I spent 23 hours on an Amtrak train from Orlando to New York — and it was a roller-coaster experience with extreme highs and lows

Áine Cain/Hollis Johnson/Samantha Lee/Business InsiderSleeping was rough.
  • I took an Amtrak train from Orlando, Florida, to New York City.
  • The journey took a bit over 23 hours.
  • Being on a train for such a long time is a bit of a bummer, but the experience did have some bright spots.

I’m no Amtrak novice. I’ve taken the train between Williamsburg, Virginia, where I went to college, and New York City plenty of times. The trip’s about eight hours.

But a few weeks ago, I decided to embark on a considerably more intense voyage. My friend ran the Disney Princess 5K in Walt Disney World this year, and I flew down to cheer her on.

Read more: Amtrak is sending people on its most scenic routes across the US free. Here’s how to apply.

At some point, I got it into my head that it’d be interesting to take the Amtrak back. The trip would take a little over 23 hours, barring any problems. My ticket cost $US120.

Here’s a look inside my 23-hour Amtrak train ride:

After spending a long weekend in Orlando, my friend and I took an Uber to the city’s train station on a sunny afternoon.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOrlando’s train station.

I wandered around the station, snapping pictures like the world’s most easily impressed tourist.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe Amtrak station in Orlando.

I was surprised to find that the Orlando Amtrak stop featured a rather pretty building in the Spanish Mission style. Maybe I’m just too used to Penn Station.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOrlando’s train station.

There weren’t too many people in the waiting room on the day I was set to travel.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderInside Orlando’s train station.

But the station did have some old phone booths …

Áine Cain / Business InsiderInside Orlando’s train station.

… and a food stand that may or may not have been operated by a former Spice Girl.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOrlando’s train station.

We waited around for about 15 minutes.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOrlando’s train station.

And then the train rolled up.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOrlando’s train station.

The conductors ushered us into a line, and we began to board.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe Amtrak train rolling into the station.

The conductors would ask about each passenger’s destination, and then direct them to the appropriate car.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderPassengers embarking on the Amtrak.

When I got to my seat, I was surprised by how much legroom I had. There was even a metal footrest that I could pull out.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderI had a lot of space.

There was enough room for the balloon animal hat my friend and I got in Universal Studios’ Margaritaville (which we refused to discard because it was cute).

The presence of a balloon animal at my feet did cause me to spend the whole trip in a state of mild paranoia that it’d pop and spark a panic on the train. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Overall, the seat itself was quite comfortable and bigger than I expected.

There was enough space that I felt comfortable reclining my seat, without having to worry about crushing or inconveniencing the person behind me.

I plugged in my iPhone and got settled. So far, so good.

For a while, I was content to chat with my seat neighbour and watch Florida whoosh by the window.

Then, a woman sitting a few rows behind us kindly passed over a dining-car menu. I’ve patronized Amtrak snack cars in my time, but never a full-fledged dining car.

I got pretty excited. When an Amtrak employee came around to take our reservations, I signed up for a 6:30 p.m. slot.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderA view out the Amtrak’s window.

But dinner was still hours away, so I headed to the snack car to tide myself over.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe Amtrak dining car.

For a snack, I bought a cup of hummus and pretzels.

I made my purchases and then crossed over into the adjacent lounge car.

The place was pretty quiet, and I had a whole table to myself.

I sat down and proceeded to get really meta by reading “The Girl on the Train.”

Áine Cain / Business InsiderAs a girl on a train, I opted to read ‘The Girl on the Train.’

As I read the locomotive-themed thriller, I sipped on a plastic cup of cabernet from the snack bar.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe wine I bought on the train.

Unlike my fictional counterpart, I managed not to drink myself into a blackout or implicate myself in a murder investigation.

Áine Cain / Business Insider‘The Girl on the Train.’

Later on, I made an unsuccessful attempt to take an artsy pic of the window. The reflection of my fellow passengers was blurring with the forest outside.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderIt didn’t come out very well.

