One of the most enjoyable ways of traveling quickly and efficiently without flying is by rail. In the United States, there is only one long-service rail provider: Amtrak. My husband and I recently traveled to Orlando, Florida for some sun, fun and relaxation at Disney World. A full trip from New York’s Penn Station to Orlando, Florida is approximately 21 hours long. I highly recommend shelling out the extra bucks for a Roomette or Bedroom in the sleeper car for longer journeys. Each of these types of rooms is equipped with a lavatory, sink, storage for luggage, and comfortable chairs which allow you to relax in privacy and have a bed made up for the evening hours. Most important, you will also have your own window to look out at the scenery racing by, and you can press your nose against the glass to your heart’s content without disturbing your neighbors.
If you get a compartment in the sleeper car, there are some perks included in your ticket. For departures from Penn Station, this includes a separate quiet waiting area in the Acela Lounge. Here you will find a private check-in area, racks of useful travel information (to plan your next train trip!) and complementary coffee, tea, and danishes. There are also big comfy chairs and private restrooms. It’s a nice place to fill out your Amtrak luggage tags and get organized before the train ride. Electronic boards and announcements are visible from every corner of the lounge ensuring that you do not miss the train. There is something very romantic about embarking on a trip by train. I have grown to love standing out on the breezy concrete platform alongside the train while the porters and attendants do a great job greeting and assisting everyone on board. I love the smell of diesel. I love the sight of e-clips. The rush of knowing the train only has stopped for a few minutes to let you on board before going on to its next destination just adds to the romance! And that first step onto the train and into the hushed gray corridor holds within it all of the excited anticipation of an adventure just beginning. Shortly after boarding the train, you will be greeted by an attendant who will direct you to the dining car for lunch, and take your reservation for dinner. Lunch, Dinner and Breakfast are included in your ticket price for sleeper compartments from New York to Florida. Amtrak dining cars currently are the last holdouts of old-fashioned style that all trains maintained a century ago. White tablecloths, curtains, etched glass dividers, bread baskets, and teal upholstered seating make for a rather elegant space to enjoy your meals in. Lunch fare is usually pretty basic, with a choice of “soup of the day” (Manhattan Clam Chowder), a garden salad, or a massive, yet tasty, hamburger with potato chips. Dinner options tend to be quite good, and often include a hanger steak with baked potato, roasted chicken with rice pilaf, beef merlot stew over rice, vegetarian lasagna, and a fish of the day option. Soft Drinks and water are also included with your ticket, however you will pay a few dollars out of pocket if you would like glass of wine with your meal…oh go on, you’re on vacation!
If you are traveling in a party of two (or alone) be forewarned you will be seated with other travelers for most of dinner. This is something I have always enjoyed, and I highly encourage you sit down to dinner with a friendly smile and an open mind. On numerous trips, without fail, I have met very interesting people who have traveled across the country by train for various reasons. From my fellow travelers, I have learned about the mountains of Montana, biking across Ohio, farming grapes in Indiana, teaching English in Austria, and where to get the absolute BEST Philly Cheesesteak. While you’re in the dining car, don’t forget to look for the vintage posters at the back, which change on different routes. Also don’t forget to order dessert. Amtrak desserts are delicious! At various times they offer peanut butter pie, cheesecake with strawberry sauce, chocolate mousse, or small cups of sorbet or vanilla ice cream. You can even take it back to your room for a midnight snack if you are too full to eat it at the table.
If you don’t feel like sitting for an hour in the dining car for lunch or dinner, walk straight through and into the Cafe car. The Cafe car provides snacks, sandwiches, and beverages with a wider range of hours than the dining car. You must pay for items in the Cafe car, they are not included in your ticket price. Be forewarned, the price for some items is expensive, sometimes double what you would pay in the grocery store. They do offer some hot items, including hot dogs and microwaved pizza, as well as cheese and crackers, potato chips, and candy. Beverages offered include wine, beer, coffee, tea, cans of soda and juice. If you want to bring home a souvenir for a train enthusiast, the Cafe car sometimes sells Amtrak memorabilia on the longer trips, including playing cards, blankets, and baseball caps.
For the majority of the trip you will be sitting in your seat watching the scenery fly by. The route on the Silver Star and Silver Meteor, New York to Florida will run through major cities, including Trenton, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Raleigh, Savannah, and Jacksonville. Washington allows for great views of the mall, including Washington’s monument, several Smithsonian buildings, and the Jefferson memorial. You will be going by pretty fast, so try to have your camera ready. I like the abstract quality of this photo of the mall in D.C. I once read about an artist who traveled the country by rail and created abstract pastel paintings of the views outside her window. Maybe you want to bring your sketching materials on your next trip! One of the prettiest parts of the Northeast route is the Chesapeake. The train will travel over several bridges crossing the span of the river and its tributaries. By the time you are exiting Virginia on the North to South route, it will be time set up the beds for your night’s sleep. I liken a stay in an Amtrak Bedroom or Roomette to an evening in a spaceship. First, there are many buttons for reading and room lights to play with. Second, you must ease your way through the slim passage of the room to get from one area of the cabin to the next (i.e. the lavatory). In a bedroom the couch seating slides out into a full bed and the top bunk folds down for a second twin bed. Be forewarned, once the bunk is pulled down, there will be limited walking space in the room, due to the metal ladder needed to access the top bunk, and it will be difficult to sit up on the bottom bunk. Be sure you are ready for bed before asking the attendant to set up for sleeping. Most attendants request that you have your room turned over for sleeping by 10:00 PM. Complimentary bottles of water, soap, towels and washcloths are supplied and make getting ready for bed easy. If you need extra pillows or blankets, these can be found on the top bunk or provided to you. Once the lights are out, you will be rocked to sleep by the movement of the train and wake up in another state in the morning. Don’t forget to plug in your phone and digital devices for charging in the double outlet while you are sleeping, so you are good to go when you wake up.