By Ruthie DiTucci

My day started with a call to 1 800 USA RAIL (1 800 872 7245). I booked passage on the 1:10 PM (Train #97) from Orlando, Florida down to Miami. I hadn’t been on a train in decades and had forgotten the experience!  The most important thing you have to secure is parking. When I called to book the tickets yesterday, I was told there was parking right next door (not true). There is free parking for anyone taking the train but the parking lot was built ages ago when there was generally “one” car per household not one car per every member of each household as there is today.

Now that’s what I call a bathroom with a full shower. This is the private bathroom found onboard an amtrak train when one books a “room”. It is marvelous!

Luckily, Ryan Bradshaw and Peter Ramirez were there to give me a hand – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to board the train at all because I actually had no place to park the car. Make sure to call the surrounding parking spots “before” you book your train ticket. The Amtrak station’s address is 1400 Sligh Blvd., Orlando, FL.

The three closest public parking sites within a mile of the station are:  Standard Parking located at 460 Boone Ave, Orlando, FL ‎ 0.8 mi from the Amtrak station. Their number is (407) 540-0057 ‎ · standardparking.com. The next one is LAZ Parking located at  25 W South St, Orlando, FL ‎ 0.9 mi from the Amtrak station. Their number is  (407) 423-4927 ‎ · lazparking.com.  There is also Lanier Parking System located at 255 S Orange Ave, Orlando, FL ‎ 0.9 mi from the Amtrak station. Their number is  (407) 839-8538 ‎ · lanierparking.com. When you arrive on the Amtrak street you will see a large parking lot at the end of the street staring right at you but that parking set up is strictly for local hospital employees (without exception).

Even if your train trip is less than a day long (5, 6 or 7 hours) you can reserve a coach seat or you can reserve a roommette or a bedroom. Trust me when I tell you that the ride is well worth paying for the upgrade. There are 2, sometimes 3 kinds of “sleeper rooms”. They have “Roommettes” or “Bedrooms” or “Bedroom Suites”. I upgraded to the roommette (even though I wasn’t going to sleep) simply because I was carrying  newsroom equipment and could not leave the seat because I could not haul it back and forth.

Some of the people that will take care of you along the Orlando to Miami trip are Candice Anderson who comes from a family legacy of Amtrak employees.  She is originally from Cape Verde, Africa and now resides in NY. She is pictured with our Editor, Bob Barrows. Candice takes care of your dining needs and spoils you while she’s at it. She brings good experience and a lovely disposition to an otherwise

claustrophobic set of circumstances.

Wikipedia’s take on “dining cars”…  Before dining cars in passenger trains were common in the United States, a rail passenger’s option for meal service in transit was to patronize one of the roadhouses often located near the railroad’s water stops. Fare typically consisted of rancid meat, cold beans, and old coffee. Such poor conditions discouraged many from making the journey.

Most railroads began offering meal service on trains even before the First Transcontinental Railroad. By the mid-1880s, dedicated dining cars were a normal part of long-distance trains from Chicago to points west, save those of the Santa Fe Raiilway, which relied on America’s first interstate network of restaurants to feed passengers en route.

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Bob Barrows (SyndicatedNews’ Editor) and Pablo Martinez (originally from Peru)

The “Harvey Houses”, located strategically along the line, served top-quality meals to railroad patrons during water stops and other planned layovers and were favored over in-transit facilities for all trains operating west of Kansas City.  As competition among railroads intensified, dining car service was taken to new levels. When the Santa Fe unveiled its new “Pleasure Dome”-Lounge cars in 1951, the railroad introduced the travelling public to the Turquoise Room, promoted as “The only private dining room in the world on rails.”

The room accommodated 12 guests, and could be reserved anytime for private dinner or cocktail parties, or other special functions. The room was often used by celebrities and dignitaries traveling on the Super Chief.
In one of the most common dining car configurations, one end of the car contains a galley (with an aisle next to it, so passeng

ers can pass through the car to the rest of the train) while the other end has table or booth seating on either side of a center aisle.

Trains with high demand for dining car services sometimes feature “double-unit dining cars” consisting of two adjacent cars functioning to some extent as a single entity, generally with one car containing a galley plus table or booth seating and the other car containing table or booth seating only.

In the dining cars of Amtrak’s modern bilevel Superliner trains, booth seating on either side of a center aisle occupies almost the entire upper level, while the galley is below; food is sent to the upper level on a dumbwaiter.

Bob Barrows and Candice Anderson

Dining cars enhance the familiar restaurant experience with the unique visual entertainment of the ever-changing view. While dining cars are less common today than in the past (having been supplemented, or in some cases replaced altogether by other types of food-service cars) they still play a significant role in passenger railroading, especially on medium- and long-distance trains.

Today, a number of tourist-oriented railroads offer dinner excursions to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the dining car experience.  The U76/U70 tram line between the German cities of Düsseldorf and Krefeld offers a Bistrowagen (dining car in German), where passengers can order drinks and snacks. This practise comes from the early 20th Century, when interurban trams conveyed a dining car. Despite the introduction of modern tram units, 4 trams still have a Bistrowagen and operate every weekday.

Bob Barrows and Reggie Haynes who is in charge of the sleeper cars and keeps them clean and comfortable.

Reggie Haynes, originally from Chicago is now a very happy resident of Miami, Florida. He’s making a career of keeping the sleeper cars clean and comfortable. They are truly a small home-away-from-home on the road. There are two choices. One is a “sleepette” with a set of bunk beds, a sink and a toilet and 2 full sized windows (one above the other) so that each person can have a full window of their own (great old fashioned ergonomic planning).

The larger room is called “the bedroom” and it’s a particularly large room. Here’s a wonderful set of Amtrak virtual tours featuring the “sleepette, the bedroom, the bedroom suite and associated services”. If I had to choose between driving or taking an Amtrak with sleeper cars, the Amtrak route is definitely the way to go.

Meals are included and it’s cheaper than the time you’d lose driving, the meals you’d have to stop for (great loss of time) and the gas. On an Amtrak, your meals are taken while the train is still moving so all the time involved is getting you closer to your destination without stopping to sleep in hotels, stopping for gas or stopping for meals. Amtrak is by far, the most economical travel method bar none.

We’re on our way back from Miami to Orlando, Florida and just now called 1 800 USA RAIL (1 800 872 7245) and  changed our reservations from “coach seats” to a roommette so that we can rest or sleep all the way back home.  Imagine my surprise when the Customer Agent informed me that both lunch “and” dinner are included in the $77.00 USD upgrade!

I’ll let you know “how Amtrak rolls” when I get back home!  So far – this has turned out to be a marvelous trip and it’s because we did it completely through Amtrak. More importantly, when I get back, I’ll tell you all about the ORBITZ hotel connection and the marvelous room they got us on South Beach.

Amtrak has partnered with ORBITZ and offers the largest discount of any online reservation service. They gave us a 25% discount on a 4 star hotel room. The hotel is out of this world and you can read all about it by linking to this article here…

The Clinton Hotel on Washington Avenue (literally 2 blocks from the beach). This hotel was fantastic!

Amtrak’s partnership with ORBITZ is well thought out and offers the highest discount of any online travel program (25%).

 

 

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