Expert editor of a special column about life in New York for the publication Time-out Shaye Weaver talks about traveling from New York to Florida on Amtrak.
Next - from the first person.
For me, the concept of a "fast dinner" was forever changed - my dinner was served at a speed of 100 miles (160 km) per hour.
I was aboard Amtrak's Silver Star, a long-distance train that I boarded in New York for a 22-hour ride to Orlando, Florida. It was the longest journey of my life: 1000 miles (1 km), 609 hours, two meals and one very fitful sleep.
You probably think I'm crazy. This may be true, but someone has to experience such things. And as a person who enjoys the opportunity to try something new and see new places, I immediately agreed.
To try it out, Amtrak offered me a ticket that included free meals in addition to the compartment. I didn't have to drive, worry about what to eat, or find accommodations along the way because Amtrak took care of it all.
Let's look at the downsides: It's definitely a longer trip, and it's more expensive than flying—one-way plane tickets can now be found for $100 or less, and a hotel room can cost several hundred dollars or more.
But it turns out that if you want, you can get from New York to Florida by Amtrak - and it's not so bad. Moreover, it is unforgettable. And that's why.
It's a completely new experience
My compartment, less than 4 feet (1,2 m) wide, had a sliding door for privacy, a folding table, a private sink, and two comfortable chairs that converted into a single bed. Another bed drops down from above to create an upper berth, which is where I ended up sleeping. A room for one person is comfortable and even luxurious. It gets a little cramped for two people, especially when it's time to sleep and things are scattered everywhere.
However, watching how Amtrak fit all the essentials into one compartment was interesting and impressive.
During the trip, I worked all day (with somewhat spotty WiFi) in my personal bedroom-bathroom cubicle. Had lunch and dinner (a decent Monte Cristo grilled sandwich and a delicious breaded chicken breast) in the dining car.
I decided not to use the toilet in the compartment because it was unpleasant, but I ended up showering in the shower room next to the public toilet. Yes, I stripped naked on an Amtrak train and took a shower at over 100 mph. It wasn't very warm or relaxing. Moreover, I constantly had to maintain my balance as the train moved along the rails. But the shower was right next to me and stocked with clean towels and Amtrak soap.
The train's dining car is actually beautiful. With large windows, white tablecloths, flowers on the tables and all the right condiments, it was the highlight of the trip. This dining car was previously unavailable as part of a new program to resume traditional dining for First Class private room customers aboard Amtrak's Silver Meteor and Silver Star.
Earlier this summer, Amtrak's Acela First Class debuted a new premium menu designed by award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr. The company's Auto Train, California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle trains previously served vegan options.
“We're making significant improvements across our network to create a modern and dynamic travel experience,” Fred Gazzolo, Amtrak's vice president of development, said a couple of months ago. “Train travel is a one-of-a-kind experience and the addition of this new service on two legacy routes is something we think our First Class customers will love!”
Fred is right. The journey was unique. I don't know anyone else who takes the train to Florida.
But it was also nostalgia
Train travel was once common in America (before the advent of commercial flights), these sleeper cars were a luxurious way to travel, and watching the scenery go by while dining was just part of the experience. For example, in the 1920s and well into the 1940s, the Pullman sleeper became the pinnacle of train travel and allowed passengers to have tea and dinner en route. Even in those days, sleeping accommodations were compact, but it was still a luxury.
But after commercial flights became more affordable and road travel more common in the 1960s, sleeper cars fell out of use. Now we look at them as a relic of the past - something no longer relevant, inconvenient, but nostalgic.
While there may be a more affordable and faster way to get to Florida, taking a slower, more scenic route is an attractive option for those looking to preserve travel memories.
If train travel is something you enjoy and you can spare more time for the journey, then long-distance trains are a wonderful experience that can connect you with the past.
I made new friends
The most pleasant thing is the feeling that I am not alone. Each sleeping car has an attendant who will help you with everything you may need. Rodney was incredibly kind and hospitable: he woke me up before breakfast in the morning and brought French toast to my room when a call prevented me from going to the dining car. All the staff on my train were also helpful, making the trip enjoyable.
But it seemed to me that I could not find new friends. This only happens in movies, right? But on the way back to New York for dinner, the host put my partner and I together with another couple. At first I was worried that I would have to make small talk with strangers, but we found a common language.
We talked about our experiences on the Silver Meteor train north, and then moved on to our life stories, our pets, etc. We enjoyed our meal together so much that we decided to meet in the dining car for breakfast the next day. Suddenly we were no longer alone, and our long journey became fun together.
Train travel in the US may be experiencing a renaissance
In the United States, highways and airways have taken center stage, leaving the country's rail system in the dust, both literally and figuratively.
But I'm not sure that rail travel is a thing of the past. In other parts of the world, such as Europe and Japan, traveling by train across the country is quite easy. The railway systems of these countries are developed and connect almost all major cities, making travel easy and relatively inexpensive. And this is not to mention high-speed trains, which significantly reduce travel time. In these countries, the train is still seen as a convenient and necessary form of transport, and even luxurious, with magnificent views.
Americans also seem to have become more interested in traveling by train. Pinterest data from 2022 showed that train travel could experience a renaissance as it is more aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and environmentally friendly.
74% of travel company Virtuoso's customers are willing to spend more money on green travel, and 70% believe green travel gives them a better experience.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Amtrak trains are 46% more energy efficient than automobile travel and 34% more energy efficient than domestic air travel. In the UK, trains account for just 1% of all carbon emissions. In addition, more and more trains are becoming electric. In a time when climate change is becoming more and more noticeable, using transport with a lower carbon footprint is becoming increasingly necessary.
Just last year, Amtrak unveiled its Acela high-speed trains, which offered a glimpse of what trains could become with support from local and federal governments.
“With sleek interior design, state-of-the-art technology, eco-friendly amenities and innovative safety features, our new Acela trains will revolutionize American rail travel,” said Amtrak President and CEO Stephen Gardner.
Brightline, which operates a high-speed route between Miami and West Palm Beach, also plans to open a route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and on the East Coast there will be another route between Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia.
With higher-speed trains equipped for today's customers, the need for eco-friendly travel options, and increased interest in regional, aesthetic and luxury travel over the past few years, this could be the start of a rail renaissance - and should be.