One of the reasons I started this blog is because in general it's remarkably difficult to find practical details about the actual mechanics of airline, hotel, and credit card rewards programs. For example, until my recent posts on redeeming Barclaycard Arrival miles (and subsequent pale imitators), there was no way to know that the card has the option of using your points to make partial award redemptions.
Last Friday, July 5th, I took Acela First Class from Providence, RI down to Philadelphia as part of a quick vacation before traveling out West for my brother's wedding. Some pretty extensive Googling didn't yield any information about the Acela First Class product (besides the Knob Creek bourbon they serve onboard), so I want to share my experience so readers have an idea of what to expect if their miles and points ever take them out East.
The train left Providence slightly late, but once on board my companion and I were shown to a pair of facing seats. This hilarious diagram shows the different kinds of seats available in First Class; we were sitting at a "small table" on that chart.
Here I made my first mistake; in the course of my preliminary research before the trip, I had read that in both directions of travel, meals in First Class are served after leaving New York's Penn Station. Not true! As soon as we were seated, a steward came by to hand us menus and take our drink orders. When he returned with our drinks, he took our meal orders, and delivered them more or less immediately to our table. Of course, thinking it would be 3+ hours before we ate, I had lunch before we left for the station. So, lesson learned: at least on some (all?) Acela trains, you'll receive your meal shortly after departure.
My companion had the "sunflower and goat cheese salad," and I had the salmon on the third of the "rotating menus." Hers was good! Mine was a bit bland, but certainly an improvement over the food in domestic airline first class. In general I find train food to be more flavorful than airline food, and this was no exception.
The drink service is key in any First Class experience, and Acela's was...ok? Going in, I was worried that there might be some kind of "one drink with your meal" rule, which was emphatically not the case. However, additional drink service after we were seated did depend on the steward noticing that our glasses were empty. My companion thought the entire experience was perfect, so I can't say our steward did anything wrong, but I can't say that he was at any point "solicitous."
I find that Amtrak is the best way to get around the East coast, and having now experienced Acela's First Class, I think it's the most aspirational Amtrak product I've tried, and I'll certainly use it whenever I'm traveling outside New England (there's no significant advantage to Acela on shorter routes).
Having said that, I am writing this from coach in the middle of another Amtrak award trip that has not gone nearly as well...