Monday, July 26, 2010

Trip Report: Amtrak Acela First Class

Last week the Hat Trick had the opportunity to travel on the Amtrak Acela service between Washington, DC Union Station and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. The Hat Trick, while primarily being an airline fan, also has a soft spot for train travel as a result of spending a lot of time in Europe while growing up and getting to experience train travel first hand.

For this trip the Hat Trick splurged and upgraded for the the First Class compartment of the train. I've traveled on the Acela before (and enjoyed it immensely!) but have always been in the Business Class section, which is the remainder of the train, so this seemed like a good opportunity to try out the upgraded product. In addition to curiosity I also made this choice due to timing and a need to eat and relax before a job interview!


The reason I even needed to take the train from Washington to Philadelphia was a last-minute, third interview with an organization. As my readers know, the Hat Trick has been unemployed for a year and a half and not liking it. Luckily Mrs. East Coast Wing was able to secure employment in New Jersey, hence our move to the state. We were in DC last week to supervise the move and close on our house which is chronicled in this previous post. We decided that instead of having me drive back and forth I could travel down with the family, take the train back for my interview and then come down with the second car after the interview. This is probably more information then my readers would care for but anyone who knows me knows that I am thorough when relating information!

The Trip:

I traveled to Washington's Union Station via the Washington Metrorail. After a hot trip on the Metro Yellow and Red Lines I arrived at the Union Station and proceeded to the ticketing level. Amtrak has several convenient self-service kiosks available and within two minutes I had my ticket purchased and was heading to Amtrak's Club Acela lounge. Club Acela is similar to an airline club (with the VERY noticeable exception of not having a bar!) that allows passengers to relax in a fairly quiet environment while waiting for departure. Soft drinks, juices, water and light snacks are available and clubs are located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. The Washington, DC location was a little worn and needed updating but was a much better option compared with the crowds in the main departure area given that it is a typical hot Washington summer with lots of tourists! One of the best advantages about the Club Acela is that First Class customers are invited to board the train first through doors that lead directly from the club to the tracks, bypassing the crowded departure lounge filled with people jockeying for position in the line to go out to the train (yes, even in an all-business class train!). Another bonus is that they enforce who can board first by turning back business class customers...a nice touch.

I was greeted upon boarding by one of the two cabin attendants and immediately asked if I would like a beverage. The service throughout the journey was very prompt and my vodka tonic was always quickly refreshed throughout the journey. Acela First also features sit down meals during the trip: the choices from my particular journey included the following (I traveled during the dinner hour):
  • Starter: Tom Douglas Rub with Love snack mix
  • Entrees: Small Plate (sliced fruit, cheese and almonds), Thai Chili mint salad, pan seared halibut or wheat ravioli (vegetarian option) and a lemon bar for desert.
I chose the halibut and found it pretty tasty and warm, which is a pet peeve of the Hat Trick. The beverage selection was comprehensive and included soft drinks, juices, red and white wine and a good selection of spirits even though they labeled Jack Daniels as a bourbon which my bourbon connoisseurs and readers from Kentucky know is really Tennessee whiskey...a minor point but something that still made me smile.

We departed and arrived on time and the trip was extremely pleasant. Overall the Hat Trick liked the First Class service on Acela but I'm not sure I would always pay for the upgrade. Regardless, it's a solid offering and I'm happy that it is available for individuals who regularly travel on the Acela and the Hat Trick, in the right circumstances, would definitely try it again.

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