Friday, July 13, 2018

Alternate Transportation, Riding the Rails

on his birthday

Four years ago, our family booked a family reunion in Orlando, Florida.  Some of the family went by airplane, but my son and I decided to book onto a train that would take us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Orlando Florida.  The cost was right and we would be on the upper level with the option of watching the sights go by and not having to keep the foot on the pedal or pull over to see the scenery of our country.

After we booked our trip we told my second son about the great prices and they decided to book the same train for his wife and two children.  The plan was hatched.  Double deck train to Washington DC and then in the regular Amtrak cars from DC to Orlando.

Everything was fine until the my oldest son had a foot amputated and we had to change our e-tickets for handicapped seating.  My son and I sat on the bottom deck and the other son and his family sat in the upper deck.  He boarded with his wheelchair and was seated in a front seat.  This was a shame because he missed the opportunity to get to the dining cars and to the observation car.

Bill relaxing on the way to Orlando
I did the running between cars to get sodas and snacks from the cafe which on the double deck train was a trip up the stairs then cross over from one car to another twice and then down the stairs to get to the cafe.  Remember, I'm the one with the handicapped parking and was hovering just below 70.  But, I made it.  We are a coca cola family so that meant we had to substitute Sierra Mist for our drinks because Amtrak carries only Pepsi products.

I did get to see the observation car it was nicely laid out with seats that faced out the windows and tables for larger groups to sit.

Other than that the trip from Pittsburgh to DC was great.  We left about 15 minutes behind schedule but ended up getting to DC about 45 minutes late which cut us back to a much smaller time to get into the station and onto the platform for the train to Orlando.  The Amtrak personnel were very accommodating by giving us a ride from the upper deck to the lower deck to get onto the next train.

handicapped lift provided at each station
The second half of the trip was overnight.  I think if I were to do this trip again I would consider getting a sleeper.  My son and I were very uncomfortable and needed to switch often.  The only good thing turned out to be a bad thing.  We were seated right behind the bathrooms.  There are two on each car.  The rest of the bathrooms were having customer problems and the two by us seemed to be the choice of the entire four cars that were on this train.  They were lined up constantly for the train until someone did the unthinkable and stopped up the big one.  Then it was locked for the rest of the trip into Orlando.

My sons are smokers and the younger boy was able to hop off the train on the longer stops and grab a quick puff or two from a cigarette.  If he lucked out and there was someone being loaded by the lift then it took longer and he got two cigarettes.  The oldest boy though was confined to the inside of the car and was not able to get out for a cigarette.  The conductor offered to get him out at one station because they had four people who were going to need to be lifted onto the train.  That was very nice of them since they are not obligated to offer that service.  He refused the courtesy though because we were so close to Orlando by this time and we were well over an hour behind schedule.

We were behind schedule because we had to sit on sidings and let freight trains pass by.  That is because Amtrak uses Conrail tracks and Conrail has preference if there is a conflict on a one track section.  At one point the freight train passed us and then another Amtrak train whizzed past us going like the wind.  That held us up from getting into the next station even longer.

Homward bound
Coming home the conductor explained to us that they let already late trains wait if they have one that is on time go first to stay on time.  This picture show us so much more relaxed on the way home since the son had two massages that gave him two and a half hours of therapeutic massages.  I got a half hour Swedish massage while I was in at the timeshare.  We traveled home by way of train from Orlando to Washington DC where we rented a minivan for the rest of the trip home.  We decided to do this because there was going to be an eight hour layover in DC while we waited for the next train into Pittsburgh and then a seven hour train ride.  Even though we had to wait for the car rental office to open we were home in Pittsburgh before the train left Washington DC.

Even with the cost of the car rental my round trip only cost the two of us $750 total.  That was the full train ride from Pittsburgh to Orlando.  The Train ride back from Orlando to DC and the car rental.  I don't think we could have flown for that price and at least I had the opportunity to get up and walk around.

All in all, I enjoyed the ability to move around during the ride and even though it took a longer time to get where we were going, I got to see places and things I would never see from the air.

It is my recommendation if your travels allow enough time for taking the train to give it a try.  Our check in was for Saturday at 4 pm.  We left Pittsburgh on Friday at 5 am and arrived in Orlando well before our check in time at around noon on Saturday.  Of course, coming home was more of a hassle but would have gotten us home by train before the end of day on Sunday.

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