the train and bus are for poor people and paroles! Little does she know I cut school dozens of times with my friends and took the train into the city(New York)

    hahaha those were the days….

  61. consumersaur says:

    I haven’t found them to be much, if any, cheaper. And they really only work if you live in a large city that’s a big hub. But the lack of hassle is totally worth it.

  62. e.varden says:

    @Mr. Guy:

    Wait wait wait: “when gas price goes to $9/gal Amtrak will be cheaper”.

    Wodeya think powers Amtrak? Grass-squeezings?

  63. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    I love taking the train. So far I’ve only gone OregonSeattle, but it’s been fun. We’ve planned our vacation for this summer around taking it =)

  64. mycroft2000 says:

    I’ve taken the train several times from Toronto to Halifax and back, and although it’s about a 28-hour trip, and not cheap if you get a sleeper, the experience is so pleasant that I’d choose it over a 3-hour flight any time.

    On a related note … Even after 9/11, I never understood the airline security overkill when there is no comparable security for trains. Are you telling me that a terrorist couldn’t kill just as many people with a well-placed train bomb? Come on. The only reason it hasn’t happened in North America is because there simply aren’t any terrorists around.

  65. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    Ahh, the train. One of the most romantic moments of my life happened in a train station. I think it’s the first time Trenton, NJ can be considered “romantic”.

  66. Man do I love train travel. Well, except that time I went home from Bloomington to Arlington (VA). 18 hour trip, which I spent disgorging my apparently-unsanitary BIG AS YOUR HEAD!! burrito, and trying to put the creepy wino (who tried to give me a kiss in the Indy train station) out of my head.
    Alas, I long for the day when US rail travel is more like, say, German. The express trains are a modern marvel.

    Aren’t they building a freaking MAG-LEV from Vegas to Anaheim? I read the first leg just got greenlighted.

    @Eyebrows McGee: How did you take so long getting through Arlington? Even getting through the Mixing Bowl in rush hour never took me more than a couple hours.

  67. lim says:

    I used to take Amtrak from NYC to Rutland, VT and back quite often. Once you got a ways past Albany the tracks were horrible. By the time you reach VT you pitch side to side so much that it was like being at sea. It seemed like I always ended up in the car that had the broken door. They didn’t feel it necessary to clean up very often. Getting a ticket in Rutland was just about impossible. I don’t know if it’s changed, but they built a shiney new station, and didn’t even include any of those ticket machines, and the station itself was only open about half an hour before, and the guy there didn’t know how to do tickets.

    On the plus side; the cars were really empty between Albany and VT, so it was nice and quiet, I never had trouble finding an outlet, nice scenery (except for the trailers), I’d arrive at Penn Station so I could just hop on the subway to get home in next to no time, and flying just isn’t an option.

    And not sure if it’s a plus, but security? What security? Up to 2003 (last time I rode) the only question I ever got was “Ticket?” I could bring anything. No one ever checked.

  68. ToddBradley says:

    I love the concept of train travel. And I have tried and tried to make it work. But out here in the Rocky Mountains, it’s just a frustrating mess. The relaxing nature of scenic train travel in the West is destroyed by the frustrating wait for hours in every canyon to let coal and freight trains go by. Apparently, they have higher priority than Amtrak. So what might be a frustrating 4 hour drive through mountain traffic turns into a more frustrating 9 hour train ride through traffic. If the train would take no more than 50% longer than driving, it might be an option.

  69. vlv723 says:

    If Amtrak allowed pets in their cabins, I would definitely take a train.

  70. mikelotus says:

    I love how everyone talks about Amtrak delays. Thank god there are no delays flying now days. Can you imagine what several hours delay would be like stuck on an airplane compared to the train. I could imagine it getting hot, toilets overflowing or worse. But since delays are so infrequent on flights, no one every has to worry about it.

  71. I don’t know how many europeans are reading this. Or how many have visited europe. But I honestly miss the trains when backpacking across europe. too bad the US has been left behind.

  72. A benefit not mentioned: Train stations are located in the center of each town, saving you time and/or money on the trip.

    Unfortunately, the train system in the U.S. is s-l-o-w which limits your trips to your region (Northeast, Midwest, etc.) unless you have a day or two to spare. Where’s that bullet train, America? Bring it on!

