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By Jack M. Turner

Our arrival at Chicago Union Station on Saturday, July 2, 2016 aboard the California Zephyr was filled with anticipation as we prepared to experience the new first class Metropolitan Lounge for the first time.  On the outbound trip in mid-June we spent much of our layover between the City of New Orleans and the Empire Builder in the old Metropolitan Lounge located close to the south concourse gates.  Now the journey from trackside to the lounge would be longer as it has been relocated close to the station’s Great Hall which is about as far from the boarding gates as one could get.  Using a red cap to transport us and our luggage was a sensible way of making our way to the lounge and we were glad that we did just that.

Our first impression of the new Metropolitan Lounge was very positive as a red carpet stretched out the front door welcoming departing sleeping car passengers (and apparently ticketed business class customers) inside.  We were met at the reception desk by Susie, a veteran Amtrak representative with a smile and a friendly “Welcome to the new Metropolitan Lounge!”  Indeed the lounge had just opened that Monday and we were among the first passengers to experience its hospitality.


The red carpet welcomes first class passengers to the new Metropolitan Lounge


The Metropolitan Lounge welcome desk; baggage room is to right through open door


An HD message welcomes passengers


Train status board in the lobby of the Metropolitan Lounge

The new facility has a fairly large baggage storage room with shelves for do-it-yourself luggage storage.  While the old lounge had an attendant who checked in stored luggage, the new room has a secure feel as its entrance is beside the reception desk.  A similar arrangement in Washington, DC and New York has worked well for us in our many visits to those first class lounges and a few measures such as locking our luggage and running a bungee cord through the suitcase handles has provided peace of mind that someone won’t mistake our black suitcase for their black suitcase.

The new lounge contains a collection of spacious rooms giving a more relaxed feel than the old Metropolitan Lounge.  A variety of sofas, easy chairs, and wingback chairs promise comfortable seating to suit any taste.  Large flat screen televisions are mounted in strategic places to allow waiting passengers to watch programming if they so desire or ensconce themselves in a quieter spot, out of earshot of the television.  This feature is most appreciated as the limited seating of the old lounge often forced customers to stare at a television screen filled with images that did not interest or that offended them.  We also found excellent wi-fi service in the new Metropolitan Lounge as our I-phones connected easily and automatically directed to a page showing the arrival or departure status of all trains serving Chicago during the late afternoon and evening.  Electrical outlets were plentiful and well located for recharging a phone or connecting a laptop.


The largest waiting room in the new Metropolitan Lounge


These high back chairs were welcomed during our long layover


A kids play area complete with Disney Channel programming


A smaller waiting room in the Metropolitan Lounge


A more intimate waiting room with a rendering of station remodeling plans


Another view of the large waiting room with children’s area in the back

A snack center offers complimentary beverages and snacks and the new Metropolitan Lounge offers larger restrooms than its predecessor.  A new feature is the showers that are available at no charge to first class passengers.  The key card entry system for the showers was not in operation yet when we visited so there was not a chance to inspect that feature.  Meanwhile the Metropolitan Lounge has a second level upstairs accessed by stairs or an elevator.  That part of the lounge also has a relaxed, comfortable appearance and has an entry door opening directly to Canal Street.  During our visit the upstairs area closed at 4:00pm as presently it is needed during the busy midday period before all of the western trains depart.  The two level lounge seats 360, more than triple the capacity of the former facility.


The upstairs component of the Metropolitan Lounge


The stairs and second floor portion of the Metropolitan Lounge

Coach passengers also have a comfortable option to wait for their train in the form of the new Legacy Club, located at the far end of the Great Hall.  An admission fee is charged for access to the facility which features comfortable seating and a quiet environment with similar amenities to the Metropolitan Lounge.  A quick look inside revealed an adjoining meeting room set up for a group of perhaps 30 attendees.  Legacy Club users also benefit from priority boarding of their trains which allows them to avoid the cattle herd stampede usually associated with coach travel at Union Station.


Entrance to the Legacy Club


Inside the Legacy Club’s main seating area


The Legacy Club is available to coach passengers for a fee


Entrance sign for the Legacy Club conference room


The Legacy Club’s Founders Room is set up for a meeting


The main coach waiting area is in the Great Hall

It is worth remembering that both lounges are at the far end of Union Station away from the boarding gates.  Thus investing in a red cap can cut down some of the potentially long walk especially if your sleeping car is near the front of a departing train or if you have heavy luggage.  Regardless of this, the new Metropolitan Lounge is a real winner for first class travelers and the Legacy Club seems a step up for coach passengers.


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