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 seats 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us help you plan your next adventure!