  73. ClevelandCub says:

    I would love to take the train if it were more feasable. Amtrak makes 2 stops here in Cleveland, both of them around 2 AM. Great for getting into Chicago at 7AM, not so great for me not wanting to be catching the only available train to chicago at 2AM.

  74. sholnay says:

    I used to take the train regularly to commute from college to home – about 110 miles.

    I didnt have a car, so this was the best option for me. Round trip was, depending on the season, $38-44 – not bad for the comfort and no hassle with traffic.

    Time was okay – it took about 2.5-3 hours depending on the time of day. By car – the drive is anywhere from 1.2-3 hours depending on traffic.

    I was able to relax – spread out – read a book – watch a movie – do work on the laptop – etc.

    I now have a car – and am no longer in school – I sometimes think about taking the train to go home.. but they have upped the price to $52-60 depending on time of year! Thats crazy, and much more than what gas costs me. The added comfort is not worth it.

  75. TVGenius says:

    My coach seat on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and Coast Starlight were far more comfortable and in better condition than any airline seat I’ve ever been in. I actually managed to sleep four nights on the train, something I’ve never done on a plane.

    The government needs to get serious about rail in this country instead of bailing out the airlines. Amtrak needs to have right-of-way on the freight rails. Where I live, less than 5 hours from the western end of the Sunset Limited, the train is normally at least two hours late by the time it gets here. All because UP won’t let it through.

  76. JMH says:

    I like the article, but what we really need is articles about why trains are better than cars.

  77. Coles_Law says:

    I took the train home from college for a while-unfortunately, I had the Lake Shore Limited, which I’m pretty sure is their most frequently delayed line (it better be-I’d hate to imagine a worse-performing train). They were never better than two hours late, and once managed a 23 hour delay. It didn’t bode well when people are arriving for tomorrow’s train and you haven’t left yet.

  78. gmw3550 says:

    I believe Amtrak has some serious customer relations issues. I was on the City of New Orleans when it ran into a garbage truck in Crystal Springs, MS last month. I was injured hours BEFORE the accident, and no one has contacted me.

    During the accident my new laptop was smashed, and I was told I needed a baggage claim form which would take 7 to 10 days to send. (what takes it so long?). I still haven’t received the form and when I called, they claimed I never called, until I remembered the name of the previous CR I spoke to, who remembered talking to me. They also said there was not a way to talk to a CR manager, nor could they fax the document for me to fill out. They offered me no direct numbers, only an address in Washington DC.

    In the meantime, a lawyer contacted me, and I had no interest in any legal action, until it was obvious that Amtrak is not interested in resolving my issues. It’s a shame, because it seems like a decent way to travel, but the true test of a company is how it works when things DON’T WORK.

  79. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I agree with this – I went from Seattle to Manchester NH last summer on Amtrak and it was the best trip I ever took. No having to worry about being bumped of flights, or missing a connection because a gate or time was changed and it wasn’t posted correctly (I’m deaf, so announcements on a PA system are lost on me.) It was longer, but since I factored that into my vacation, it was actually a chance to relax, read a few good books, watch a few movies on my DVD player, and enjoy the scenery which was just beautiful! With all the “rush rush rush” we go through in our daily lives, the opportunity to sit back and just enjoy the trip was a treat.

  80. fuzzyprint says:

    I agree that train travel is a nice option. It’s a great way to see the country and a great way to meet and talk with people you wouldn’t normally meet.

    Some bad things that happened in my experience though:

    1. The woman at the train station sold me the wrong sleeper. She did not charge me for the more expensive one and give me the economy, she just sold me the economy cabin after I told her I wanted the deluxe. I had no way to figure this out since I only had her confirmation number to go on.

    2. The people in the serving car were extremely SURLY. I mean SURLY. It got to where the surliness was almost funny but it was really quite annoying to be a paying guest and be treated like that.

    3. THEY LOST MY BAGGAGE. But you know what? It wasn’t like they left it on a plane and it would take a day or two to get it back. After they located my bag they just loaded it on to the commuter train back to the station I was at and I had it that evening.

    Despite those things I think I would like to go again.

  81. I love taking Amtrak between LA and San Diego or Northern Cali. And I live near a Metro Station, so I Park & Ride to Union Station. 3 hours on the train beats 4 hours in freeway traffic any day.

    If they every get that line running to Vegas, they’d save the US Economy.

  82. anyanka323 says:

    I’ve had mixed experiences with Amtrak, mostly confined to the Midwest.

