Amtrak Rail Experience – Great Way To Travel

Travel gets in your blood, and no matter what is going on in the world, those of us that love to explore the world will find ways to do it! I’m an avid international traveler, but COVID-19 has put a stop to that since March of 2020. As we start to come out of this pandemic, I feel the urge to explore again. This time, I am trying a different travel experience – traveling domestically within the United States. As of July 1, much of the world is still not open for tourism for health reasons, and of course, to protect all of us. There are many new protocols in place, like no housekeeping service while staying in a hotel, limiting capacity to allow for personal distancing, and wearing masks on flights, just to list a few. But there is one “Safe Escape” experience we can still have – rail vacations around the USA. Just like a road trip, but without the hassle of driving or locating open restaurants, sanitized restrooms, or aggravations on the road. On a train trip, you just sit back and watch the world go by.

My husband and I decided to try a rail trip from Atlanta. We hopped on Amtrak for a four day, three night trip to New Orleans on the Southern Crescent. We arrived at the station 30 minutes before the train departure and sat in a respectable lounge that had marked off Roomette - LRseats to allow for personal distancing. The staff met us at the entrance to the station and made sure we were on the approved list of travelers for the day. No need to go through those crazy airport security lines. Check-in was easy and informative. Once we headed to our train car, we were directed to our seats. This particular Amtrak package included an upgrade to a roomette. This way we could self-isolate in our small cabin, close the door, and only go out to stretch our legs. The roomette was equipped with a toilet, which was a nice surprise, as again, we didn’t need to share a community restroom. There are also standard train cars with seating and larger sleeper rooms. We chose the middle of the three options offered.Roomette Toilet LR

Once we were in our roomette, we organized our small suitcase and carry-on so they would not clutter our cabin. They also offer an option to check your bag, but ours was small enough to fit under the seat, so we kept it with us. They provided us with bottles of water, hand towels, hand soap, two pillows, a blanket, and toilet paper. As the train left the station, the cabin steward came and asked us if we had questions about what to expect on the train trip. He then took our breakfast order, and returned with it once we were on the rails, so we did not have to leave to go to a dining car.

There is a small drop-down table that we opened up, and while heading towards New Orleans, we played cribbage, did crossword puzzles, and played solitaire. The table has a built in checker board, but you have to bring your own checker or chess pieces if you want to play. Other great features include a private thermostat to cool your car, and there is a bunk-bed style system, so for overnight trips, you can sleep in the car. The seats also recline, so you can nap while riding. It is actually quite comfortable and much roomier than an airplane seat. There is WIFI that allowed us to watch movies or work if necessary. My husband usually does all the driving so he was able to just sit back and relax, which he enjoyed.

We were served lunch around 12:30 and had four choices. This is also currently served in your roomette, as they do not want anyone in the dining car. The meal is like a TV dinner that comes sealed in cellophane. I had the Beef tips with polenta, and Virgil had the shrimp and andouille sausage Jambalaya, both came with a side salad and a brownie. It was decent. With the roomette, you get one adult beverage included, so in the afternoon, I had a glass of Cabernet Red wine (Barefoot brand) and Virgil had Maker’s Mark bourbon. As it turns out, the menu is the same for dinner. I do suggest bringing some snacks, but no need to bring beverages, as they do provide those.

The return trip was in reverse and the cabin attendants were equally accommodating. Overall, the train is not up to the most modern standards – there are no USB ports, but it did have two outlets to charge electronics. The inside of the trains are clean and maintained, so although aged from time, the experience becomes part of the destination. When making a train trip, getting there is part of the adventure. If traveling with kids, bring something for them to do. Remember, there is great WIFI, so they can watch movies or surf the web.

Let me emphasis again the ease of travel – no airport security experiences, no need to arrive two to three hours early, no messing with bags at the gate or baggage claim, and food is included, plus one adult beverage if you so choose. One final note – both ways were close to on-time experiences. We have heard that this is not always the case, but our personal experience was otherwise. We are looking forward to our next rail adventure!

Condor Tours & Travel has just completed the necessary training to be able to offer you a rail experience just about anywhere in the USA, from weekend trips to overnight experiences including national parks. The packages that are combined with hotels and local tours will give you a complete travel experience. Contact us at 770-339-9961 or info@condortt.com, and let us help you plan your next adventure!

Return to Travel

 

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After what feels like forever spent sheltering in place, traveling somewhere for a change of scenery has become more appealing than ever for us that have wanderlust. We’ve had time to learn about new ways to travel and to visit, and to build bucket lists of dream destinations—near and far—to visit in our new normal. We get asked all the time when it will be safe to travel. It has always been safe to travel with the right planning and preparation. Now more than ever, there is much that can be done to insure a quality trip experience while reducing health risks that have affected our ability to seek out and explore the world.

Never having been fans of traveling in crowds, this naturally led us to wonder: will worries of overcrowding and adequate social distancing mean we’ll no longer be able to enjoy some of the most spectacular places on Earth? Will crossing items off our travel bucket lists have to wait?

The good news is, absolutely not!

We would like to share some advice from the experts on how to avoid the crowds when everyone starts to travel again. Follow these pro-tips to enjoy safe escape travel as our world reopens and air travel resumes.

