- 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.
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.
I wandered around the station, snapping pictures like the world’s most easily impressed tourist.
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.
There weren’t too many people in the waiting room on the day I was set to travel.
But the station did have some old phone booths …
… and a food stand that may or may not have been operated by a former Spice Girl.
We waited around for about 15 minutes.
And then the train rolled up.
The conductors ushered us into a line, and we began to board.
The conductors would ask about each passenger’s destination, and then direct them to the appropriate car.
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.
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.
But dinner was still hours away, so I headed to the snack car to tide myself over.
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.”
As I read the locomotive-themed thriller, I sipped on a plastic cup of cabernet from the snack bar.
Unlike my fictional counterpart, I managed not to drink myself into a blackout or implicate myself in a murder investigation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lights dimmed, but the car was still too bright for me.
What’s more, some passengers continued to talk even after the lights went down.
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.
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.
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.
I was thrilled when we pulled into Penn Station. At that point, I felt exhausted and stiff from my 23-hour train odyssey.
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.
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.
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.
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]
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.