    The City of New Orleans is either a great or very poor trip. I have taken it several times. I took it from Champaign, IL to New Orleans pre-Katrina with some friends and other than the frequent stops it was a good trip. The times I took it up to Chicago at 6 am in the mornings were less positive. Assigned seating would have been nice because it took me almost 15 minutes to find a seat and some of the passengers, mostly those paying the bare minimum were rude and acted all offended that I woke them up from their 6+ hour sleep.

    Amtrak needs to consider assigned seating. I would pay extra to have the option.

    Other Illinois routes are not too bad. The main issue is the fact they lease the rail lines, which can cause delays, but once the train is into Chicago proper, it’s not too bad.

    Illinois into Michigan is not so great in terms of being on time. Same issues as Illinois, but more stops in small towns along the lake in Indiana and Michigan.

    Ahh, if only Metra would expand out of the Chicago area into Champaign and Northern Illinois. I’ve found that Metra actually is a better ride and is more realistically priced than Amtrak. You can get from downtown Chicago to southern Wisconsin for less than $10 one way, a great bargain and actually runs close to the schedule.

  83. P_Smith says:

    The trouble in the US is the obsession with privatization and “letting the market decide”. Other nations know better and let the government do the job when business can’t or won’t. Sometimes letting the government run businesses IS the way to go.

    The eastern US and Canada have enough population to merit an extensive rail system, yet the investment was never made. Europe and Asia made the investment, and now you can travel from England to Vietnam entirely be rail. Even the North Korean regime has seen the sense of letting trains travel through to and from South Korea. I’ve even heard talk of the old colonial railroads in Africa being resurrected.

    When the economic crash comes, the US won’t be ready. Those who should have been making the decisions won’t be held accountable because they’re not in political office anymore, and corporations never take blame unless thousands die from their decisions.

  84. Dennis says:

    I used to travel to Baltimore, MD on Amtrack from Hartford, CT (before SWA started flying from BDL to BWI). At the time, ~8 years ago, it was actually more expensive to take the train than to fly. On top of that the train ride was around 7-8 hours (with delays) as opposed to around an hour of actual flight time. Although I don’t know what the price difference would be today — personally, I would still rather fly. Granted, you might think I’m crazy because I also prefer to drive into New York City rather than take the MTA from New Haven or some other smaller station along that route, but that’s just me.

  85. I had a horrible experience with Amtrak. I was taking a train from DC to Raleigh, NC, and our train was delayed 6 hours because of a service outage in New Jersey, which I understand can happen. They didn’t tell me until 40 minutes before my train was meant to leave. But we were just sitting in the train station for 5 hours without being updated as to what was going on, and when we finally got on the train, there was a very disgruntled passenger who had missed her connection in DC and refused to get off. It took an hour for them to get her off the train (seriously, after 10 minutes, it’s time to call the police), and then we had to stop somewhere in rural NC to throw a hobo off the train who had gotten on in Richmond.

    The train itself was great, and much for comfortable than the plane. But I will never, ever take Amtrak again.

  86. Grive says:

    *looks at continental europe*

    Yes, trains are a lovely way of transport. I’m absoultely in love with the idea… if the infrastructure is well done and the prices are reasonable.

  87. SharkD says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Nope. I lived in Arlington (Pentagon City – Joyce Street, to be exact) and my now-wife was living in Durham. 4 hours door to door, weekdays or weekends. (Except when Tom Cruise closed the HOV lanes for an entire day, to film 30 seconds worth of MI:3.)

  88. mzs says:

    My wife, son, and I took a train from Oakland CA to Chicago IL. That was a blast. If you have ever travelled by RV multiply that 100 in terms of radness.

  89. MeOhMy says:

    @katekate is squared: Your experience doesn’t really sound any different from the typical air travel nightmare.

  90. Kajj says:

    I love train travel, although Amtrak has certainly been horrible at times. My favorite was the time the train inexplicably ground to a halt in the middle of some farmland, putting my window right next to a sign that said “Caution, toxic chemical spill in area!” with a little stick person getting burned by acid. I figure we were about five minutes away from the atomic frog attack when they got the engines running again.

    Still, I’d put up with a lot for the pleasure of stepping out of a cab, walking through a nice marble-floored lobby, and hopping right on the train, with my bags and my electronics and my shoes and my bomb-making equipment with me the whole time.

