Lifestyle blogger Starre Vartan recently wrote about why she thinks train travel is the best way to go. I read it with interest and anticipation because my husband had booked our family on our first long-distance train trip from Philadelphia to Orlando for vacation. Starre's piece encouraged me, but her trip was missing two things that mine would include: my two young boys.

 

I wondered if I would end up at my destination less stressed than if I had taken a flight, especially when we had opted not to get a sleeper car. What made us take the train with our boys instead of flying? There were several reasons:

 

  • It was less expensive. Because of school schedules, the week we chose to go to Orlando is a popular week for everyone in New Jersey to take a vacation. As a result, the airlines increase their prices to Orlando. We flew back at about half of what it would have cost to fly there. (Due to scheduling, we were only able to take the train on the way there, not on the way back.)
  • I hate to fly. I do it, and I'll never let it stop me from going somewhere, but I hate it. I find it extremely stressful.
  • We wanted the experience.
 

I am very glad we took the train. I did arrive at my destination de-stressed. Not everything about the trip was ideal, but the pros definitely outweighed the cons.

 

Benefits of taking the train

  • We didn't have to arrive two hours early to go through security. We arrived at the station 45 minutes before our train departed, and we could have arrived a little later.
  • There were no fees for our luggage.
  • We were able to take all the food and drinks we wanted; we didn't have to buy drinks once we got through security as we do at the airport.
  • Speaking of security, there was no security screening for the train. There was a sign in the train station that said random searches could take place, but I didn't see any.
  • The seats on the train are roomier than seats on a plane. There was plenty of legroom. Seatbelts aren't required. I didn't feel trapped at all, unlike the way I feel on a plane.
  • My boys missed two days of school for the trip. They had plenty of time to do their makeup work on the train before we arrived in Orlando. They were able to enjoy their week without schoolwork hanging over their heads.
  • You never know who you're going to meet. There was a family sitting behind us with kids the same age as my boys. While this might happen on a plane, too, the ability to interact with the people you meet on a train is greater. My 9-year-old and his new friend were able to go on a tour of the train, including getting a look at the sleeper cars, and find room to play games together.
  • Twenty hours gave me plenty of time to decompress. I watched three movies on the iPad, got some reading done and had long, (mostly) uninterrupted conversations with my husband.
  • I got a surprising amount of sleep on the train. The seats reclined and a piece pulled out to elevate your legs. It wasn't as comfortable as a bed, obviously, but it was certainly more comfortable than sleeping in a plane seat.
 

 

Drawbacks of taking the train

  • The train takes longer than flying when you're going a long distance. We had the time to take the train on the way down, but to get home in time for school and work, we chose to take a plane home. In our culture, a 20-hour train ride can seem like a huge waste of time when that trip could be taken in five hours (including the two hours at the airport before the flight takes off). Many people see downtime as a luxury they can't afford. Until the United States puts high-speed rail travel in place for much of the country, the ability to ride the train like my family did is not going to be embraced by a large portion of the population.
  • There was a temperature-control problem in our car. It got very hot in the middle of the night. So hot that in frustration, I tweeted Amtrak about the situation (and they tweeted back early the next morning). The air had been turned off in our car and no one realized it until it was stifling. It took several hours for the temperature to become comfortable once the air was turned back on.
  • The food service on the train was expensive (negating some of the money we saved by not flying) and the quality was poor. I had packed snacks but not meals, mainly because I had some crazy vision of the dining car being straight out of "North by Northwest." I know better now, and next time I'll take more (and different) food.
 

That being said, I would definitely take the train again. If you ask my boys, they are split. My 9-year-old says he'd love to. My 12-year-old says he'd rather just fly. They both did extremely well on the train, and it was only in the last hour that they became antsy. My husband, who spends quite a lot of time on a train commuting for work to D.C. and New York City, said he'd do it again, but hopes that Amtrak soon gets Wi-Fi on its long-distance trains. I don't know about that. If there was Wi-Fi, I might have been tempted to work — and not doing so was one of the most relaxing parts of the experience.

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