Stay central
Mendoza Enemigo 7 vineyard LREliminate the time spent traveling while at your destination, and instead, wake up exactly where you want to be. Whether that means in the wilderness or in the center of a historic downtown, you’ll be staying among the sights and sounds you came for and will get to experience them without day visitors, from dramatic dawns to silent starry nights.

Lori, from Condor Tours & Travel, has been working with different Latin America destinations to create some amazing “safe-escape” style packages that fit this recommendation.

Go against the grain
Just because the majority of visitors explore a place in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s always the best way. We work to provide unique experiences at each destination you visit and make sure that we are attentive to your needs as well as those of the location. Using a destination expert allows you to know the “do’s and don’ts” of each experience you ask for and those you may not know to ask for. That is how we set ourselves apart.

Pick a private tour
Private tours allow for personal space and let you explore at your own pace.

“Signing up for a public tour of a historic landmark is better than not taking a tour at all, but wouldn’t you prefer to go at your own pace and spend time where your interest is?” asks Lori, who designs custom tours and has launched aIMG_6783 line of “safe escape” travel packages. “If you want an unhurried experience without having to contend with hordes of other visitors, my advice is to travel with a tour operator that offers private tours just for you. In Costa Rica, Condor works with Elements Travel, to arrange destination experiences. They know the destination and always choose a timing that fits well within the day’s schedule, and you can ask as many questions as you like.”

Pat, who designs custom trips at Condor Tours & Travel agrees, “Argentina and Chile have so many ways to experience wine, but a private wine tasting is by far the most i

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ntimate experience. There are no distractions. You can tailor it around

what you like—a walk through the vineyard, a long lunch; you could even do a local cheese or chocolate tasting and pairing. The best part is, with smaller groups, that usually means more wine!”

 

Have a local take the lead
Save the strains of self-guiding, and avoid tours that import tour leaders.

No-one knows the destination like the local guides who were born and raised at those destinations —the days and times to avoid, the trails less trodden, the best back-up plan for crowd control or closures. While everyone else is following the same itinerary their Google search results returned, with a local guide, you can venture deeper and differently. Pat says, “They’ll know the exact times when places are most spectacular and least crowded. And they’ll have awesome stories to share along the way. And you’re supporting the local economy, for which they thank you!”

Go beyond the 10-minute trails
Don’t stop at the nearest, shortest trail. You don’t know what you’re missing!

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“Venture further,” advises Lori. “Ask any guide, and I am sure that they will agree. I’d say 90% of visitors literally park their cars, take a 10-minute walk, snap some photos for Instagram and then leave. Often, they spend longer trying to find a parking space than they do exploring! It’s a shame. Instead, use local services and leave the headache of car rental and liability behind when in Latin America. Think of a destination like Peru. It has so much to offer and you don’t even have to be a super fit backpacker with the stamina for a 5-hour hike up a mountainside when you’re in the Sacred Valley. We can think of so many stunning trails and walks that are easy going, rarely crowded and show you landscapes like you’ve never seen before.”  Another great spot is exploring Patagonia is a great place to hike many different levels of trails.

Look for limits
Don’t be deterred by group restrictions, actively seek them.

Visits to famous sites like the Panama Canal, which can be viewed from visitor centers eiLock and gatether on the Atlantic or Pacific side, allows you to experience the newer and the original locks from open air spots. Or visits into the rainforest by boat in Gatun Lake to see wildlife, while massive ships cross your path. How about fabulously restored ruins that draw folks – best to use our services in small group or private settings, as we know the best times to visit to avoid large bus tours and groups.

Picnic instead of cafeteria
Don’t lose time in the lunch line. Make the dining as delicious as the destination. No rush. No reservation needed.

Exhilarating walks and sights really help work up an appetite, but bear in mind, this will also be the case for every other person visiting. Come lunchtime, people pour into the one or two nearest dining options in the area. Precious time that could be spent exploring is lost as you line up for a free table and wait for your food. Our way around this lets you enjoy good food, at your leisure, while enjoying the destination at the same time. We take you to homes in indigenous communities or bring along a picnic! You’ll have views restauranteurs can only dream of. Our destination guides know amazing spots where you can lunch with no one else as far as the eye can see. And they know incredible local restaurants and delis that don’t draw in the tours, or they will pack you a lunch of hand-crafted specialties, so you can skip that mass cafeteria food.

Hire a guide and driver
Don’t drive, and definitely skip the shuttle. Instead, let a local take the wheel while you sit back and soak up the scenery.

Driving on your own only takes you as far as the parking lot, which can be a nightmare to navigate. Then you have to choose between the packed trails leading from the parking lot or a free shuttle, with its long wait lines and herded-cattle feel, once everyone is piled on. In Ecuador, don’t settle for an over-Land Iguana on rocka-stranger’s-shoulder glimpse of the legendary equator crossing. Doesn’t it sound nicer to sit back with a guide and driver who knows exactly how you like the air conditioning and where to visit?! And, if you spot a view that you can’t miss, your driver will happily pull over so that you can enjoy it.

Lastly, enjoy the sunsets and sunrises
Everyone loves watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset. If you are an early bird, we will take you to the perfect spot to watch the sun rise. If you are a night owl, how about a gorgeous location to watch it set?

Work with a company that knows a destination or has the resources to provide that destination experience. Condor Tours & Travel has been specializing in travel to Central and South America since 1991. They can be reached at info@condortt.com , by phone at 770-339-9961, or check out their web site at www.condortoursandtravel.com.