    I daydream sometimes about being a multi-billionaire and just up and building a nationwide high-speed train network, just buying up the land, laying track, and giving towns six month’s notice to put up signs directing people to the station. I think we could get it done for the price of a war or two.

  91. @sholnay: That sucks. In college I used to take the South Shore Line (the vomit comet!) about the same distance, from South Bend to Chicago, walk across the Loop, and catch the Metra out to my parents’ house in the burbs (they live w/in walking distance of the train station). If I could get someone to drive me from campus to the train station/airport/bus depot in South Bend, the whole thing came in under $20 — $9.50 for the South Shore, $3.50 for the Metra, and the rest for a cab across the Loop if it was pouring and I had luggage, or for some McFood in Union Station.

    I counted on four hours door-to-door (2ish on the vomit comet, 45ish on the Metra, plus transit between stations and on either end), but it was typically a PLEASANT four hours where I got a lot of homework done. By car it took 2.5 hours, plus about $8 in tolls, so I felt like the train was a reasonably good deal. During rush hour or construction, sometimes the trains would beat the car trip (especially because Metra runs expresses during rush hour).

    It was also just so nice and felt so liberating to know that whether I had a car or not, whether I felt like driving or not, I could get home in an afternoon if I wanted to. I kind-of hate that where I am now, I’m dependent on a car. No trains, and you have to drive to the airport — taking a cab costs more than driving + long-term parking.

  92. jswilson64 says:

    The train? Seriously? Didn’t anyone see the Amtrak episode of “Sex and the City” ??

    Amtrak = Greyhound on rails.

  93. @Eyebrows McGee: $5 to $8ish in tolls, I should say. Depending on route and on what, exactly, they were dicking around with on the toll roads.

  94. pearl says:

    As I’m now in college, and without any real transportation, the train is usually my only option home, and I am very loath to take it. I’ve waited hours upon hours for a train that begins its route only thirty minutes south of where I depart. Anecdote: I was supposed to go see the pilot taping of David’s Situation, the new HBO show with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, and I planned everything, switched midterms at school and whatnot to make it on time. Even the bus to the the train station was unusually on time. Unfortunately, once I arrived at the station at 2, they told us that the tracks had been down since 9 AM due to a gas pipe breakage or something. So I waited with the faint hope of possibly making it to Studio City before 7. I did not make it and was very sad. Though I realize that accidents happen, they do have my e-mail address and phone number for a reason and could have contacted me in the five hours between the event and the train’s departure time so that I could have possibly arranged alternate transportation. Story end. In conclusion, boo on Amtrak.

  95. themossie says:

    Living in the Bay Area (CA) I’ve never found trains usable for long distance. I once considered taking the train to Los Angeles before, but it was absurdly expensive. I remember finding prices around $400 ($1 / mile) for one way a couple years ago? That’s just crazy talk.

    Several years ago I took AMTRAK from San Jose to Salt Lake City, and seriously regretted it. 2 (3?) days of sitting on a train where I didn’t have a sleeper cabin and eating train food for the privilege of paying several times as much as a plane ticket? I’ll pass, thank you.

    Until train prices are competitive to driving, let alone flying, there’s no way you’ll catch me on one. I can’t imagine taking the train anywhere I could drive; even with today’s gas prices I believe driving would still be cheaper in most circumstances, and I’d have a car at my destination.

    But driving takes too long, you say?
    So does the train. If I was in a hurry, I’d fly.

  96. Kishi says:

    @themossie: Seriously? Two or three days to go from San Jose to Salt Lake? When I traveled from San Francisco to Denver it was about a day, maybe a bit more. Strange.

    I’ve taken the train several times, and enjoyed it. More room than the airplane, which pretty much made it worthwhile for me. Sadly Amtrak doesn’t travel to my current hometown (Phoenix) otherwise I’d be thinking about them for my next trip.

  97. themossie says:

    @Kishi: Apparently my recollection was off. According to timestamps on pictures I took on that trip, it took something like 30 hours. I left late at night, and arrived around 2-3 am two days later. I’m guessing the train was delayed at some point; amtrak.com shows 20 hours in theory to Salt Lake from San Jose.

    Thanks for getting me to check :-)

  98. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Sure, I’d take the train…if it actually went where I was going, wasn’t twice as expensive, and didn’t take 4 times as long as the equivalent plane trip.

    Don’t get me wrong…I love trains, but until they can seriously compete with air travel, I’ll be flying the unfriendly skies.

