Amtrak is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and even Joe Biden gave the railroad service a shout-out in April. The company has been offering great deals, and it has also loosened a lot of strict restrictions it’s been known for. For instance, it has a better pet program, improved rail corridors, increased rail stations and soon-to-debut high-speed trains. I had the Amtrak experience this month, and since it was my first time ever on Amtrak, I was surprised with the journey. Here’s my review of Amtrak Acela Business Class from New York City to Washington D.C.
Buying an Amtrak ticket
Amtrak’s website is easy to navigate. While it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of an airline website, which offers more tools, I thought it was simple enough.
One thing people should note that some trains are business-class only, such as Acela. These seats offer more leg room and they are considered high-speed trains that get you to the destination faster. It’s not a mind-blowing difference. A regular train from NYC to Washington D.C. average 3 hours and 30 minutes. An Acela business class train from NYC to Washington DC is 3 hours. While it’s not a huge difference in travel time, it’s extremely beneficial, which I’ll discuss later.
A great feature when booking on Amtrak.com is that you can now book seats in advance. This was a way for Amtrak to help promote social distancing during the pandemic (yes, advanced seat selection was not available before the pandemic). Like an airline booking, you can see the passenger load, and you have the freedom to pick your seat, whether aisle or window, a 4-top table, and the car.
I strongly suggest you book your ticket weeks in advance. When I was planning my trip to DC, business class seats on Acela were as low as $140 round trip. Since I booked my trip one week in advance, those same fares on the same travel dates were $300.
You can get your boarding ticket through email, or you can download the Amtrak app, which generates a QR code for your boarding ticket.
Self Check-In at Penn Station
Penn Station has been undergoing a $1.6 billion makeover the past few years. The new Moynihan Train Hall at Pennsylvania Station debuted on January 1, 2021, which was nice to experience for my first Amtrak Acela trip.
Moynihan Train Hall at Pennsylvania Station got the facelift it deserved. It’s a lot more spacious, with great lighting, natural woods, marble columns and shiny floors. The architecture is stunning, and you’ll naturally gravitate to the main train hall with atrium skylight.
There are digital boarding signs everywhere. If you want to chill before your train, there’s a ticketed waiting area where staff announce boarding for your train. Once you go to your boarding gate, an Amtrak staff member will check your touch-free boarding pass (your phone), then the train conductor will check you in during the journey.
There are NO Amtrak check-in desks at Penn Station. It is all self-check in. You must do it online and have your boarding pass either on your phone, printed out, or on the Amtrak app (QR Code).
If you download the app, you can continue to check the seat map up until departure. I loved this. Even 10 minutes to boarding, I checked the car to see the passenger load — and change your seat leisurely. When I had booked a 4-person table days ago, all other seats were empty. However, 10 minutes to boarding, I checked again, and two people had booked the seats in front of me. It was strange, because there were 2 other empty 4-person table in that train, so they could have had their own 4-top. Because I didn’t want to face two people the entire journey, I was able to switch my seat to another 4-person table.
You can check out my larger review of the new Penn Station here.
Amtrak Acela business class car
Acela business class is a 6-train car, and 5 cars are designated for business class, while 1 car is designated for first class, and 1 car is the food car. While I didn’t make it to the food car, it serves snacks and beverages.
Car 2 is the Quiet Car, a designated car for a quiet journey. I booked this car because I wanted to get work done with little distraction around me.
I booked Car 2, Seat 17C. It was the last row on the train. The seat at a 4-person table (2 seats facing you) was spacious, and you can adjust the table to be small or big, which is great.
The website gives very little information on the quiet car because well, there’s not much else to know about it. It’s quiet. It’s like every other car in business class, except you’re not allowed to use your phone or make any noticeable sound. I appreciated the quiet car so I could do some work.
My car was about 50 percent full to begin with. For the entire journey to DC, there were more passengers getting off (such as in Philadelphia and Baltimore) with very few getting on board.
Each passenger is allowed two personal items (like a purse and backpack) and 2 carry-on bags up to 50 pounds. There is luggage storage in each car, and ample overhead bin space.
There is also a spacious bathroom on either end of the car.
Amtrak Acela business class comfort level
It was a nice journey in terms of comfort. The seats are large and wide. One thing you should know about the 4-seat table configurations is that they do not have foot rests. If having a foot rest is important to you, book a normal seat. The perk about the 4-seat table is that if nobody is sitting in front of you, you will have tons of leg room to stretch out.
The seat does have a recline, which is equivalent to an airline seat. It was nice for the long journey, and I was able to stretch my legs out.
The windows have curtains so you can keep the car dim to sleep or work, but I loved the natural light coming in. I also love that the windows are so big (versus an airline window), and that for most of the journey, you have amazing landscapes to gaze out at.
The train conductor was friendly, professional and courteous. He was amazing, and you could tell he loved his job.
The ride was definitely quiet. One passenger seemed stressed about all phone calls she had to answer, but she respectfully left the car every time. The only time I heard any noise is when the train conductor came around asking for tickets.
For the entire journey, I worked on my laptop. The train ride went incredibly fast. By the time I looked up to take a breather, we were already in Baltimore. On my return from DC to NYC, the train was definitely more packed since it was a Sunday. In fact the train was sold out, but it was still quiet, easy and comfortable.
The reason Acela from NYC to DC is so short is due to the limited stops. The train stations on the NYC to Washington DC service are New York, NY (Penn Station); Newark, NJ; Metropark, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington; DE; Baltimore, MD; Baltimore, MD – BWI Airport; then Washington DC.
For each stop, several people boarded or got off the car, but they were quiet, and the stops were so short, you barely noticed. I loved the ride, the comfort, and the quietness of the quiet car.
Everyone wore masks, which is still a requirement, unless you are eating or drinking. From what I could see, everyone respected this rule. There were no crazy anti-maskers.
Acela business class vs coach? No brainer. You get more space, more leg room, quieter options, and great wide tables.
There is wifi on all cars, and it’s free in business class. It’s super easy to connect (no login or password required). You simply join the network and you’re through. All my applications worked fine and notifications came through at once.
I was generally shocked about this. I’ve heard notorious stories about WIFI on trains but the WIFI on Amtrak Acela was great.
Amtrak Acela business class truly delivered. It’s almost like flying business class on a Delta flight: quiet, great service, comfortable and easy. In fact, with the effortless check-in, fast and efficient boarding, smooth ride, amazing views, and beautiful train stations, I wrote a story on 7 reason why train travel is better than flying.
Amtrak has really upped its game, and I know the company will continue to deliver great service in its business class. It’s truly a great ride with a lot of space, privacy, respectful passengers and an effortless commute. I especially love the fact train stations are in cities, so it’s quite easy to get to your destination, especially in DC.
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