Amtrak Stories: An experience all its own
As a travel journalist and contributor to Gaycation Magazine, it’s safe to say Aaron Drake knows a thing or two about travel. He’s been all over the world and has even taken a few different Amtrak inspired trips on the west coast. After relocating to Florida, he decided to give one of our east coast routes a try. So off he went on our Silver Service train for an Amtrak adventure from Tampa to Richmond. Like many Amtrak riders, he was able to unplug and enjoy the journey. But we wanted hear more about his experience. Here’s Aaron’s latest Amtrak story:
Amtrak: You’ve traveled on a few different Amtrak routes. Making you quite the train travel expert. Tell us, how was your ride on the Silver Service was different than your previous trips?
Aaron: This was one of the longer rides I’ve been on, and one of the busier routes. At one point the train was completely full when passing through Virginia with college students on spring break heading back to their home states in the northeast. Having just moved to Florida from California, I noticed there are a lot more people riding Amtrak on the East Coast. You can tell it’s much more ingrained in the way people get around here. The scenery was quite different too, riding through Northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, with lots of countryside views and picturesque small towns.
There are a lot of perks to train travel. But we’re curious, what were some of your favorite Amtrak perks from the ride?
My favorite perks would be the roominess and the lounge car – the seats are comfortable and you can get up and walk around whenever you’d like. The lounge car is another favorite of mine. Though there is no longer dining service on the Silver Service route, there is still a snack car and lounge to hang out in. It’s great for meeting other travelers or taking in panoramic views.
What are some of the main differences between train travel and flying? Don’t hold back, we want to know everything.
The biggest difference for me is the pace of train travel is a little slower, a little more laid-back. Right away when checking in (if you don’t use eticketing, that is) you’ll notice you don’t have to go through security, which always makes my blood pressure go up! And though there are still luggage size restrictions, Amtrak is much more relaxed about luggage than the airlines, and there are no extra baggage fees to carry your suitcase on to the train. For me, this means I can relax and settle into my trip sooner into the journey. That’s especially nice if it’s vacation time. Power outlets, free wifi and cell service traveling through most areas is also very nice, so I’m charged up whenever I get where I’m going and don’t ever have to be behind on emails or social media. The bathrooms are also much larger so it doesn’t feel like you’re packed into a sardine can like when you’re on a plane. It’s just much less stressful than flying.
What advice would you give someone who has never taken a train trip before?
It’s an experience all its own. Especially if you’re looking for something a little bit different, it’s a great way to travel. It’s less nerve-racking than flying so it’s fine for people of all ages and comfort levels. And not only do you get to experience whatever destination you’re going to, but you get to see all the places in between as well. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we fly over all of this when traveling by plane! Different parts of the country provide completely different scenery so it’s an awesome way to experience more.
What was your most memorable part of your train ride?
It’s always a surprise when you take overnight train rides where you will wake up in the morning. You never know what your view is going to be. This trip I woke up to the sun rising over the countryside in North Carolina and it was pretty incredible. Sometimes the train stations are very memorable too—Union Station in Tampa and Richmond’s Main Street Station are old-fashioned train stations so it feels like a step back in time.
Lots of Amtrak riders say that train time is your time. Is that something you found to be true?
There’s something about knowing you’re going to be on the train for a few hours that allows you to stretch out and take your time. You have time to dive into a novel or take a nap. During my trip back I made it halfway through Season 4 of “House of Cards” on Netflix. I didn’t have an excuse not to. It’s also a great time to write – you can’t get better inspiration than the passing scenery.
Lastly, for the readers out there on the fence about taking their first Amtrak trip, what would you tell them?
Do it! Depending on how much time you have, train travel is really a great way to experience different parts of the country. Shorter routes are usually cheaper than taking an airplane, and it beats sitting in traffic. Sit back and let the engineer take you to your next destination.