  99. Major-General says:

    @mgy: Of course that would also require population densities like Europe. To put that in perspective, that would mean 75 million people would live in Kansas. That’s roughly 30 times the states current population.

    And speaking of Kansas, my longest rail journey has been from Newton, KS to Oxnard, CA and back twice. Amtrak was delayed by four hours each time, though the first was due to snow in Chicago. Extremely comfortable in coach, but I was willing to get to get off at the end. No power anywhere, and a surly crew depending on who you talked to.

    As for European trains, the NS trains were about like taking the LA metrolink. The CityNightLine was nice, but I paid for berths in a sleeper. My final train was a DB Regional Bahn. Uncomfortable, stiff seats, stinking toilet. Worse than Amtrak actually. I haven’t had opportunity to try any high-speed trains. But frankly, for my money I’d rather fly.

  100. Major-General says:

    I forgot about something: the susidies for Amtrak’s Heartland Flier (OKC-Dallas), per passenger, are so high it was at one time cheaper to high a limosine for each person who had made the trip.

  101. cuiusquemodi says:

    My church group recently took the train from New Orleans to San Antonio for a trip building houses in Juarez, Mexico (I know, I know, John 12:5) and it was, without a doubt, the best experience I’ve had in cross country travel ever (c.f. the times I’ve flown). Trains are, in my opinion, good for people who have more time than money.

  102. belle TL says:

    Amtrak is far from perfect, but there’s no other way I’d rather travel between my home and my parents’ than the rails. Getting delayed on a train is much, much better than being stuck on a plane–as others have said, walking around and being able to use the facilities is much more preferable to what happens on a plane.

    @Superawesomerad: The Metro-North has totally spoiled me with regards to commuter rail despite the craptastic cars–if/when I move back to Philly, dealing with SEPTA will likely make me cry. Incidentally, they have been finally showing riders mockups of the new trains, which look lovely, but as I wrote on the comment card, will be even better when we can actually ride them.

  103. jfischer says:

    I rode the Lynchburg VA midnight departure to Atlanta, GA on a regular basis for a while (yes, the famous “Midnight Train To Georgia” that Gladys Knight sang about), and now I use the Northeastern Corridor Boston-NYC-DC trains, and none of them were as bad as the usual airline flight.

    A few notes for Newbees:
    Accela likely is not worth the money over the regular train service, and won’t be until serious track upgrades are done to allow Accela to run at higher speeds. Check the schedule – there isn’t much time savings gained.

    Pack a lunch, including beverage. They are not merely expensive on munchies, they can run out at random times. Unlike trains in other countries, there is nothing to jump of the train and buy at stations, no trackside vendors of local food, nada.

    Expect to be delayed for unexplained reasons anywhere outside the DC-Boston corridor. Most of the actual reasons are that the passenger trains have to wait for the freight trains to get out of the way, as freight has priority on track owned by the freight rail systems.

    The “quiet car” is just that, so if you pull out your cellphone and start yacking at the top of your voice in the quiet car I will drive my fist into your chest, remove several major organs without benefit of anesthesia, and hold your still-beating heart in front of your dying eyes to teach others that might get the same idea that there are a few rules that one wants to respect. :)

  104. the lesser of two weevils says:

    Ive ridden on AMTRAK several times and had mixed experiences. The longest trip I took was from the Bay Area to LA to Houston, which took 3 days (where oddly it took only one day/night to get to Texas but another day and a half to travel through Texas – wtf?) but it arrived in Houston on time. My other experiences have all been on the Coast Starlight between Oregon and Salinas which has taken from 12 to 24 hours.

    The good things about train travel –
    -IF you have the time, it’s so much more relaxing and enjoyable than air travel, and you get to see scenery (and also get a glimpse of inner city by-the-tracks life)
    -So much more seat room than on a plane
    -People are generally friendly, as are the employees

    The bad -
    -They really need to enforce the assigned seating. This past christmas season I was on a crowded train and had to wander to find a seat on both trips. They wrote my assigned seat down and told me to go there but someone was in the seat next to me and said very assholey “this seat is taken.” “But it’s my seat.” “No one takes that seriously, dude.” I later got in trouble for sitting in an empty seat. Crowded train = not fun.
    -Like on a greyhound, you do encounter the occasional bargain traveling drunk/stoned/crazy person. They dont enforce who is “fit” to get on board like they do at airports.
    -Expect delays. Amtraks run on rails owned by freight lines whose trains have the right of way so prepare to be sidetracked (literally) for a while. Once my train ran over a pedestrian. Another time it ran over construction debris and needed to be repaired.

