Very belatedly, here's the promised Part 2 to the 2-part series of posts about writing on Amtrak trains: The Roomette Experience. This is the one relevant to your interests if you end up winning one of the coveted Amtrak Residencies.
Your Examiner just refreshed her memory on this by traveling with sleeper accommodations back from New Orleans to Denver. And yes, she got some writing done. Here are some observations about that process that might help you prepare for your own mobile writing retreat.
Your Room Awaits
The Superliner Roomette is not huge. At three and a half feet wide by six and a half feet long, it's less of a bedroom and more of a well appointed closet. But it's your closet, all yours, with a door that closes and locks you away into blissful privacy. And privacy is very nice when you're trying to make progress on your manuscript.
A folding tray table attached to the wall between the two seats makes a serviceable desk--one that is not attached to the back of a seat in which a small child is bouncing around or raising and lowering the leg rest, it's worth pointing out. The room's single outlet keeps your laptop going long past its battery lifespan. Bottled water, juice, and coffee coffee coffee is freely available for self-service in your car. And the huge picture window provides endless inspiration as you watch the country roll by.
Meals come free with your sleeper accommodations (alcohol and gratuity not included). Generally these are served in the diner car by reservation for dinner and by first-come-first-served for breakfast and lunch. You are not required to dress up in this casual day and age, but you may be required to socialize; seating is community-style. For the most part you're to leave personal belongings in your room rather than bring them to the diner, space being at a premium, but a small notebook for jotting down ideas is unlikely to offend.
If you're on a roll and would rather write through dinner, or if you're just feeling introverted, you may ask your sleeper car attendant to bring you your meal in your room.
When you're ready to go from vertical to horizontal, your sleeper car attendant will convert your sitting room into a bedroom. The two chairs slide together to convert into your bed; if you're traveling with a companion, one of you will take the upper bunk that folds down from the wall. That notebook for ideas-jotting can easily slip under your pillow, on the floor or the shelf beside the bottom bunk, or in one of a couple of safe-keeping spaces in the upper bunk.
Please do not attempt to make up your own bed. It makes the sleeper car attendant nervous. It also might injure you. Your sleeper car attendant has experience with handling the various moving parts on a speeding train; you don't. Be safe and let your attendant do for you those things that your attendant is there to do for you.
For a closer look at your accommodations, use the media links at the bottom of the Superliner Roomette description page.
Perks at Certain Stations
All sleeper car compartments, from the Superliner Roomette to the Superliner Bedroom, are considered first class accommodations. Some stations have a special lounge for travelers with first class accommodations. (Denver Union Station, pictured here, is not one of them. Yet. Alas.) For instance, if you're waiting to board the California Zephyr home from Chicago, your sleeper car ticket grants you access to the Metropolitan Lounge with its free wi-fi, non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, and plenty of comfortable seating. You needn't line up ahead of time and stand with your luggage for half an hour. Simply rest easy--maybe get a head start on your project or download whatever internet resources you'll need--until the lounge attendant announces boarding time and leads you directly out onto the track.
If you're not fortunate enough to win yourself a slot in the Amtrak Residency program, but you'd like to try riding first class, be prepared for a high price tag on your ticket. Compare: a one-way trip from Denver to Chicago departing Wednesday, April 30 (just to grab a date out of a hat) costs $116 for a coach seat, but $524 for a roomette. (Prices researched on Tuesday, April 15.) For many, that's too much even considering the free meals, privacy, and fully horizontal bed.
Another way to reserve your roomette is via Amtrak Guest Reward points. For the purpose of points redemption, Amtrak divides the US into three zones. Travel within a single zone by Superliner Roomette costs 15,000 points. Given that Denver is on a zone border, those 15,000 points will get you to anywhere in the Western or Central zones--all the way to the west coast, or as far east as New Orleans, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Toledo, or Detroit. This is probably the most economical way to go sleeper. It's how your Examiner got back from New Orleans the other week.
Now, how do you get 15,000 points? Well, first off, you earn two points for every dollar spent in rail travel. Sometimes Amtrak Guest Rewards runs promotions that allow you to earn double or triple points for your travel. You also earn points with partner hotels, airlines, and car rentals, or by shopping online via the Amtrak Guest Rewards "Points For Shopping" online mall. You can transfer points in from other travel reward programs; for instance, Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest program transfer into Amtrak Guest Reward points at a 1-to-1 ratio. Finally, you can apply for the Chase Amtrak Guest Reward Mastercard, which earns you two points per every dollar spent on Amtrak purchases and one point per every dollar spent elsewise.