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Old May 28, 12, 7:04 am   #1
 
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Brit Needs Help

Dear all,

I'm planning on getting the Acela Express in First from Boston to Washington in early August along with my wife and 6 month old son. We love riding the rails but it suddenly struck us we've never been on Amtrak despite visiting the US many, many times. So we're going to put that straight.

However, I'm looking for some advice that I hope you can provide. Usually I'd take a "suck it and see" approach but travelling with a baby is stressful enough. I want military planning.

In the UK, when we book in advance our tickets and seat reservations are made at the same time and posted to us in advance. This means we can turn up at the last minute and be assured our seat.

(1) Seat Reservations and Tickets
My understanding is that on Amtrak you simply reserve a train in advance. If this is correct how/when do I get my actual train tickets and what can I do about seat reservations. Given the long journey and it being a family holiday travelling in First I would be pretty upset if we had to sit apart.

(2) Baggage
We're in the US for a month so will have a considerable amount of luggage. Is it worth checking in baggage? Will we ever see it again?

(3) South Boston v. Back Bay
Our hotel in Boston is in Back Bay which is the first stop on the Acela I believe. This is more convenient for us but is it worth taking a cab to South Boston to increase our chances of getting good seats and using the lounge?

Thanks folk!
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Old May 28, 12, 7:28 am   #2
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1. There are no seat reservations on Amtrak. If you want to sit close together, you should plan to depart from South Station, and board early. You can retrieve your actual tickets at any Amtrak station that has a ticket window or a QuikTrak machine. So even if your tickets are for a departure from BOS, you can pick them up at BBY a day or two prior to departure, if you prefer. You will need your six-character reservation number and your credit card to retrieve your tickets.

2. I have checked baggage a number of times on Amtrak, and have never had anything lost or delayed. However, there is only one train per day that carries checked baggage from BOS to WAS, and that is the overnight train. So if you check your baggage in at BOS just before taking the Acela, your baggage will be carried on the overnight train, and arrive WAS the next morning. If you want to do this, carry on what you need for your first overnight in WAS. Or, check your baggage in at BOS the day before your departure from BOS, and then claim it upon arrival at WAS.

3. As noted, departing from BOS is recommended to get your preferred seats, and is required if you want to check baggage. (There is no baggage checking available at BBY.)

I don't know whether this is of interest to you, but Amtrak permits free, en-route stopovers of less than 24 hours on its tickets, but the stopover(s) must be booked/ticketed before your first segment departs. So if you wanted to spend several hours (or even an overnight) in NYC or PHL, for example, you could do so at no extra charge, provided that the same fare bucket is available on all segments.

Also, be aware that tipping of the First Class attendant at the end of your ride is customary, if you have received good service. Others on this board can chime in on the usual amount of tipping.

Enjoy your trip!

Last edited by guv1976; May 28, 12 at 7:40 am..
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Old May 28, 12, 7:44 am   #3
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Just an addendum to the prior post: I have only booked free stopovers when traveling on Amtrak's regular service in Coach. You would have to double-check with Amtrak re: stopovers when traveling in First Class on the Acela Express.
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Old May 28, 12, 7:49 am   #4
 
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Thanks guv1976.

I presume that we could check our baggage on day of travel, enjoy the free stopover (if available) and then collect our baggage when we arrived in Washington the next day.

I'll look into the stopover option as I think it would great to stop off at Philly en route. We're arriving into NYC before we head to Boston so will not want to stopover again en route to Washington.

One last question: how much luggage can you take with you on the train (i.e. unchecked) and must it fit in the overhead bins?

Thanks again. Very helpful.
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Old May 28, 12, 8:17 am   #5
 
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According to amtrak.com, Back Bay station does not have checked luggage service, while South station does. I'm not sure whether Back Bay has "Red Cap" porter service, but I'm certain that South does.

When you get to Union Station in Washington, the train will be met by "Red Caps".

"Red Caps" work for tips, but they can be invaluable in negotiating your family through the crowds and onto the train, and making sure your luggage gets to the right place.

Also, I'm pretty sure that your ticket on Acela will give you a seat reservation (i.e., a specific location, not just a guarantee that you'll have a seat). This is not true on Amtrak's "Northeast Regional" or cross-country trains in a coach car, but I'm pretty sure it is on Acela.

Enjoy your trip.
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Old May 28, 12, 8:37 am   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MadProfessor
Thanks guv1976.

I presume that we could check our baggage on day of travel, enjoy the free stopover (if available) and then collect our baggage when we arrived in Washington the next day.

I'll look into the stopover option as I think it would great to stop off at Philly en route. We're arriving into NYC before we head to Boston so will not want to stopover again en route to Washington.

One last question: how much luggage can you take with you on the train (i.e. unchecked) and must it fit in the overhead bins?

Thanks again. Very helpful.
Here's a link to Amtrak's baggage policies:

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=AM_Content_C&pagename=am%2FLayout& cid=1241267293829

And yes, you can check your bags all the way through to WAS, even if you stop over at PHL or elsewhere. Be aware that not all Amtrak baggage clerks are aware that you can check bags on a train other than the one on which you will be a passenger. If you encounter any difficulty at BOS, just speak to a Customer Service Manager inside the station, and that should resolve any problem.

