Who Traveling by Train is For
Families- believe it or not Amtrak has families in mind. They specifically say that they are family-friendly and ask people to watch their language. They have a children's menu. They offer fare for children under 12 at half the cost for adults and for children 13 plus they can ride by themselves.
Going short distances- the sleeper cars are snug but nice. They are also expensive and there are less family rooms in each sleeping car (about 1 or 2). However if you are traveling a short distance, coach is cheaper than air fare and more roomy. So if you're only traveling a short distance, want the ability to move around, see the sites, and not have to drive, then the train is good for you.
Smokers- I'm not a big fan of smoking but I realize that these people exist. You can't smoke on the train just like the plane. However because the train makes periodic stops, they allow smokers a smoking break without going through security. So it's better than flying. You also can get off and stretch your legs.
Looser security- They don't make you take off your shoes (in fact they tell you to keep them on when moving about). They don't search your luggage (although they can). You can take on 2 personal items and 2 small suit cases (plus if your station allows you can check baggage). This doesn't include coats, pillows, blankets, and if with a small child diaper bags and strollers. You can bring on drinks and snacks. I've seen people with loaves of bread to cut costs. You can bring your own full-sized toiletries.
People who hate to fly- I can't stand flying because the air pressure gets to me. Every time I fly it's a new adventure as to how my body with react. Will I loose my hearing? Develop a migraine? Have my stomach do back flips? While the train isn't a smooth ride, you don't have as much trouble with altitude sickness. And I, who suffers from motion sickness in cars, recover much easier from the train. I did feel like I was still moving for a few hours after I had de-trained, but that was it.
People who like to leisurely travel and sight see- The plane usually makes it difficult to see much down below. One town looks like the next. Then there's clouds. Then there's the turning off of all electronic devices. Well let me tell you I saw the swampy flooding in the mid-west to the snow in El Paso. Never once was I told to turn off my camera or phone. There were people in the observation car (which has large windows) snapping pictures. Plus there is ample electrical outlets throughout the train (at least on ours). Some trains have free wi-fi.
Food- While the menu is okay, if you get a sleeper car reservation, the meals (minus alcohol and gratuity) is free. Like steak and potatoes? Well our train offered it for dinner. There's also the snack bar which you do pay for. But as I said before, you can bring your own food. Nobody is going to stop you, which is great for people with food allergies. Speaking of...you can contact Amtrak about food accommodations and they do have vegetarian options.
Who the Train is not For
Large people- While coach is definitely roomier than coach on a plane (the seats are like recliners), sleeping accommodations require bunk beds. The toilets are the same size as on a plane (minus the one in the observation car). The shower is tiny. Let's face it it's cramped.
Claustrophobic people- As mentioned it's a train so there's not that much space. You may have to sit next to a stranger in coach and while dining so if that bothers you, maybe the train (and flying) is not for you.
People who take pets- The plane allows pets. The train only allows trained service animals.
People with expensive stuff- They tell you to keep valuables and id on your person, but tell you not to bring anything expensive. There's also no way to lock up your luggage so theoretically someone could take your suitcase although that would be rare. I imagine though if there's a string of luggage thieves Amtrak would make some adjustments to how it designs it's luggage racks and sleeper compartments (which have no locks on the outside).
People who have to travel long distances or certain destinations- I don't recommend going from LA to NYC by train. You would have to change lines. Plus it would take you several days. We originally thought about going all the way to my in-laws but we would have to change lines and it would have cost extra. Instead we opted to get off at the nearest city, which is incidentally where we have to go to if we fly anyway. It worked out fine. That said, going to visit my parents would be harder. I could get a few hours away on one line or the other option is that I could visit other relatives that they drive out to.
So that's my take on the train. Stay tuned for how our family vacation went including misadventures in vomiting and my take on the new Star Wars flick.