After a while, I decided that I wanted to check my emails and listen to some music.

But I got so wrapped up in creating my train-themed playlist that I lost track of time and missed my dining-car reservation.

I slipped through the narrow corridor leading to the dining car. At this point, I was about 15 minutes late to dinner.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe hallway to the dining car.

After taking a quick glimpse into what I assume was the train’s kitchen …

I made it to the dining car. The room was certainly a departure from the bare-bones snack car. This space had fancier light fixtures on the ceiling, wood panels on the walls, and white tablecloths on the table.

The maître d’ took pity on me and sat me with a young Mennonite couple and their adorable baby. We made small talk, and I stared at the Amtrak-branded plates.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderAn Amtrak-branded plate.

Butter, cream, and a suspiciously large basket of Newman’s Own packets sat in the center of the table. We all received a warm roll to start off.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderHow many Newman’s Own packets could a table need?

I ordered the rigatoni, which turned out to be disappointingly light on actual pasta. String beans dominated the dish.

Once I finished my meal, I headed back to my seat. At this point in the night, I was beginning to feel like I’d been on the train forever.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderA door on the Amtrak.

My experience so far, however, had been pretty positive. The food was overpriced and so-so quality-wise, but I’d enjoyed my visit to the dining car, with its somewhat cheesy attempt at setting an elegant ambience.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThe passage connecting the train cars.

I also appreciated the social nature of riding the train. On an aeroplane, I usually just close my eyes and listen to music. But on the Amtrak, my neighbour — a lovely woman from Québec — and I spent a lot of time chatting about life.

Then, it came time for sleep. For me, that’s when things went — pardon the pun — off the rails.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderA shot of the Amtrak car.

The lights dimmed, but the car was still too bright for me.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderInside the train car.

What’s more, some passengers continued to talk even after the lights went down.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderMy train selfie.

I’m a light sleeper at best. As the hours ticked on, I began envying one nearby passenger, who’d had the sense to cocoon herself in a thick blanket.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderThis passenger had the right idea.

At some point, I did fall asleep. But it didn’t last. The train had been stuffy and warm when I managed to drift off. When I woke up around around 3 a.m., I was freezing.

I was also desperately thirsty, probably owing to the wine I’d had earlier in the night. I wandered around a bit, and was overjoyed to find a spigot at one end of the car. The water was metallic, but I didn’t care.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderFortunately, the car had water.

The rest of the night was pretty rough. Around 6 a.m., I decided to just stay awake and listen to podcasts.

My stomach wasn’t feeling 100%, so I skipped breakfast that morning. Instead, I talked some more with my seat neighbour and read up on how Amtrak passengers on the other side of the country had been stranded in their train for days — a chilling thought.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderA view out the window.

Read more:
An Amtrak train with 183 passengers on board was stuck for more than 36 hours after hitting a tree in Oregon

I was thrilled when we pulled into Penn Station. At that point, I felt exhausted and stiff from my 23-hour train odyssey.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderOur Amtrak arriving at Penn Station.

Hauling my luggage to the subway, I realised that I’d never been so happy to see Penn Station.

On the one hand, sleeping on the journey was nearly impossible for me. Not only was the train loud and bright, but the temperatures seemed to keep shifting between stifling and frigid.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderI was not a happy camper.

I’d naively planned to head into work after getting in, but I felt so tired and gross that I ended up going home and taking a nap.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderMe on the Metro North.

On the other hand, I loved getting to meet new people, explore the dining car, and unwind with a book in the lounge car. And I thought my seat was quite comfortable and roomy.

Oh, and my balloon animal survived the trip. Kind of. I think that’s a testimony to the amount of space I was able to take up on the train.

Áine Cain / Business InsiderMy balloon animal.

I’d say that, unless you’re terrified of planes, it’s probably best to avoid massive train trips. But if you can sleep anywhere, you’re not in a rush, and you’re up for a bit of an adventure, a lengthy Amtrak trip might be a good option.

Work for Amtrak? Email me at [email protected]

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