New Orleans is a 10-hour ride from our home in Alabama. We consider taking the AmTrak to be a trip within a trip, and is just as much a part of the vacation experience as the actual vacation itself.
We always book a bedroom even though it's a day trip. It's not that much more money and the benefits make it worthwhile, such as privacy (including your own bathroom) and free meals in the dining car. The two-person bedroom is two recliner-type seats that face each other with the door on one side and a full plate-glass window on the other. Next to one of the recliners is a sink and covered toilet. When one passenger has to go, the other can just step outside in the hallway.
If you've never eaten a meal on the AmTrak, you're in for a treat. They have everything from pizza to crab cakes to steak dinners. You can go to the AmTrak website and download sample menus. The free meals also include their delectable desserts. But don't delay. When you hear them announcing that the dining room is open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, go right then. Sometimes they run out of things.
All seating in the dining car is four-person booths and with a limited number of those booths, it means you and your companion will be sharing a table with strangers. It could be good; it could be bad. But once the food arrives, who cares!
We always take plenty of reading materials on board, but inevitably end up staring out the window at the gorgeous scenery. It's very hypnotic. The surrounding countryside has a completely different look from a train window than a car window. When we pass a railroad street crossing and see cars lined up waiting for the train to pass, I look at those drivers and think "man, it sucks to be you."
Arriving in New Orleans at night, it's best to take a cab to your hotel, but when it's time for the return trip home, it's early in the morning and an easy walk from most any hotel in the French Quarter, especially those on the west side of Canal Street. At the train station, if you already have your tickets, and they are for bedrooms, not coach, there is a private VIP-type lounge to wait in for the "now boarding" call.
Not having a car in New Orleans is more a blessing than an inconvenience. The streets are so clogged with pedestrians, you may find yourself sitting at a stop sign, waiting for a break in the foot traffic, for much longer than you intended. Plus most every hotel charges $25 a day parking. New Orleans is such a great walking town, and if the place you want to go is really far away, there are plenty of buses and trolley cars.
AmTrak is my family's favorite mode of transportation and is a very addictive way to travel. Whenever I'm in my car and get stuck at a railroad crossing for the Amtrak, I stare at those bedroom cars with outright envy, and I think "man, it sucks to be me."