Please let us know what you find out about stopovers when traveling on Acela First Class. It occurs to me that while you might not have to pay any additional rail fare, you might get dinged with a second "accommodation charge" since you are traveling in First Class rather than in Business.
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Old May 28, 12, 10:27 am   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ND76 View Post
Also, I'm pretty sure that your ticket on Acela will give you a seat reservation (i.e., a specific location, not just a guarantee that you'll have a seat). This is not true on Amtrak's "Northeast Regional" or cross-country trains in a coach car, but I'm pretty sure it is on Acela.
Nope; no seat assignments for Acela. There was a short period of time back in 2000 where one was assigned a specific seat in First Class, but the experiment ended less than six months after it started.
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Old May 28, 12, 10:35 am   #8
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Originally Posted by guv1976 View Post
Please let us know what you find out about stopovers when traveling on Acela First Class. It occurs to me that while you might not have to pay any additional rail fare, you might get dinged with a second "accommodation charge" since you are traveling in First Class rather than in Business.
I'm pretty sure that there will be an extra charge for the first class accommodation. The same thing happens if you try to break a trip in a sleeper, you'll pay more for the sleeper than if you went all the way through on the same train.
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Old May 28, 12, 3:37 pm   #9
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I'm pretty sure that there will be an extra charge for the first class accommodation. The same thing happens if you try to break a trip in a sleeper, you'll pay more for the sleeper than if you went all the way through on the same train.
Yep - you will get dinged twice for the first class charge - it looks like $113 and $80, respectively (BOS-WAS is $122 for F).
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Old May 29, 12, 10:45 am   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ND76 View Post
According to amtrak.com, Back Bay station does not have checked luggage service, while South station does. I'm not sure whether Back Bay has "Red Cap" porter service, but I'm certain that South does.

When you get to Union Station in Washington, the train will be met by "Red Caps".

"Red Caps" work for tips, but they can be invaluable in negotiating your family through the crowds and onto the train, and making sure your luggage gets to the right place.
As an Acela F passenger, you will have access to the Club Acela at BOS. In addition to providing a nice place to wait for your departure, you will also be taken out to the train ahead of the normal crowds. Obviously, there will be competition for seats from the other F passengers who are boarding with you, but if you are prepared to go right when they call you for boarding, you should have no problem (and people in the F car may be more willing to let you sit together if they have not yet had a chance to sit down and establish themselves in their seat). If you can't find three seats close together, it's worth asking someone if they'd mind letting your family sit together.

You'll be led out (IIRC) by a redcap agent (who will also likely have stored your bags at the Club Acela entrance). I don't tip this Red Cap if he didn't provide me with baggage assistance, since all he's doing is leading you out to the train, but if he does help you with your bags at all (by storing them while you are in the Club Acela and helping you load them on the train), a tip of a buck or two per bag is reasonable.

At WAS, you can ask for a red cap to help with your bags if you want, but if you can handle your own bags, there's no need for one. There is also a Club Acela in WAS where you can grab a soda or use the restrooms (cleaner than the ones in the rest of the station) after arrival.

Last edited by jackal; May 29, 12 at 12:02 pm.. Reason: missing closing parenthesis
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Old May 29, 12, 11:11 am   #11
 
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Some quick thoughts...

1) Back Bay station is more like a London Tube station ... than a long distance train station..... so I recommend starting at South Station.

2) Back Bay also has an MTA station in it... and I've used the Marriott across the street and taken the subway from there to the airport and have seen a doorman's chins drop when they offer to get me a cab and I say, I think I'll walk across the street etc. Works fine if you're traveling light (which the OP may not be doing).

3) Union Station in DC has a great food court in it (in the basement) and when I'm in DC I often go there for lunch or dinner.

Bob H

Last edited by BobH; May 29, 12 at 12:50 pm..
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Old May 29, 12, 12:00 pm   #12
 
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
(and people in the F car may be more willing to let you sit together if they have not yet had a chance to sit down and establish themselves in their seat).
Or, if you can't all find a pair of seats together, just put the parent with the baby next to someone in a fancy suit and then take out a jar of baby food. This should resolve your seating dilemma in a jiffy.
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Old Jun 1, 12, 6:30 am   #13
 
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Also, be aware that tipping of the First Class attendant at the end of your ride is customary, if you have received good service. Others on this board can chime in on the usual amount of tipping.
I think that guv1976's response was great on the first few parts.

I'd just like to clarify that the concept of tipping in Acela F is a debated topic here on the board. Granted, guv said 'customary,' but it absolutely is not required and in my past experience, I've found it to be more of a rarity amongst the passengers than the norm. There are the occasional F attendants who walk around with a pre-stuffed glass of cash on a tray as you get into the big cities, and I personally dislike that.

I tried tipping a CA agent once who was very accommodating and helpful for some modifications to my itinerary, but he flat out refused.

No doubt that red-caps need to be tipped, however.
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Old Jun 4, 12, 5:50 pm   #14
 
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It would be helpful to those trying to answer your questions if we knew the date and time you're planning to travel. Getting seats together on the Friday or Monday of a holiday weekend might be challenging. If you're traveling at 11am on a Wednesday, it's a different story.
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Old Jun 11, 12, 7:22 am   #15
 
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Originally Posted by Dianne47 View Post
It would be helpful to those trying to answer your questions if we knew the date and time you're planning to travel. Getting seats together on the Friday or Monday of a holiday weekend might be challenging. If you're traveling at 11am on a Wednesday, it's a different story.
Thursday August 9th. Any time in the morning that isn't too busy i.e. we're happy to wait a while a miss rush hour. However, I guess given how long the train is it would get busy at one end at least.
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