  105. synergy says:

    Back when we were in college my husband (then boyfriend) and I took turns taking the train to visit each other. It was a very pleasant 8-hr trip through the Midwest. Huge, roomy and comfortable seats and no one bugging me about anything.

  106. Hirayuki says:

    Great timing on this article for us–my husband and toddler son and I are taking VIA Rail from Windsor/Detroit up to Toronto later this month. We usually drive; this time we wanted to take it easy (and spend less–the train is cheaper than the three tanks of gas a long weekend in Toronto costs us, though it’s just as long timewise) and enjoy a change of pace. We’ve ridden on commuter and long-distance trains in England, Austria, and Japan before, but this is our first long-distance train trip in North America. We’re looking forward to it.

    I’ve had to get in touch with VIA Rail customer service a couple times to iron out a credit card glitch and then to try to get the three of us seated together. The people I worked with both times were extremely pleasant and helpful. I love Canada. :)

  107. synergy says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Uh. Did we go to the same university? Did you take the big red buses too?

  108. azntg says:

    @Steaming Pile: That and a lot of trackage and right of ways have been removed since World War II between Utica and Boston.

    @etaripamai: Agreed. It’s just too long of a route. And going LOCAL at all three boroughs? Oy vey!

  109. maines19 says:

    Little/no security on Amtrak is why the mobsters use it: they don’t want to have to part with their weapons. (True. My sister used to work for Amtrak on the train that goes through Vegas. She got to know a lot of them.)

    For the NE corridor, Amtrak is usually great. One time I was leaving my office in NYC for a meeting in Boston. A colleague left just before me to trek to LaGuardia for her flight. I hopped the subway to Penn, took the Acela to Boston, which let me off within walking distance of the meeting location. Beat my colleague there by more than an hour.

    Outside the NE corridor, as everyone says, time is problematic. But you can see the country in a way you don’t from the air, and unlike driving, you can sightsee without worrying about the road. My favorite is the stretch along the Colorado River (I think the route is the Zephyr)–there’s a part where the train track is carved into the side of the gorge along the river, a stunningly beautiful ride through an area otherwise inaccessible except by whitewater raft.

  110. fjordtjie says:

    my family and i contemplated taking the train to save money on a trip from WI to CA. it was more expensive, and opposed to a 4 hour flight, was a 26 hour train ride, each way. we didn’t want to waste 2 days of our vacation on a train going cross country. for short distances, like from Madison to Chicago, it’s very convenient and a good deal, but only for short distances.

  111. witeowl says:

    @fjordtjie: I think it’s a paradigm shift. If you fly, the plane is a necessary evil on the way to and from your vacation. If you take the train, the train is part of your vacation.

  112. LUV2CattleCall says:

    @DeepFriar:

    I’d rather score a free skydiving trip than having another train go head-on..directly into my forehead

    @apotheosis:

    BEST

    COMMENT

    EVER!

  113. LostAngeles says:

    My mom is currently about a third of the way through her train trip from Boston to L.A. That article made me feel a bit better about her decision (she refuses to fly.)

    @Neecy: I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’m rather worried about my mom having a good trip since she’s been stressed lately.

  114. @synergy: Maybe, but I’m not placing the big red busses!

  115. LostAngeles says:

    And I get a call this morning that somehow, the train was an hour late to Albany, making them 4-5 hours late to Chicago, making them a day late to L.A.

    Talk about, “jinxing it.” Ha!

  116. apinkpony says:

    I truly enjoy traveling by train… atleast in Europe. Honestly have never taken a train in America, but have taken them all across Europe and it is safe, comfortable, convenient and overall a delight. Haven’t had any reason yet to take a train here, but I probably would if it was as or more cost effective.

  117. Triterion says:

    People seem to be a LOT nicer on trains too, they just start having friendly conversations with me for some reason, it’s really cool.

  118. Anonymous says:

    Took Amtrak overnight from Washington DC to Chicago. Great ride, particularly through the mountains of Pennsylvania. Also the best sleep of my life. The gentle rocking of the train on the rails puts you in deep snooze mode. The shower as a bathroom was weird but all in all, very enjoyable.